Since moving up to Santa Barbara for school back in 2010, I’ve always made a genuine effort in learning as much as I can about the UC system, past and present. Essentially, what I’ve gathered is that over the years, this institution has moved further and further away from what it was designed to provide — top quality, accessible higher education. The ambition and application of this mission was primarily the vision of Clark Kerr, the legendary President of the UC system. Kerr’s plan was formulated during the 1950s and 60s, a time in which California was plagued by issues of an inefficient tax system, significant state budget issues and a worrying disconnect between accessibility and enrollment demand; a time quite interestingly enough that eerily mirrors our own.
The biggest difference between that golden age of California higher education and our time however, is in the manner in which our state is dealing with the problem. Whereas the decision-process regarding fixing higher education once involved those actually experienced with matters of higher education, it appears that currently we would rather choose to outsource our problem solving to those who have never been the problem solving type. This is why it is particularly disheartening that a few weeks ago our own Associated Students Senate chose to shoot down a vote of “no confidence” for our newest appointed President of the UC system, Janet Napolitano.
The decision ties in to our institution’s recent history and degradation of its original master plan on two fronts. First, it is quite clear that Napolitano’s experience as former head of the Department of Homeland Security, where she gained a knack for deporting individuals and being in the good graces of the National Security Agency, makes her more fitting for administrating a nuclear facility than a widely respected hub of intellectual thought. Ironically, the baby-boomer laden committee appointed to select the UC president used this reasoning to explain why she was the perfect candidate when it rolled out the red carpet for Napolitano in its initial publicity blitz. Her obvious lack of experience in the field of education should be a huge red flag to us as students.
A far cry from the days of Kerr, it is evident that we now have a figurehead happier to manage whatever facilities continue to prop up the military-industrial complex than an intellectual leader with the appropriate scholastically-minded vision. With this kind of leader, we will have another 30 years of the status quo, and this university will remain a 20th century institution readying kids for a 21st century world. Regardless of what opinion you might have when it comes to the safety of undocumented students at our university as the recently failed resolution contended, a student of this university should disagree with a Napolitano reign on principle alone.
Second, it is clear as daylight that the process is wholly undemocratic, and an insult to the people who as of a few years ago pump more money into the university system than our own state does. The appointment of Napolitano was approved by the UC Regents in a vote that went 25-1, with the lone dissenting voice coming from our only student representation on the board. The vote is an outright misrepresentation of the people the Regents are supposed to represent.
It shouldn’t be a shocker, though. The Regents often have little to no experience in education themselves and usually end up being mere cronies to the Governor of California. This approach has failed, and it has failed hard. Clark Kerr himself was ousted by Regents handpicked by then-new Governor Ronald Reagan who was exceptionally frightened by the increasingly liberal movements of free speech and thought, or what I’d like to call “education,” going on at UC campuses across the state. Regents nowadays are obviously not much better because the cronies have only sat by while our schools become privatized and flooded by those with extraordinary means.
Again, it is quite disheartening that our own Senate, made up of students like you and I, would reject a vote of no confidence on the basis of good faith in our new leader’s abilities to meet our demands and expectations of higher education, when its clear that we have been losing ground and selling out to the highest bidder with the weakest spine for decades. Ultimately, we must ask ourselves if we are willing to cease being the children of Ronald Reagan. Can we instead take charge of our university to fulfill the destiny spread out by Clark Kerr all those years ago? We have the numbers, we have the ideas and perhaps one day we’ll have the student leaders with the will to actually change things.
Mario Vasquez is a fourth-year history major.