UC Berkeley News


Systemwide Academic Senate chair ousted
In unprecedented move, UCLA's Brunk is removed from office

| 16 March 2006

The UC Academic Senate, which represents current and retired faculty from the University of California's 10 campuses, has new leadership, following this week's vote by its representative Assembly to oust Senate Chair Clifford Brunk, a professor of biology at UCLA.

The Academic Senate's governing body took the unusual action at an emergency closed-door meeting in downtown Oakland on Monday, March 13. (The Academic Council, the Assembly's administrative arm, had issued a no-confidence vote in February and asked Brunk to resign by March 1. Monday's emergency meeting was called after he refused to step down.) Members first voted "no confidence" in Brunk, then approved his removal by a vote of 50-2 (Brunk's vote included). Vice Chair John Oakley, a UC Davis law professor, automatically assumed leadership of the systemwide Senate, as called for by Senate bylaws.

The Assembly, in its first resolution Monday, said it had "no confidence that (1) Clifford Brunk is professionally, faithfully, or effectively performing the duties and responsibilities of the Office of Chair of the Academic Senate, and (2) that Clifford Brunk can faithfully represent the views of the University of California Academic Senate."

Alice Agogino, chair of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate, had updated campus faculty on the brewing crisis in a March 7 e-mail message. "This is unprecedented in the history of the Academic Senate of the University of California," she wrote. The move to vote on Brunk's removal was scheduled "after much deliberation [and] due diligence and in view of compelling evidence that immediate action was absolutely necessary," she said.

The nature of that "compelling evidence" and the urgency requiring Brunk's immediate removal have not been made public, and faculty who were party to the deliberations are closed-mouth on the details of the affair. A variety of issues have been cited in news reports, including allegations that Brunk selectively blocked items from being heard in the Senate and misrepresented faculty views to the UC Board of Regents (where, as Senate chair, he held a non-voting seat and served as the faculty's voice) and administrators. Allegations of mistreatment of Senate staff have also been made.

In her communiqué to faculty, Agogino cited "lack of confidence in [Brunk's] ability to function effectively as Chair"; she also said Assembly members were reviewing more than 50 pages of confidential documents and promised "a full explanation" at a future time.

Agogino also took issue with the San Francisco Chronicle, which, she said, "has chosen to frame the major reasons for the action" in terms of Brunk's position on the controversial issue of UC executive compensation. "I would like to emphasize," she wrote, "that I very much respect anyone's right to free speech and would not vote to remove a standing chair for this reason."

Several news sources (among them The Daily Californian) reported in error that Monday's decision followed revision of Senate bylaws in order to facilitate the order to impeach. Although such an action was originally proposed and scheduled, an 11th-hour ruling by the Senate's Rules and Jurisdiction Committee (announced via e-mail Sunday evening) found that the Assembly has the inherent power to remove an officer with a two-thirds vote, and hence that no parliamentary maneuvers to legitimize such action would be necessary.

In response to a request from Brunk for clarification in this area, the committee ruled that "Nothing in the current bylaws specifies the standards or procedures to be used for judging what constitute valid reasons for removal of an officer, adequate notice to the accused officer, a fair hearing, the right to counsel, or a reasonable opportunity for the officer to present a defense; therefore, the Assembly must decide these questions." In the absence of clarity from Senate bylaws, it consulted a recognized reference, The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, for guidance.