Alarming Changes to UC Regent’s Governance Structure

By Robert Meister

This is more than alarming–it is the end of shared governance as a constitutional principle in the UC system.

A whole jurisprudence has grown up around the idea that the Standing Orders are not mere policies/procedures at the level of rules governing the order of business at a Regents meeting. They create the Academic Senate and the Administration as the twin offspring of Regental authority. In 105.1 it is stated that the Senate CAN be granted whatever powers the Regents choose to confer upon it. But in 105.2 it is clear that that Academic Senate already HAS been granted PLENARY POWER over the approval of academic programs, the conferral of degrees and the publication of books by UC Press. This means that, if the Senate and the Administration disagree over the creation of a new degree program or the publication of a book, the will of the Senate trumps the will of the administration. (The Academic Senate also has plenary powers over the selection of its own committees, its own membership, etc., so the administration cannot pack Senate committees against the Senate’s will.)

Standing Order 105.2.d establishes the idea of SHARED GOVERNANCE in the area of budget and planning where the administration, not the Senate, has the last word. Having the last word means that the administration does not need BOTH the advice and consent of the Senate in order to act. But shared governance means that the administration cannot act without first seeking and receiving the advice of the Senate–i.e. that its unilateral acts (those taken without Senate consultation) are, by Standing Order of the Regents, invalid. Accordingly, CAP (which does not have plenary powers) can and does report to the Senate the number of instances in which the administration rejected its advice on matters of appointment and promotion and can put forward a motion of “no confidence” in the event it finds these disagreements alarming. (In my 40+ years at UCSC I have seen this happen when a denial of tenure was made on improper political grounds, etc.). P&T is also subject to shared governance, and can also call for a vote of no confidence in the event of a serious disagreement over its advice to an administration.(I have seen this successfully threatened when a tenure case has gone to P&T.)  Formally, CPB has the same power although I have never seen it exercised. In my view it would be exercised–as a CPB Chair I have successfully threatened to exercise it–if the administration made a budgetary decision without consulting CPB, thereby allowing CPB to record and report its possible disagreement. And, of course, CPB can and does routinely report instances when the administration rejects its advice.

By collapsing the distinction between the Standing Orders and matters of ordinary policy, today’s changes threaten the conceptual foundation of this entire jurisprudence of plenary powers and shared governance. It might survive as a matter of custom and it might be replaced by something stronger. But I fear that it has already eroded, which is why the Senate itself has not stood up to oppose the Regents’ purported housekeeping proposals. And there would now be little basis for bringing it back were the Senate ever to reassert itself.

Something valuable has come to an end because the faculty does not demand backbone in the Senate. Too bad.

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