February 1, 2012

Letter to Chancellor Katehi in response to the events of November 18

Filed under: occupyucdavis, POV — e11iott @ 1:35 pm

9 December 2011

Dear Chancellor Katehi,

Thank-you for meeting with the Division of Social Science faculty. Regretfully, a prior commitment keeps me away, although I did attend both the town-hall meetings that you organized and the special session of the academic senate. Perhaps you remember my heart-felt but largely unfocused comments at the faculty town hall. This is take two.

As a professor of sociology and the director of the Consortium for Women and Research, I work with scholars and administrators campus-wide. We’ve had occasion to meet a few times, as you know. I sincerely appreciate your support of the Consortium, particularly its efforts to make visible the challenges facing women in science. I bear no personal animosity; on the contrary, I have only respect and admiration for your professional accomplishments as an engineer at the top of her field.

I want to speak to the apparent split between scientists and nonscientists noted at the academic senate meeting with regard to the events of November 18. In my view it is not a science-nonscience distinction per se; this is but a proxy for identifying those who support (and benefit from) the “marketization” of the UC and those who do not. We are one university but some of us clearly matter less than others because our “value” to the university is not easily commodified or subject to the quantifiable performance metrics required by corporate management practices.

So much is self-evident, but it is important to understand the subtext: the students in the quad on November 18 were defending the ideas and values that many of us teach and care deeply about. The attack on the students was indirectly an attack on us. It is disheartening and disturbing to be so forcefully reminded that our university is reproducing the very forms of inequality that many of us have devoted our careers to understanding and critiquing. I’ll mention three.

The first and most obvious issue is the diminishing access to the UC as fees continue to climb. Who comes and who doesn’t? The students themselves are eloquent on this subject. The second is the widening gap between the highest and lowest paid employees in the UC. The problem is not that we value different roles and statuses differently, the problem is the dramatic increase in the gap between top and bottom that has occurred in lock-step with privatization, with an ever expansive reward structure for those at the top. We are cultivating within the university our own version of Wall Street.

The third is prioritization of militarization over education. We all know that, as a society, we spend far more to control and incarcerate people than to educate them. Less familiar is the fact that the policeman who pepper-sprayed the students earns 110k annually — roughly $30k more than your average associate, and even many full, professors in the humanities and social sciences (excluding economics, which is on the engineering scale). This policeman apparently doesn’t understand the difference between a riot and a peaceful student protest. Moreover, he cost the university $240,000 a few years back to settle out-of-court a lawsuit brought against him for homophobic conduct (this was under a previous administration). I realize the Chancellor’s office does not set police salaries: but the fact remains that our university upholds a hierarchy in which bullying students is as or more lucrative than educating them.

All this and more has been on my mind since Nov. 18. But some version of this has been on my mind for 12 years, since I first came to UC Davis and got the message in ways large and small about my marginal place in the university’s corporatizing business culture. This culture has led to a chronic shortage in funding (and respect) for those of us in the theoretical sciences, the humanities, and the social sciences. It promotes cost structures and resource allocation that favor privatization and financialization over and against professional autonomy, open research, democratic process, and the public good. Joining in the fight against tuition hikes is an important goal and one we can all get behind regardless of our differences, but the larger issue is the neoliberal marketization of the UC and its effect on the most vulnerable (because the least commercializable) academic disciplines.

So my question going forward is, what is the plan for protecting the diversity of the academic enterprise at UC Davis in the context of ongoing privatization? And how can we help, without acquiescing to the very strategies that are marginalizing us? Even those colleagues who support marketization wouldn’t likely send their own kids to a university that lacks strong social science and humanities programs.



Laura Grindstaff

Professor of Sociology

Director, Consortium for Women and Research


cc: Provost and EVC Ralph Hexter


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