By Amara Miller
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
[About the above image: On March 19th, 2008, “The Coalition to Free the UC took nonviolent direct action at the UC Regents meeting at UCSF Mission Bay campus demanding democratization of the UC.” (Indy Bay 2008)]
This manifesto is a demand to finally have our voices heard, as well as a call to action to resist the neoliberal forces encroaching on our university that are increasingly present in higher education systems worldwide.
On May 17, 2017, I traveled with a group of students to the University of California Regents meeting in San Francisco. Originally, we had planned to speak in the “public comment” portion of the meeting, in protest against the Board of Regents and the UC Office of the President (UCOP). However, because of strict security measures, few of us spoke at all. Our experiences being silenced and policed are not unusual and reflect a decades-long struggle against corruption in the UC system, alongside worsening conditions of inequity, social injustice, and a lack of transparency.
We were responding to the latest news about corruption in the UC system. On April 25, 2017, the California state auditor released a “scathing” report revealing UCOP hid $175 million in reserves, even from its own Board of Regents. UCOP had intentionally interfered in an ongoing investigation, altering data sent to the state legislature. UC President Janet Napolitano’s office had intercepted “a confidential survey the auditor sent to individual campuses about the quality and cost of services they received from the central office, causing campus officials to soften their responses” (Murphy 2017). At least one Chancellor, UC Santa Cruz’s Blumenthal, knowingly altered the campus survey response under the direction of Napolitano’s staff (Masters 2017). The state audit revealed administrative spending at the UC is excessive compared to other universities, claiming “administrative spending increased 28%, or $80 million, from fiscal years 2012–13 through 2015–16” (McGreevy 2017a). Napolitano was also found padding the salaries and benefits of her administrative staff, paying “top workers… significantly higher than that of similar state employees” (McGreevy 2017b).
More details from the audit demonstrated the UC Regents have expensive habits. UCOP paid $13,000 for dinner and security for 86 people at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco in January 2016, an event to honor two departing members of the Board of Regents, Fred Ruiz and Paul Wachter (while on the Board, Wachter used his position for direct profit). Over the course of six months, between November 2015 and May 2016, the President’s office spent $36,400 hosting Regents’ dinners. Other spending included “$862,000 spent on Napolitano’s Oakland apartment over the past four years. That cost includes the $11,500 monthly rent” (Gutierrez 2017). In response to the latest report, state legislators have called for President Napolitano’s resignation and for the UC Regents to rescind the latest tuition hike enacted in January (Jensen 2017).
However, this latest scandal is not an isolated incident. All in all, the UC system has faced six state audits over the past three years. This is not a coincidence, but is symptomatic of widespread corruption within the elitist UC Regents’ system of governance—corruption that has only worsened in recent decades.
Spending by UCOP has nearly doubled in recent years, reaching an annual budget of $686 million (twice the amount of the CA state legislature budget). In March 2016, an audit revealed the Regents had purposely “softened admissions standards for out-of-state students… even as it turned away record numbers of in-state applicants” (Asimov 2016). Between 2010 and 2014, there had been an 82% increase in out-of-state and international undergraduate admissions, coinciding with a 1% drop in Californian student admissions. Non-resident students pay about $37,000 in tuition each year, or more than three times the (still ridiculous) $12,000 California students pay annually for their public university schooling. Despite evidence the UC administration was purposely using out-of-state applicants as cash cows while restricting in-state access, it was revealed “the UC [Regents] mounted a $158,000 publicity campaign to dispute claims its admissions policies had disadvantaged resident students” (Koseff 2016).
$175 Million Scandal in Historical Context
The latest scandal cannot be understood in isolation. Institutional memory is shortsighted. Social structures encourage institutional forgetting in ways that naturalize power and normalize oppression. No exception to this, the narrative of the UC Regents is too often a narrative of silences. To counter our tendency of institutional forgetting, let me take you back.
From 2005 to 2006, UC administrators granted millions of dollars in extra pay and perks to top executives, frequently without public disclosure. At UC Santa Cruz (UCSC), in October 2006, the UC employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299, and the Student and Worker Coalition for Justice (SWCJ) rallied in support of living wages for custodians, resulting in the disruption of a UC Regents meeting on campus. “In the process, a dozen students [were] pepper-sprayed by UC police for the first time in UCSC’s history, and three students [were] arrested” (Sonnenfeld 2007). The university tried to make an example out of one of the arrestees—a black, female activist—by suspending her for three years. A struggle ensued to combat the punitive charges most activists felt were designed to silence activists on campus (Sonnenfeld 2007).
