Monday, December 5, 2011

Constitutional Impasse. Constitutional Solution.

     Article IX, section 9 of the California State Constitution establishes a legal fiefdom for the UC Regents. The University of California shall be "subject only to such legislative control as may be necessary to insure the security of its funds and compliance with the terms of the endowments of the university and such competitive bidding procedures as may be made applicable to the university by statute for the letting of construction contracts, sales of real property, and purchasing of materials, goods, and services." 
    I am still churning this all over, but it seems that our state constitution offers an impasse and a solution.
    First, it establishes the conditions of the crisis through which our students are fighting right now. We can occupy quads and buildings, cancel classes and withhold grades, rally 24 hours a day, but legally there is nothing that can bind the governing body of the UC to our demands. This is why President Yudof can repeatedly profess his solidarity with students against higher fees while simultaneously raising them. He knows that no matter how large a coalition forms against him and his privatization of the UC he can do exactly as he pleases. Certainly there remains something like a "public conscience" and ability to hold the administration accountable to it. That is what the Katehi resignation movement is about: showing the administration that they cannot call in riot police to arrest nonviolent protestors without losing their jobs. One problem, however: the next chancellor, like our current chancellor, has no reason to call in the riot police to squash protest. Students could occupy the entirety of all ten UC campuses and turn them into one massive Open University and the Regents could still raise fees. 
    Such a change in administrative tactics is what we are seeing right now on UCD. The UC regents have  calculated that they can allow students to overrun the quad and Dutton Hall indefinitely precisely because there is no constitutional mechanism holding them accountable to legitimate student grievances. They make identitical calculations every time students protest fee hikes, be it in town halls, public forums, rallies, or occupations. The administration knows that no matter how loud the students scream or how many buildings are occupied, they don't have to do a thing. 
    At last week's UCD English Graduate Student Association meeting, we crafted a letter demanding both the resignation of Katehi and the dissolution of the UCPD. But we did so under the pretense that such actions move forward towards a democratic system of administrative selection (this as a point of rhetorical debate. Our original language stated, "more democratic elections" until a colleague pointed out that it should be simply "democratic elections"). Any  such reform cannot, however, be enacted from within the UC system. 
    This is the second thing our state constitution offers, albeit not in Article IX, section 9. Under a 1911 amendment to Article IV, section 1, voters can alter the state constitution through direct balloting. By collecting petitions equal to 8% of the previous gubernatorial vote (roughly 750,000 signatures), citizens can put a constitution initiative up for a general vote. While made notorious by "Proposition 8," this procedure could offer a solution to the current UC crisis. If the current state constitution establishes a UC-wide fiefdom for the 1%, then it can also offer the avenue for democratic accountability. 
   Again, I am still mulling this over, but I am beginning to think that our movement's next move will have to be outside the university. Perhaps I am naive, but I think voters would be sympathetic to a democratic governance of publicly mandated and funded universities. 

No comments: