An Open Letter From a UCSD Faculty Member to UCSD's New Chancellor

by Luis Martín-Cabrera

Dear Chancellor Khosla:

I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Literature as well as an affiliated faculty of Ethnic Studies and the Critical Gender Studies Program. I am also the Vice President of the San Diego Faculty Association, a local chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). As you may know, this organization has fought hard for academic freedom and faculty rights across the nation. I am one of the faculty members who joined the Black Student Union, Mecha and other student organizations to protest the racist, homophobic, sexist, and classist incidents that occurred on our campus in 2010. Finally, I am a supporter of labor groups on campus, especially AFSCME. While you look forward to a six digit salary and many other perks, our brothers and sisters from AFSCME are being asked to work more hours for the same or less money while putting their health at severe risk.

I’m not telling you all of this to legitimize myself or to speak for any of these groups. I am letting you know who I am and who I have been in contact with for the past seven years – years in which I have listened and heard many concerns. I am writing this letter to express one concern that is shared by many. Like many students, faculty, and workers, I never had the opportunity to ask you questions in an open, unscripted forum when you were a candidate (hint: organize such a forum. It is never too late). I read with curiosity and attention your interview in The Guardian, (http://www.ucsdguardian.org/component/k2/item/25732-interview-with-chancellor-designate-khosla) and I have some doubts, questions and comments about your responses.

In response to a question about the future direction of the university, you said that UCSD “has achieved a lot in the last 50 years. And it has achieved that partly because of the entrepreneurial nature of the faculty, partly because of strong leadership and partly because of both.” My Translation: you are mostly concerned about the profit making centers of the University, mainly the hospitals and research centers that are connected to federal grants and corporate interests. Many of us are not surprised that you see the university as a corporation and yourself as a CEO. We know that you managed a $50 million portfolio for DARPA (a military agency) and that you served as a consultant for several companies and venture capitalists. However, we are also part of this public university, and we ask you: Do those of us who are not entrepreneurs or revenue generators have a place at UCSD? Do those who work in academic fields that promote the public good over profit-motives have a future at UCSD?

The typical response to this concern is that UCSD development teams are working on raising funds for the Humanities and those fields that cannot support themselves. It is always so interesting how administrators label the things they like to expend money on (i.e. buildings, chancellor’s salaries) as “investments,” while the things they don’t like to expend money on (i.e. student services, humanities departments) are labeled as “costs.” The problem, however, is that even accepting your philanthropic logic, there are entire fields of knowledge and disciplines that “do not get donors excited.” Are we condemned, then, to sacrifice entire fields of knowledge on the altar of corporate interests? Is that going to promote the public interest and world quality education in the state of California?

When you were asked about the possibility of increasing students fees 6% in the fall, you said you wished there was a magic bullet to avoid tuition increases. You added that without this magic bullet the way to fix the lack of funds “is over time, to raise more money for student scholarships, for undergraduate scholarships. But that is a process that can take one, two, three decades, to get to a point where everybody can go to school for free, it’s nearly impossible.” My Translation: You will support any tuition increases in the near future regardless of the effect that it may have on the students and their families. You appear to be a supporter of the so-called “Michigan Model” of high tuition with high aid – that is to say, passing the “cost” of education to the “student/consumer.” Your words appear to be a euphemistic way around the indenture of our students.

Do you know that this model generates astronomical student debt and that it disproportionally affects working class students and students of color? In this regard, Bob Meister, a Professor of UC Santa Cruz, writes that, “the price of public higher education has been growing at twice the rate of the economy, twice as fast as health insurance, and three to four times more quickly than consumer prices in general. University leaders were, of course, both observers of this bubble and participants in it” (Debt and Taxes: Can the Financial Industry Save Public Universities? Privatization Is Now the Problem—Not the Solution). Are you going to participate in the expansion and consolidation of the student debt bubble or will you make a firm commitment to consider other options? It is simply not true that you have no option but to raise tuition. There are many proposals like UCSF Professor Stan Glantz’s. According to Glantz it would cost the median California tax payer between $45 and $51 to roll back UC tuition to the levels of the year 2000 (see the complete proposal at http://keepcaliforniaspromise.org/2066/restore2011-12).