In 2007, it was revealed that, during the fifteen months following the executive pay scandal, the Regents overrode newly enacted rules intended to mitigate executive compensation abuses. They continued to routinely grant exceptions, handing out more than $1 million to about 70 top executives (Schevitz 2007). The scandal ultimately led to UC President Dynes’ resignation (Potter 2008).
In November 2009, the UC Regents “voted to increase tuition a whopping 32% to more than $10,000 annually—[reflecting] a three-fold increase in a decade” (O’Leary 2009). In response, students and faculty began mass protests. At the UC Regents meeting in LA, “2,000 students from the 10-campus system confronted riot police, shouted slogans and blocked building exits… students surged against barricades and briefly seized a building near the main campus quad; police used taser guns on several protesters, and arrested nearly 20. All the while, police helicopters hovered overhead” (O’Leary 2009).
On November 20, 2009, at UC Berkeley, 43 students locked themselves inside Wheeler Hall while thousands gathered outside for support and militant push-back against scores of riot police called in from several counties. One faculty member at UC Berkeley was arrested… (Video: “UCB students take Wheeler Hall.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISZrR7qE-Oc) Police unleashed unwarranted violence on students on the outside. They used batons and rubber bullets, injuring the unarmed bodies of hundreds of peaceful protesters and sending some to the emergency room with broken bones… At UCSC, over 100 students participated in a sit-in at the campus’ Kerr Hall. They occupied the building for an entire three days before surrendering to police… At UC Davis, 51 students and 1 faculty member were arrested at the main administration building. In December 2009 at UC Berkeley, hundreds of students re-took Wheeler hall for a week to hold open workshops, classes, and teach-ins [and demanded 38 dismissed janitors be rehired, see Kingkade 2011]… On December 11… 66 students were arrested at 4 am without a dispersal order…The legitimacy of all these actions is seriously contested in a number of lawsuits…The UC administration responded with overwhelming police force to protests—university police in riot gear, local county sheriff’s offices, California Highway patrol and state police were regularly called out during campus protests. As protests persisted, the administration escalated police violence, intimidation, and suppression of free speech, exposing the structural role of police and state violence in the privatization of public services. On March 4, 2010, hundreds of protesters blockaded Interstate Highways 880 and 990 at Oakland during rush hour. 150 protesters were arrested and one was hospitalized. (Video: “Police attack 880 Interstate takeover.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsjadfLYnD4) Protesters displayed a banner that read “Occupy everything,” while shutting down the roadways for an hour, an action that has been described as a precursor to the Occupy movement [of 2011]” ( “2009 California college tuition hike protests”, Wikipedia).
March Forth actions also occurred on other campuses, including a sit-in at UCLA and arrests at UC Davis (Asimov 2010).
In September 2010, amid evidence of management bloat (Schwartz 2016), there were reports the Regents regularly made risky investments to benefit their own financial holdings (Byrne 2010). During the previous decade, the Regents had invested $2 billion in a series of deals directly profiting at least four regents: Blum, Lansing, Wachter (recall his $13,000 retirement party?), and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Liu 2010). Yet Lansing and Blum still remain on the Board. The Regents then hired private money managers who charged higher fees, serving to further increase management costs and limit transparency.
The Regents authorized $3 million in bonuses to a handful of top administrators, all while claiming financial hardship for the UC system. Workers’ salaries dropped, the Regents reduced pay for janitorial staff, lecturers were furloughed, and the retirement savings for the lowest-paid employees were negatively impacted, all while protecting or boosting benefits for highly compensated executives (AFSCME 2010). Meanwhile, classes were eliminated and class sizes rose (Byrne 2010). Despite this, on November 17, 2010, “the Regents voted for another 8% tuition increase while hundreds of police in riot gear used tear gas and batons to fend off protesters… UC San Francisco (UCSF) police officer Jared Kemper drew his gun [twice, see video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dz0oY_jNL4] in front of dozens of students, threatening to shoot at them. More than 700 students and several faculty members were arrested across campuses between late 2009 and the middle of 2011” (Wikipedia).
Ultimately, it was only continued mass protests and the intervention of the Governor which led to a freeze on UC tuition. However, UC President Yudof would float the idea of tuition hikes again the next fall, spurring the statewide Occupy UC movement.
On November 9, 2011, peaceful protesters at Occupy Cal were brutalized by police responding to the encampment on orders of the UCB administration. (Video: “Occupy Cal brutalized by police.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buovLQ9qyWQ) 39 protesters, including Professor Langan, were arrested. Following the arrests, a coalition of protesters “sued the UC-Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau, other administrators, UCPD, and other Alameda County Sheriffs for $15 million for excessive force, false arrests, and violation of First Amendment rights… The lawsuit went on for a number of years… showing police and administrator actions were excessive and aimed at repressing political speech… The outcome of the lawsuit awarded the protesters $15 million for punitive and general damages” (Wikipedia).
On November 11, 2011, peaceful protesters at Occupy UC Davis (UCD) were pepper-sprayed by campus police (with military-grade spray, at point-blank range) responding to the encampment on orders of UCD’s Chancellor Katehi (Wikipedia). (Video: “Occupy UCD protesters pepper sprayed.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AdDLhPwpp4) The incident went viral. Eleven protesters received medical treatment; two were hospitalized. The officer involved, “(Lt.) Pike was suspended with pay afterward” (he earned $119,067 that year) (Garofoli 2016). The three dozen student protesters who were attacked “were collectively awarded $1 million by UC Davis in a settlement from a federal lawsuit” (Stanton and Walsh 2012). Later in April 2016, it was revealed Chancellor Katehi spent at least $175,000 in a futile attempt to scrub online references to the incident (Brunell 2016).
In 2013, Janet Napolitano (of the latest $175 million scandal) was chosen as the next president of the UC system (Fry and Brown 2013). Napolitano was former head of the Department of Homeland Security under Obama and “one of the architects of the so-called Secure Communities (S-COMM) program that deputizes local law enforcement officers as deportation agents” (Barrows-Friedman 2013). She oversaw the deportations of more than 2.5 million people and was the first UC President to have absolutely zero experience in university administration (Fry and Brown 2013).
Faculty and students dissented, protested, and were even arrested trying to stop her appointment. Cinthia Flores, the only student Regent on the 26-person board, was the only dissenting vote. UC students started a petition to say “No To Janet” (DREAM Activist 2013). One UC Irvine Professor, Mark LeVine, argued her appointment represented a “clear and present danger” (LeVine 2013). At UC San Diego, the student government proposed a statement of no confidence in Napolitano and the Regent’s incredibly secretive appointment process (ASUCSD 2013, Gordon 2013). The San Diego Faculty Association wrote an open letter of concern regarding her appointment (UCSDFA 2013). At her confirmation, police handcuffed and removed at least four protesters and arrested one undocumented student (Taylor 2013).
In 2014, the Regents proposed another 5% annual tuition hike over five years (a 25% total increase). One day later, they raised the salaries of three of the lowest paid UC Chancellors by up to 20% (AFSCME 2014). The 2014 proposed hikes were determined to be in violation of state law (AFSCME 2015). Ultimately, massive protests and demonstrations occurred again, resulting in an extension of the tuition freeze (which ended recently when Regents raised tuition in January 2017 (Watanabe 2017)).
In 2016, it was revealed Regents board member William De La Pena violated ethics rules when he attempted to make a financial deal involving his eye clinics and UCLA (Vogel 2016). Yet De La Pena also remains on the board. Later that year, the press released audio recordings of Regent Norman Pattiz sexually harassing an employee, asking to touch her breasts while he was armed with a gun (Barriera and Fix 2016, Asimov and Tucker 2017). Yet Pattiz remains on the board.
UC Regents again gave raises to chancellors in 2016—four of whom received their second pay bump since the previous July. The only chancellor to not get a raise was UC Davis’ Linda Katehi, who was “on administrative leave pending an outside investigation into allegations that she lied about her involvement in online reputation-management contracts, violating UC’s ethics policy, and that she engaged in nepotism and misspent student funds” (Murphy 2016). Katehi was also on leave due to controversial moonlighting positions.
In 2011, the year Davis students were pepper-sprayed by campus police, their chancellor Katehi had served on a board in Greece, co-authoring a report aimed at ending anti-austerity student protests, which recommended the Greek government abolish its University Asylum Law. The law was designed to protect students from police brutality during on-campus intervention in protests (Partridge 2011). In 2016, it was revealed Katehi received $70,00 a year while serving on the board of the DeVry Education Group, which was under investigation by state and federal authorities over allegations of deceptive advertising about graduate job and income prospects (Watanabe 2016). Katehi received “$420,000 over three years as a board member for John Wiley & Sons, a college-textbook publisher,” another controversial position given routine textbook price inflation to maximize corporate profit, sending students further into debt (Bidwell 2014). This was all in addition to her $424,360 annual salary (Katehi also receives free housing in a neighborhood where homes are typically valued at over $1 million) (Watanabe 2016).
