Saturday, October 23, 2021

Margo Leavin

From UCLA Newsroom: Margo Leavin, renowned art dealer and influential contemporary art world figure, has died at the age of 85. A graduate of UCLA, she was a longtime champion of artists in Los Angeles, and was the lead donor in the renovation of UCLA’s graduate art studios. Leavin was born in New York, but spent her adult life in Los Angeles. She earned her diploma from UCLA with a psychology degree in 1958 and became a private dealer in 1967, selling art out of her home until she opened the Margo Leavin Gallery in West Hollywood in 1970. She took on former employee Wendy Brandow as her partner in 1989.

The gallery was renowned for showing cutting-edge contemporary art by emerging and established artists — including John Baldessari, Claes Oldenburg, Lynda Benglis, Sol Lewitt, Agnes Martin and Donald Judd. By the time it closed in 2013, it had produced more than 500 exhibitions, including 400 solo shows. Its archives were acquired by the Getty Research Institute in 2015. In 2016, Leavin made a gift of $20 million to fund the renovation and expansion of the UCLA Graduate Art Studios. The complex, a former wallpaper factory, had been located in the Hayden Tract in Culver City since 1985. Leavin’s gift is the largest ever made by an alumna to the arts at UCLA. In honor of her contribution, the complex was renamed the UCLA Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studios.

“I’m grateful that my career in the Los Angeles art world has afforded me the opportunity to support those at the very heart of this community: artists,” Leavin had said in a statement. “The students, alumni and faculty from the art department at UCLA shape the future of the arts in Los Angeles and beyond.”

The major restoration and expansion created a new building for the nation’s top-ranked public university to support its leading graduate program. Designed by the Los Angeles-based architecture firm Johnston Marklee and opened in 2019, the 48,000 square foot campus was envisioned as a true artist’s neighborhood. The studios include exhibition galleries, a covered arcade that’s open to the outdoors, a garden and sculpture yards. The spaces were not overly deterministic in order to support the diverse and emerging needs of creative practice.

“Margo, a hero for and of the arts in Los Angeles, liked to say, ‘without artists, there would be no art world,’” said Brett Steele, dean of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture. “Thanks to her commitment to nurturing the next generation of artistic talent, our students will benefit from state-of-the-art facilities, in which to dream and to create, for many years to come.”


Friday, October 22, 2021


New weekly California claims for unemployment insurance benefits have been stuck in the 60,000-to-80,000 range when "normal" would be something like 40,000. Thus, by this measure, the state's economy is not "roaring back," as the governor liked to put it a few months ago. As noted in a prior post, we seem likely to be heading for another year in which the budget and the underlying economy seem divorced. The governor is signaling a Good Times/election year budget - made possible by still large reserves - even if the times are not so good.*

As always, the latest claims data are at



Abbot controversy spills over from MIT to Princeton and now to Berkeley - Part 3

We noted in our last post that the Abbot-MIT-Princeton-Berkeley controversy has made its way from predominantly conservative news media to mainstream popular sources.* It has now moved also into the general academic discussion area with publication in Inside Higher Ed:

A Berkeley Resignation Over Canceled MIT Talk

By Colleen Flaherty - October 21, 2021

 David Romps, professor of earth and planetary science at the University of California, Berkeley, says he’s resigning as director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center over an internal disagreement about extending an invitation to a fellow climate scientist. Romps made his announcement in a lengthy Twitter thread, and while he didn’t mention the fellow scientist by name, it is clearly a reference to Dorian Abbot, an associate professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago whose planned public lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was recently canceled over concerns about Abbot’s commentary on academic diversity initiatives, including his comparison of the diversity “regime” to Nazism.

Abbot will give his climate science address today instead at Princeton University, which offered to host him when MIT canceled. Romps said he also wanted to reach out to Abbot, to ask him to deliver his MIT talk at Berkeley, and that he was disappointed by the reactions of his immediate colleagues (Romps did not share details about who disagreed, or why). Romps said, “I was hoping we could agree that BASC does not consider an individual’s political or social opinions when selecting speakers for its events, except for cases in which the opinions give a reasonable expectation that members of our community would be treated with disrespect,” but that it’s “unclear when or if we might reach agreement on this point.”

Berkeley said in a statement, “Prof. Romps’s resignation is unfortunate, but it is his decision to make.” Abbot will visit MIT to address fellow scientists, not the general public, in May.


With (now) general awareness, this would be a good time for the UC and campus-level Academic Senate institutions to take a good look at free speech issues and not leave it in the hands of university administrators. It appears that when controversy developed at MIT, the academic in charge went to the MIT central administration for guidance. Something similar appears to have happened at a somewhat-related controversy at UCLA. The advice received from that quarter seems in the end to have been unhelpful at best. There is no need, when an academic speaker is invited to give a lecture for elaborate statements as to why the speaker's views don't represent the university on this or that issue. No speaker, whether an invited guest or a faculty member, represents anyone's view other than that of the speaker. The administration can simply point to whatever policy makes that clear if anyone asks. Elaborate statements by university presidents, chancellors, or other officials simply lead to situations such as what has now developed in the Abbot-MIT-Princeton-Berkeley case.



Thursday, October 21, 2021

Lecturers' Labor Negotiation News - Part 3

Various members of the state legislature have written to UC prez Drake concerning the current labor negotiations regarding lecturers. The letter says, in part:

We urge you to prioritize labor peace and job stability for lecturers by coming to an agreement with the University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) that recognizes the contributions of UC lecturers with reemployment preferences. UC-AFT members have sought to address these issues in collective bargaining and have proposed solutions that are consistent with existing industry standards for public higher education in California. For years now, reemployment preferences for contingent faculty at all California community colleges and all California State Universities have helped balance labor and management interests and ensure that great teachers can continue teaching. It’s time that these same practices are adopted across the UC system. 

After two years of bargaining the University of California and UC-AFT have reached an impasse for a successor contract for lecturers. These teaching faculty members, who teach onethird of undergraduate credit hours, have been working without a contract since February 1, 2020. In May 2021, they voted by 96% to authorize their colleagues on the UC-AFT bargaining team to call a strike... 

Full letter at

Just a reminder about "surplus"

The screengrab from the Sacramento Bee shown here tells you something, but - as your truly hopes blog readers will know - we are in fact this year pulling down reserves (running a deficit). Words such as surplus and deficit in the mouths of California political figures mean whatever those figures want. The simple idea that surplus = revenue > spending and deficit means the opposite goes out the window in California budget-speak. (Based on the governor's own figures, the deficit this year in the general fund is about $14-15 billion, i.e., we are pulling down reserves by that magnitude.) We are able to run such deficits partly because Jerry Brown accumulated a big reserve earlier and partly because at the start of the pandemic, it was assumed that revenues would fall dramatically and so spending was initially cut. 

Revenue didn't fall, mainly because higher earners who were least affected by the pandemic, pay much of state revenue through the income tax. And the federal government provided various payments to the state. As a result, reserves will be higher than they were before the pandemic, even with this year's deficit.

What you can say from the headline is that the governor is not going to be harsh regarding the budget for next year, which happens to be a gubernatorial election year. 

Abbot controversy spills over from MIT to Princeton and now to Berkeley - Part 2

Our previous post noted the controversy concerning the Abbot lecture cancellation at MIT and its spillover to Princeton and now to UC-Berkeley via the Romps resignation.* Up until now, i.e., before it arrived at Berkeley, the controversy, although it did show up in some mainstream publications (we provided a link to The Atlantic), mainly circulated in conservative news source. The Berkeley addition has apparently taken it mainstream:

From NBC News: After lecture is canceled, free speech debate roils science academia

Some academics are pushing back against what they see as personal politics that overshadows scientific work. Others stress that actions have consequences.

By Denise Chow

A prominent climate physicist has resigned from one of his roles at the University of California, Berkeley, after he said faculty members would not agree to invite a guest lecturer to the school who had come under fire for his political views.

The lecturer, Dorian Abbot, a geophysicist, has been criticized for opposing affirmative action programs and other initiatives to promote diversity, equity and inclusion at colleges and universities. He has been the subject of boycotts and opposition from left-leaning students and at academic faculty meetings.

In a statement on Twitter, the physicist, David Romps, said Monday that he is stepping down as director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center, or BASC, “at the end of this calendar year or when a replacement is ready, whichever is sooner.” Romps will remain a professor in the school’s department of earth and planetary sciences, a university spokesperson said.

The incident has added to the debate about when, if ever, it is appropriate to suppress speech on college campuses.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology this month rescinded a lecture invitation to Abbot, a geophysicist and associate professor at the University of Chicago, amid public backlash over an op-ed he co-wrote in Newsweek that argued in favor of a “Merit, Fairness, and Equality” framework on campuses as an alternative to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, which he said sought “to increase the representation of some groups through discrimination against members of other groups.” Last year, Abbot also denounced the riots that erupted in Chicago after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. He addressed those comments in a post published Oct. 5 on Substack.

Abbot was scheduled to deliver the prestigious Carlson Lecture at MIT’s department of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences about his research on climate science and the potential for alien planets to support life.

Romps, who did not respond to a request for comment, said his request to the faculty followed the MIT cancellation.

Romps said he asked faculty members whether the school could invite Abbot “to speak to us in the coming months to hear the science talk he had prepared and, by extending the invitation now, reaffirm that BASC is a purely scientific organization, not a political one,” he wrote on Twitter.

He said that discussions remained unresolved and that his colleagues’ unwillingness to include guest lecturers who have divergent political beliefs goes against the school’s mission.

“Excluding people because of their political and social views diminishes the pool of scientists with which members of BASC can interact and reduces the opportunities for learning and collaboration,” he wrote, adding that such actions signal that “some opinions — even well-intentioned ones — are forbidden, thereby increasing self-censorship, degrading public discourse, and contributing to our nation’s political balkanization.”


We'll see where the story goes from here. However, as we noted yesterday, such controversies are not a Good Thing for academia. We have already seen political interventions in some states, particularly in regard to public universities. Perhaps UC seems immune since it resides in a "blue" state. Congressional elections in 2022 and the presidential election in 2024 could change things, even in California. Don't think so? Ask your grandparents about "1950s' loyalty oath controversy" at UC. Ask your parents about what happened to Clark Kerr in the 1960s. Or Google these events.



Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Abbot controversy spills over from MIT to Princeton and now to Berkeley

The Dorian Abbot controversy has spilled over from MIT to Princeton and now to Berkeley. If you don't know what that controversy is, I have provided a key document below and links to several others. 

In essence, Prof. Dorian Abbot of the University of Chicago was invited to give a public lecture at MIT concerning climate science and life on other planets. Apparently, some students got wind of remarks he had made about diversity issues in academia, protested, and the lecture was cancelled, causing an outcry about free speech in the news media.* 


*Example from the Atlantic:


Abbot was then extended an invitation to give a non-public lecture within the inviting department. (It's unclear if this non-public lecture will in fact take place.) MIT released an official statement (reproduced below) after the story of the cancellation of the public lecture circulated on the internet. Meanwhile, another entity at Princeton University invited Abbot to give his lecture "there" - in fact via Zoom at the date/time it was scheduled originally at MIT.**




Apparently, as a result of the brouhaha that developed, Prof. David Romps, director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center (BASC) sought to invite Abbott to speak, but he was rebuffed and then resigned over Twitter.** (See the accompanying image.) Exactly who did the rebuffing is not entirely clear from the Twitter thread. 


**See the long thread at


Needless to say, it is a Bad Thing for academia to have such occurrences repeatedly in the news. Exactly how the Berkeley powers-that-be will react is also unclear at this point. Yours truly looked at the Daily Cal early this morning and found no mention of the Romps resignation. But there is plenty about it floating around the internet.


From MIT's president:

To the members of the MIT community,

You may have heard about a situation centered on our Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) regarding an invited speaker, Professor Dorian Abbot. In a recent letter*** to the faculty, Provost Marty Schmidt lays out the facts, some of which have not come through clearly in the media and on social media. I encourage you to read his letter. You will also find thorough coverage in The Tech.**** 





The controversy around this situation has caused great distress for many members of our community, in many quarters. It has also uncovered significant differences within the Institute on several issues. I would like to reflect on what happened and set us on a path forward. But let me address the human questions first. 

To the members of the EAPS community: I am deeply disturbed that as a direct result of this situation, many of you – students, postdocs, faculty and young alumni – have suffered a tide of online targeting and hate mail from outside MIT. This conduct is reprehensible and utterly unacceptable. For members of the MIT community, where we value treating one another with decency and respect, this feels especially jarring.I encourage anyone who is subjected to harassing or threatening behavior or language to reach out for support and guidance to the Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response (IDHR) office.

I also want to express my tremendous respect for Professor Rob van der Hilst, department head in EAPS, who faced a difficult situation. I know Rob as a person of the highest integrity and character. We are fortunate to have his leadership in EAPS. In this case, when Rob concluded, after consulting broadly, that EAPS could not host an effective public outreach event centered around Professor Abbot, he chose to extend instead an invitation for an on-campus lecture; Rob took this step deliberately to preserve the opportunity for free dialogue and open scientific exchange.

Professor Abbot is a distinguished scientist who remains welcome to speak on the MIT campus, and he has been working with EAPS to confirm the event details. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that this matter has caused many people inside and outside our community to question the Institute’s commitment to free expression. Some report feeling that certain topics are now off limits at MIT. I have heard these concerns directly from faculty colleagues, alumni and others who care deeply about the Institute. Let me say clearly what I have observed through more than 40 years at MIT:

Freedom of expression is a fundamental value of the Institute.

I believe that, as an institution of higher learning, we must ensure that different points of view – even views that some or all of us may reject – are allowed to be heard and debated at MIT. Open dialogue is how we make each other wiser and smarter. This commitment to free expression can carry a human cost. The speech of those we strongly disagree with can anger us. It can disgust us. It can even make members of our own community feel unwelcome and illegitimate on our campus or in their field of study. I am convinced that, as an institution, we must be prepared to endure such painful outcomes as the price of protecting free expression – the principle is that important. I am equally certain, however, that when members of our community must bear the cost of other people’s free expression, they deserve our understanding and support. We need to ensure that they, too, have the opportunity to express their own views.

*   *   *

A path forward

The issues this situation has brought to the surface are complex. No unilateral declaration on behalf of MIT could either resolve them in the moment or prevent future controversies. So I believe it is vital now that we engage in serious, open discussion together. As the provost’s letter described, we will begin with a faculty forum, being planned for the last week of October. Discussion in this working session might address questions like these: Given our shared commitment to open inquiry and free expression, are there further steps we should take to practice it consistently? Should we develop guidelines to help groups in their own decision making? Does the concept need more prominence in our curriculum? How should we respond when members of our community bear the disproportionate cost of other people’s speech?

It will be essential in this overall process to include the perspective and experience of graduate and undergraduate students; I have asked Chancellor Melissa Nobles to work with student leaders to decide the best way to do so. I have also asked Provost Marty Schmidt, Chancellor Nobles and Chair of the Faculty Lily Tsai to begin immediately assembling a special ad hoc working group to consider the insights and lessons we should take away from this situation. I believe this extremely important topic deserves and will benefit from this kind of thoughtful, deliberative, nuanced approach, perhaps including experts from outside MIT. The themes that emerge from the initial faculty forum will help inform the working group’s charge.

*   *   *

From the comments that have come to me directly, I can attest that our community encompasses a wide spectrum of very strong views about what has transpired in these last weeks. As we cope with the aftermath of this public controversy here at home, let us hold ourselves to the same standards in our interactions with each other as in our intellectual work: To learn more, assume less and ask more – and listen as closely as we can to each other’s ideas, perspectives and experiences. I hope that, in this moment and always, we will all continue to value and respect each other as fellow members of one community, united in a single great mission.


L. Rafael Reif