Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Cautionary Note for the Regents

Profs. Matthew Malkan (UCLA-Astronomy) and John Ellis (UC-SC, Literature, Emeritus) have sent a letter to the Regents expressing concerns about the bylaw changes up for consideration at their meeting this week. Apart from the specifics of the changes, a summer meeting when faculty are not around, campus Academic Senates are effectively not functioning, etc., seems not the best time to do major governance changes. An excerpt from their letter is in italics below:

1. By-Laws should properly be amended paragraph by paragraph, with the rationale for each change carefully explained, and that explanation subject to public debate. When one entire set is to be replaced by another, what is essentially being demanded of every Regent is that they search out and compare the original and the replacement for every single provision, and consider carefully the rationale for each change. That is self-evidently impossible. It is both incompetent and irresponsible to ask each Regent to do something that cannot possibly be done. The By-Laws are the Regents’ constitution. They are far too important to be treated in this frivolous way.
2. If the By-Laws are the Board’s constitution, the Standing Orders are the record of its legislation. The distinction between these two utterly different kinds of documents is well understood in many different contexts. A proposal to abolish the one and incorporate it into the other can only rest on a failure to understand this fundamental difference. Nor can Standing Orders be replaced by “policies”. The Standing Orders are publicly available records of Regental decisions. They must remain so, and they are not By-Laws.
3. Many of the proposals enshrined in the new By-Laws seem to us extremely unwise, but in at least one case, it is also plainly illegal: Each Regent is appointed to the Board for a set term, and the power to appoint is vested by the state constitution in the Governor. The Board cannot suddenly vest in itself the power to determine the length of a particular Regent’s term. We are surprised that General Counsel did not warn the administration that this proposed By-Law would be null and void. If he missed something as obvious as this, what else did he miss in his scrutiny of the proposed changes
4. Two proposals appear inconsistent with the fundamental purpose of a Board of Regents. First, Regents are the interface between the University and the public.  Thus it has always been understood that any individual Regent must be free to raise a matter of public concern at a plenary meeting with minimal restrictions. The new By-Laws could stop that, and in so doing might change what it means to be a UC Regent. Second, it is proposed to establish what in effect would be a very small super-committee that would control much of what happens in the Board. Because the UC President would be one of its tiny number, this would change the relationship between the Board and the University administration: the President would be a much more dominant presence in a small group. This would not be a more efficient arrangement: it would be one in which the role of the Regents as watchdog over the University is seriously diminished.
5. Public statements so far do not identify the exact source of these proposals. It is natural to assume that it would have taken the considerable staff resources of the President’s office to produce so far reaching and complex a revision. If that is so—and  we do not see that it could be otherwise—then these proposals should have been accompanied by a clear statement from the President as to why she thinks that the major individual provisions she is suggesting are necessary. She should particularly address  those provisions that would seem to have the effect of consolidating more power in her office, and diluting the oversight function of the Regents.
We understand that severe criticism of these proposals has resulted in their being somewhat modified at the last minute. But modification is not enough: they are so fundamentally flawed that they should be dropped in their entirety.

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