Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

There's something happening here...

By Rosemary Joyce

and yes, what it is ain't exactly clear.

Tomorrow afternoon, the Academic Senate of the University of California, Berkeley will convene a Special Division Meeting, in response to a request from 47 named faculty. The agenda consists of a resolution authored by three faculty which is formally a vote of no confidence in the top administrative officers here, sparked by the violent tactics used by UCB police on November 9 when confronting the Occupy Cal movement.

Three alternative resolutions have been offered, which the official meeting notice page informs us are

not on the meeting's agenda.  They are provided for the information of the meeting attendees.  During the second half of the meeting, an attendee who has the floor may move these or others as substitutes for the primary motion, may move parts of these or others as amendments to the primary motion, or if time allows may move these or other motions as new business.

The alternative resolutions differ primarily in focusing not on a lack of confidence in university leadership (although each, in one way or another, can be read as an expression of at least dismay), but in turning their focus on the broader issues that provided the outrage fueling the call for the Special Division Meeting. They range from a concise condemnation of police actions to a detailed nine point blueprint for how to prevent this from ever happening again. One adds as a final note an explicit statement of "strong opposition to the State’s disinvestment in higher education, which is at the root of the student protests".

I plan to be at the meeting tomorrow, one of the very few Academic Senate meetings I will have attended in my 17+ years as a faculty member here. I am not proud of not attending Senate meetings. I have good reasons why I often could not: they tend (like this one) to be scheduled late afternoons, and I tend to teach during those same hours. But I have to admit I have rarely felt compelled to go to these meetings, despite the fact that I have been active in faculty governance, serving on committees working on computing, curriculum, and graduate issues.

My sense of the efficacy of the Academic Senate meeting per se is well captured by my colleague Michael O'Hare, writing on The Reality-Based Community that

In the first place, the “Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate” is not a representative body but a committee of the whole 2000-odd of us, and its meetings are rarely attended by more than 100. Obviously it meets in a dense cloud of selection bias that obscures its legitimacy, so its resolutions and actions don’t seem to be taken very seriously by the campus authorities, who can easily say, “well, that’s what several dozen malcontents think, end of story”.

That would be more than an unfortunate outcome for tomorrow's meeting.

What happens in response to the November 9 police confrontation with Occupy UC should matter to every member of this community. But I don't want to predict how many of those eligible to be there and debate the issues will actually turn up. I continue to believe that if you opt out you have voluntarily given up your right to complain. I hope to be surprised by an overflow crowd in the meeting place, which the website I just checked tells me can seat 460 people. But I will not be holding my breath

And that really is unfortunate, because this is a historical moment when we have the chance to use our voices productively. I admit to being less taken by the ceremonial motion of no confidence than by the motions that call for the university to take concrete actions. I am especially hopeful that we might pass a resolution that actually calls, at a minimum, for implementation of the June 14, 2010 Brazil Report of the Police Review Board. That's because for me, the issue is quite simply this: who is the injured party here?

Ceremonial resolutions of no-confidence are an expression of the distress felt by faculty about their leadership. While I do not dismiss this, it pales in comparison to the actual pain inflicted on those, including faculty, who were the targets of violence on November 9.

Changes in policing, unlike ceremonial censure, could change both the potential violence in future protests and the actual atmosphere of the campus that affects everyone, including those with no voice or vote in the senate.

Faculty perspectives differ. We have seen that in recent posts exploring the issues raised by Classics professor Michael Nagler, by History professor David Hollinger, by Sociology professor Claude Fischer, and professor of Molecular and Cell Biology Michael Eisen. But regardless of their differences, what faculty have to say is without exception informed by a sense of history, by a depth of analysis, and by an ethical concern for justice that is precisely what I see as at the core of the Occupy movement more broadly.

If we want leadership, it is time for us to provide it.