Her questionable behavior spurred a student movement to “Fire Katehi”, which occupied Mrak Hall (where her office is located) for over a month (Greenwald 2016). Activists argued Katehi “was merely a manifestation of the corruption and misconduct that festers throughout all levels of UC management.” UC officials spent nearly $1 million investigating Katehi (Lambert and Stanton 2017). After her resignation, she was provided a year off with full pay before returning to a faculty job at the same university where peaceful student protesters were pepper-sprayed under her guidance (Lambert 2016). This deal reflects an increasingly common trend within the UC system for Chancellor positions to include severance packages on par with CEOs in the financial sector (Reese 2015).
Her case led to tougher rules for moonlighting proposed by none other than Napolitano herself, and approved by the very Board of Regents that was accused of unethical behavior. No surprise, the latest “regulations” are full of loopholes and are woefully inadequate, still permitting “executives to serve on the boards of companies that do business with their campuses” (Asimov 2016). Rather than stipulate university presidents cannot also hold outside board memberships at for-profit companies, the number of such appointments has been capped at two, rather than three. The “revised conflict-of-interest rules apply only to executives who request permission to do outside work from now on. About 50 of UC’s 165 senior executives already have such gigs and are exempt from the new rules.” The new policy hasn’t stopped UC Davis’ newest Chancellor, Gary May, from having conflicts of interest. He recently came under fire for earning $325,780 a year sitting on the boards of two defense technology companies, in addition to his annual salary of $495,000 (Lambert 2017, Floyd 2017).
At the 2016 meeting where these completely ineffectual conflict-of-interest rules were approved, 3% raises for 19 top executives were also ratified (UC 2017). A day earlier, UC workers had staged a protest over wages they argued were so low many had to skimp on meals and give up city apartments. A recent study shows 7 in 10 UC workers struggle with food insecurity (Sherief 2017). (Recall that $13,000 retirement dinner the Regents threw for corrupt board members?)
Understanding Flaws in the Regents System
We can think of the UC Regents system of governance as a kleptocratic form of autocracy—a “rule by thieves” where corrupt leaders (kleptocrats) use their power to exploit the people and natural resources of their domain to extend their personal wealth and political power. Natural resources in the university system can include things like the intellectual resources of those exploited, but also include more material resources like land. For example, consider the attempt by administration at UC Berkeley to privatize the Gill Tract, which spurred the 2012 Occupy the Farm movement (watch the documentary here). Kleptocratic exploitation often takes the form of embezzling funds at the expense of the wider population, in this case students and workers. Corruption of the UC Regents isn’t the case of a good system gone bad. The system is working exactly how it is meant to.
The Regents system of power justifies, rationalizes, and normalizes exploitation. The Regents and their goons consistently put themselves first before the needs of students and workers. They have undermined our university system by pushing privatization to line their own pockets and they use an increasingly militarized police force to do their dirty work.
Police presence on campuses is not normal. Campus police became common after the 1960s, when civil unrest at universities led to violent clashes and even deaths, such as the Kent State massacre. These instances of unrest were utilized by administrations as a justification to create and subsequently increase campus security (Nelson 2015). Historically, the attempt to increase on-campus police presence wasn’t about student safety. It reflected the desire of university administrations to have an on-campus security force under their administrative control who could and would crack down on student protesters. Today, campus cops are increasingly armed with military-grade weaponry and their numbers, as well as the powers they possess, have expanded disproportionately in relation to crime rates or growing student populations (Bauman 2014):
Officers have increasingly gained the ability to arrest and patrol outside jurisdictions, and the growth to law-enforcement hires has outpaced that of student enrollment… more and more sworn officers—including those outfitted with firearms (94%), chemical or pepper spray (94%), Taser-like devices (40%), and in some cases military-grade equipment—were added to college campuses. Campus police departments typically act as independent law-enforcement agencies and enjoy expanding authority without the same public-reporting requirements as municipal police; they typically report to university presidents or high-ranking college officials (Anderson 2015; see also Keim 2011).
The UC Regents consistently utilize not just campus cops but outside police forces to control student dissent (recall nearby city police who were bussed in during particularly contentious Regents meetings). Such policing is characterized by unwarranted brutality against unarmed students, workers, and concerned community members. The Regents use police to protect their own interests and the status quo in ways that add to inequality and inequity within the university system—targeting, tracking, arresting, attacking, and otherwise penalizing student/worker activists.
The Regents are increasingly afraid of interactions with the students and workers they supposedly serve, with administrative inaccessibility becoming more widespread. The Regents used to host meetings at numerous UC campuses—now they primarily hold meetings at UCSF, a campus dedicated to health sciences and the only UC that does not have an undergraduate student body. This change was purposefully made to ensure meetings would be more difficult/costly for students and workers to attend, and because the UCSF campus is more defendable against protests.
