26 October 2009

Bring democracy to the UC

The University of California is governed by the UC Regents, a body established in 1878 when Article IX, Section 9 of the California consititution was drafted to ensure that
the university shall be entirely independent of all political and sectarian influence and kept free therefrom in the appointment of its Regents and in the administration of its affairs.
Commendable as these goals sound, the appointment of 18 Regents by the Governor to 12-year terms seems to have achieved exactly the opposite result than intended by those who enacted the state Constitution. The Regents have essentially unchecked authority on the University, free to pursue whatever vision might move them. All is well, of course, as long as that vision is informed by the common good of the citizens of California, but it can go dangerously astray when it's not.

The flip side of political autonomy is lack of accountability.

That is why there is now a "student and alumni-led" democratization effort, The Phoenix Project, aiming "to build a state-wide coalition that can model democracy by bringing together University of California stakeholders." 

The appointment of essentially autonomous Regents to what are close to life terms is not the only way to ensure that the University  is "independent of all political and sectarian influence."

The  Phoenix Project has put forward another option, which would have looked outlandish in 1878, but not in 2009, intended to develop a model of governance that brings all the different constituencies at the UC (students, alumni, faculty, local communities) into the deliberative process. This is of course still quite vague, but people are beginning to explore the details of such a plan.

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