OP/ED - written but not published -  May 15, 2006


By Charles Schwartz, Professor Emeritus
University of California, Berkeley     schwartz@physics.berkeley.edu

     UCOP is the University of California Office of the President.  If that acronym sounds a bit more political than academic, it is entirely in tune with the style that UC President Bob Dynes has taken up in his battle to retain his seat through the current scandal over excesses in executive compensation.

     I recall President Richard Nixon, during the height of the Watergate scandal, telling the American people, “I am the President. I am responsible. But I am not to blame.”  His supporters then told us about how earlier Presidents had done things similar to what this one was accused of; how the nation was under threat and his great leadership was needed, etc., etc.  All of that echoes today at UCOP.

     Last week Dynes spoke with UC faculty (at a meeting of the Assembly of the Academic Senate) and explained why he had chosen not to resign in the face of this scandal – a scandal which occurred during his watch and in which he himself was a significant participant – following the Nixonian tactic. The University is under attack, he said, and by resigning he would only embolden those who were out to destroy the independence of the University.

     Well, there has been plenty of outspoken criticism directed at Dynes and at his bosses – the Board of Regents – by Legislators and by newspaper editors who are appalled at the revelations of this scandal. Those may be called attacks, but they are directed at the responsible leaders, not at the institution.

     Dynes and his flacks find other false images to hide behind. Monday’s San Francisco Chronicle had a long op/ed piece in his defense (signed onto by “prominent business leaders” but obviously written by Dynes’ PR people). Their central line was, “In order to maintain and improve UC’s excellence we need to compete for the outstanding leaders.  The record shows that we have created a great system of higher education.” The truth is that the excellence of any great university, like UC, is established by its outstanding faculty, not by its administrators.

     We can argue about how much a UC President or a Chancellor or a Dean ought to be paid.  In 1992 the faculty at UC Berkeley, in a resolution passed by their Academic Senate, said:  “It should be the policy of any institution of higher learning that the total compensation paid to any executive officer should not exceed twice the average amount paid to its full professors.” 

     But what the present scandal is all about is the fact that top UC officials have been playing sneaky games with public money.  It is about a lack of accountability and transparency. It is about arrogance in high places. It is about betrayal of the public trust, without which this university can not survive.

     In his published response to the three Legislators who recently called for his removal, Dynes has given a list of the plans he has for improving  business operations at UC.  One item on that list caught my eye: “Ethics training for all UC employees”.

     The failure of ethical conduct disclosed in this current scandal clearly sits at the very top of the UC administration. And I can think of no better lesson in ethics than to dole out deserved punishment to a top official who has violated those principles.

     So, now it is up to the Board of Regents.  If they are truly committed to serving the interest of the University of California (this public trust) then they ought to fire Mr. Dynes.  But they, the regents, are caught up in the tangle of their own internal politics. The rule for handling any scandal is to resolve it quickly; but the Regents have dragged this one out for six months. It seems that the early calls for a serious “clean-up” in the UC administration have changed into a plan for “cover-up”.

     Maybe the cleansing of the University of California will require more than the removal of President Dynes.