Finally, you were asked about the future of diversity initiatives on campus and you responded: “clearly I have a goal of increasing enrollment, but I have to work with my senior staff, the faculty and students, because I’m sure there are many good ideas floating around that I am unaware of.” My Translation: Like Chancellor Fox and the UCSD administration, you think that racism and lack of diversity at UCSD have been resolved, so you plan on taking a dangerously passive approach that has been the modus operandi of administrators. The problem is that there are signs of continued deterioration, because the problem is structural. The so-called “Compton Cookout” emerged from a long history of structural inequality at UCSD. Because of the brave actions of students, especially the groups previously mentioned, the administration had to face some of these problems. Yet, they addressed the issue only superficially, never getting at the roots or systemic problems. They put a band-aid on things, and then used the students’ struggles in their slick marketing campaigns to promote “campus diversity.” Contrary to that fantasy campus, UCSD continues to be a toxic space for historically underrepresented minorities on campus, especially Muslim and Arab American students. I don’t have a quantitative study to substantiate this claim, but I have eyes, ears, and a heart. At the very least, Chancellor Kohsla, you should commit the funding for the BSU resource center out of UCSD money. Do not wait for private donations. Your support for this effort would be a step in the right direction and a sign of good faith.

I realize that many members of the community may think it is too soon to raise these criticisms. Unfortunately, after seven years at this institution I have learned to expect nothing but empty words from the administration. Perhaps you can prove me wrong. Perhaps you can show me and the UCSD community that there was a deeper substance behind your words in the recent interview. Then, I would be the first to admit that I was “lost in translation.” Prove me wrong, and I’d be happy to sit down there with you and the people. We could talk, listen, and imagine new ways of opening the doors of the university to everybody in the state of California, regardless of class, race, gender, or ethnicity and honor the heritage of the California Master Plan. If this sounds too much like fiction to you, then I guess I will see you at the next protest in the Chancellor Office Complex, or at the next building reclamation, or wherever there are good people opposing the full privatization of the UC system.

(Updated to correct spelling errors noted by Mike Easter.)

11 Responses to “An Open Letter From a UCSD Faculty Member to UCSD's New Chancellor”

  1. Samer Naji says:

    As a student at UCSD, I fully second all the concerns raised in this letter.

  2. Stephen Williams says:

    As a college counselor working in an urban comprehensive high school, I can only agree with your premise and stress that this type of thinking is what is creating charter schools and syphoning funding from the neediest students. The illusion that the achievement gap is narrowing is exactly that, an illusion.

    Please join in demanding education which does not depend on capitalism or “the kindness of strangers.”

  3. I fully support professor Luis Martín-Cabrera letter to the UCSD’s new chancellor. Chancellor Koshla you must try to consider that a place like UCSD can become something more than just another node of the market with little to no concern for the education of it citizens beyond what the market demands. Instead let us create a university that supports the public good of education for all, that supports the growth of minority education (a community that is now the majority), education without debt, a school that seeks to establish a space for critical thought as core value along side the current call for innovation. Another university is possible and as our new chancellor you have an opportunity to help make this possible.

