“Equity,” “intersegmental collaboration” and “please do a better job selecting this one” were some of a number of sentiments expressed at Tuesday’s public forum focused on choosing the University of California’s next president.
The search follows current UC President Janet Napolitano’s announcement that she will be stepping down from her position on Aug. 1, 2020.
The discussion was held at UC Los Angeles, with students, faculty and UC system stakeholders sharing their advice, ideas and hopes for the type of president they would like to see next. Comments were directed to the Special Committee, a temporary group appointed by the chair of the Board of Regents to consider and ultimately recommend a candidate for the position in question.
Ernesto Arciniega, a PhD student at UCLA, was first to speak. He articulated a desire for a president who, instead of admitting diverse students with the sole aim of fulfilling diversity quotas, “has a larger social consciousness, who truly commits to defend the voice of the voiceless,” a message that many other speakers echoed.
The 12 other student and faculty speakers at the public forum discussed college affordability, increasing mental health resources and addressing the climate crisis, but one of the most consistent demands raised by speakers that afternoon centered around electing a president who would resolve the contract dispute with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299 (AFSCME) in the workers’ favor.
“Under Janet [Napolitano]’s leadership, the UC has refused to provide the workers of AFSCME 3299 with a fair contract,” said Alexia Hatun, an undergraduate at UCLA. Hatun said she would like to see a UC president “who will respect the dignity of labor and that will end outsourcing.”
Ashley Michelle, a third-year labor studies major at UCLA, agreed with Hatun. Explaining that her friend, a residence hall housekeeper, works seven days a week and two other jobs in order to make a living, Michelle told the committee that she believes her friend is “employed by an entity that devalues her work.”
“This is unacceptable and the UC should strive for better,” Michelle said.
Multiple speakers also emphasized that the new president should clearly indicate that the UC system will protect any undocumented students enrolled in the UC system from deportation.
Other stakeholders, like representatives from education organizations, K–12 teachers and UC alumni, spoke after students and faculty. Unlike the speakers before, stakeholders generally avoided direct criticism of Napolitano. Darlene V. Willis, co-founder of the Concerned Parents Alliance, was mostly alone in acknowledging that the next president will need to “help restore public trust and confidence in higher education institutions.”
Instead, stakeholders suggested a more varied set of issues they would like the new UC president to tackle, though they did agree on a few common topics. One such topic was the need for increased collaboration between different educational systems in the state — as far back as pre-kindergarten — and with community colleges and the California State University system, according to speaker Carlos Iola.
“There’s way more to be gained than lost through planned and purposeful partnerships,” said Anne Stanton of the Linked Learning Alliance.
Speakers mentioned that the transfer process in particular could be improved by such partnerships with community colleges, according to Darla Cooper, executive director of the Research and Planning Group, which focuses on increasing the success of California community colleges.
Cooper said that prospective transfers “need a more holistic and integrated approach to ensure that they reach their ultimate goal of a bachelor’s degree and a better life for themselves and their families.”
But as applications to the UC system have continually surged, space is becoming increasingly difficult to find in the UC system, which Rachel Bonkovsky from the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools criticized.
“Since 1980, we’ve built 23 prisons in the state, and we’ve opened the doors to one UC,” Bonkovsky said.
The next town hall will take place at UC Riverside on Jan. 16. People may also submit their own suggestions regarding the presidential search using the information provided on the UC presidential search website.
A version of this article appeared on p. 5 of the Jan. 16, 2019 print edition of the Daily Nexus.