The UC Regents used to allow speakers three miniscule minutes during public comment—this has decreased to 60 seconds. Speakers used to be able to sign up online—now, you have to arrive early enough to find the sign-up list at a table manned by armed cops (after going through metal detectors staffed by riot cops, who search bags and confiscate any protest signs—you can’t even bring a water bottle into the meeting). If there aren’t enough speakers to fill the entire scheduled meeting time, the Regents end the meeting early. And, god forbid, protesters think of throwing chairs—the chair legs are all zip-tied to prevent being moved (because revolutions always start with chair throwing?).
This inaccessibility isn’t just characteristic of Regents meetings. UC Davis, for example, has enacted disturbing security measures since the Fire Katehi occupation. To reach the fifth floor of Mrak Hall (where the Chancellor’s office is located), you now have to be buzzed in and escorted—every single door to the floor is locked.
DEMANDS: Demilitarize! Deprivatize! Democratize!
This expose reveals scandals spanning the past fifteen years. There are additional scandals, as well as other campaigns waged against the Regents, which have not been included here. Problems with the UC Regents prior to 2005 are also not discussed. However, even this limited historical exposé is damning.
The only way to solve the problems of privatization, neoliberalization, and militarization on our campuses is to fundamentally change the way our university is organized. The only answer to the corrupt Regents system is to abolish it.
Our struggle to abolish the Regents is an old one. Lest we forget, the decisions of UC Regents’ and their appointed UCB Chancellor led to the free speech movement (FSM) in 1964/1965. The FSM was responding to flaws and corruption inherent in the UC system, and as such it was a movement demanding democratization of the UC (Kell 2014). Recall the words of Mario Savio, who was targeted by administration and pushed out of the UC system after his prominent organizing role in the FSM:
We have an autocracy which runs this university. It’s managed… If [UC] President Kerr actually tried to get something more liberal out of the [Board of] Regents… why didn’t he make some public statement to that effect? And the answer we received, from a well-meaning liberal, was the following: …’Would you ever imagine the manager of a firm making a statement publicly in opposition to his board of directors?’…
Well, I ask you to consider: If this is a firm, and if the Board of Regents are the Board of Directors; and if President Kerr in fact is the manager; then I’ll tell you something. The faculty are a bunch of employees, and we’re the raw material! But we’re a bunch of raw materials that don’t mean to be… made into any product… We’re human beings!
There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYSY2ohHFnQ)
The UC system is powerful, not because of the UC Regents’ leadership, but in spite of it. It is the labor of workers, faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students that makes this university system powerful. Again and again, students and workers have had to repeatedly and consistently sacrifice our time, money, energy, resources, health, and safety to combat the Regents’ corruption and demand social justice on our campuses.
For over fifty years, the Regents system has made our university less safe for students and workers, particularly those most marginalized. The Regents have repeatedly shown they prioritize their own salaries and those of their administrative goons over the well-being, safety, and security of students and workers. The Regents and their appointees, especially Chancellors, continue to have more in common with Wall Street executives than with faculty, students, and workers (Bond-Graham 2010, Roehrkasse and StudentNation 2013). They regularly use the UC system as a means to enrich themselves and their friends (Miller-Leonard 2013, Jaschik 2016) at the expense of the very communities they purport to serve.
Attempts by the state legislature to “curb the autonomy” of the Regents in light of the recent $175 million scandal are not enough. For too long, the Regents have been undermining the public UC system, becoming another form of monarchical absolutism, a kleptocracy used by the 1% to impose outdated and damaging values on a public education system that should serve the needs of students and workers.
The UC Regents may believe they have a divine right to rule, but they do not. It is time to create a new, democratic governing body for the UC that meets the needs of workers and students, especially those most marginalized. If our state government and the Regents won’t take steps to make this happen, students and workers will continue to increase pressure on elites, mobilizing change from the ground up and demanding the re-formulation of the UC system to be more democratic, transparent, and equitable.
- Denounce Donald Trump’s government
- Restore free education
- End state policies that enable racial segregation at all levels of education
- Designate Sanctuary School status to protect undocumented members of our community
- Grow, not cut, independent science funding
- Fully demilitarize UC campuses
- Fully divest from toxic UC investments
- Make the UC budget fully transparent
- Implement survivor-led process for holding people who commit acts of gender-based and sexual violence accountable
- Commit to providing free and accessible trans and reproductive healthcare, including abortion access, to students and workers
- Democratize the Regents