    Associate Professor Ricardo Dominguez, UCSD, Visual Arts Department and Principal Investigator/CALIT2

  4. Jody Blanco says:

    This letter gets at the heart of the core issues that are driving prestigious faculty and prospective students away from UCSD. Namely, they are:

    1) The perception that UCSD is becoming a polytechnic university whose task it is to train number crunchers who excel in taking multiple choice exams. So, while UC Berkeley and UCLA are true “universities,” because they invest so strongly in their social sciences and humanities programs, UCSD is a “science school”;

    2) The perception that the university’s priorities are misplaced. A new building or research lab goes up every year, named after one great patron or another, yet they’re closing libraries, getting rid of books, increasing class sizes, running out of classrooms, and telling everyone there’s a perfectly good legal explanation for the status quo. Professor Martin Cabrera can’t have forgotten the cancer issue in our building. Nobody has;

    3) The perception that the privatization of the university is not only responsible for rising student tuition, skyrocketing student debt, dependence on the generosity of the top 1%, the exoneration of the state’s responsibility and investment in public higher education, and so forth; but that privatization has become a CULTURE at the university — a culture marked by the lack of transparency regarding resources and their distribution, the astonishing expansion of administrative management in just the past 3-4 years, and the concomitant divestment in faculty decision-making power in matters directly pertaining to us and the university. Leaders are appointed without any general consultation with a constituency who will be most affected by them. When the consequences of decision-making by fiat become cultural, the university’s reputation will be severely diminished.

    Is this what people want? Chancellor Fox encountered a great deal of challenges during her term. Certainly, many more challenges lie ahead. We always want to have good faith in the process of administration. We want to feel that our interests are all ultimately the same: and that when a person or group raises a grievance, we all work together to solve it. The appointment of a new chancellor without any input of the general university faculty bodes ill for our ability to meet those challenges ahead. Let’s hope this doesn’t determine the direction our new chancellor ultimately decides to take.

    Jody Blanco, associate professor
    UCSD Department of Literature

  5. Mike Easter says:

    Might help your credibility if you could spell the guy’s name (Khosla) and AFSCME correctly. Might also seem less narcissistic if you lost the self-aggrandizing first paragraph.

  6. Carlos DMC says:

    It is a shame that UCSD is turning into a University that don’t care about education but only about getting more money out of the students that can barely pay the fees every quarter. Professor Luis Martin Cabrera is an extraordinary professor who not only cares about his students, but about the education for each one of his students. Same goes for Professor Jody Blanco. Most of the students that cannot pay the fees are the students that are willing to learn and to do something in the future. If you keep putting more obstacles to those students that are willing to study even when they need to have 2 jobs to pay their fees how can the University expect them to succeed. It seems UCSD its just like a political party, fill with corruption and only ambition of power.

  7. Ann Bradley says:

    An entrepreneur, by definition, manages any enterprise with considerable initiative and risk. The use of this word does not, as the author claims, imply stricly profit-making. Indeed, many profit-making enterprises are risk-adverse.

    Investments, by definition, are made in order to recover the initial outlay and return additional funds. Costs are not expected to perform in that way.

    It never hurts to at least attempt to generate excitement in one’s field.

    Your translation of clearly articulated English sentences is egregious. The reality is that the bloated UC system can not survive in its present form. University leaders were not “observers and participants.” They were the creators of the bubble. One component of that bubble is the bloated infrastructure, the cost of which is unfairly borne by those they claim to “help.”

    When someone cites “many good ideas” from others that they wish to hear, you should not translate that into a statement that they will be passive. It is dishonest of you to do so.

    What do you propose to sacrifice if the BSU were created out of state funds? EEO laws?

  8. Scott says:

    Do you need a rock climbing wall to be a first class university? Maybe you should spend less on student amenities and more on facilities for learning.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=793gph_gwkQ

  9. [...] symbolic. It serves no function other than placating the campus Left (whom Khosla had already riled by praising the faculty’s “entrepreneurial nature”) and signaling that Khosla can be relied [...]

  10. [...] symbolic. It serves no function other than placating the campus Left (whom Khosla had already riled by praising the faculty’s “entrepreneurial nature”) and signaling that Khosla can be relied [...]

  11. [...] symbolic. It serves no function other than placating the campus Left (whom Khosla had already riled by praising the faculty’s “entrepreneurial nature”) and signaling that Khosla can be relied [...]

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