Posted on Remaking the University,  March 15, 2012

Occupy Opportunities

Charles Schwartz, UC Berkeley


Here at UC Berkeley we are faced with the immediate announcement by the Chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, that he will resign at the end of this calendar year. (This announcement came out Tuesday, March 13; and I was on a picket line outside his office complaining about his behavior just the day before; but I doubt there is much of a connection.)


That announcement earned a flood of email commentary among activist faculty on this campus: wondering why it had happened, who the next Chancellor might be, how we might find some leverage to influence that outcome, …


Is this an opportunity for something more creative?


What is the most salient new force in American political consciousness?   Occupy.


Occupy what?


Occupy the process by which the next Chancellor will be chosen.


We know the standard drill. The President of the University system will appoint a Special Committee to advise him – a few members of the Board of Regents, some top administrators and faculty leaders from throughout the UC system, and a few faculty from the Berkeley campus, plus some reps from alums, students and staff.  They will: define the scope of their task; invite applications; select the serious candidates; interview their top selections. The President will make the final choice and the Board of Regents will ratify that. And all of that will proceed in secrecy.


So, here is an alternative model.  Some group of campus leaders call for a General Assembly of all members of the Berkeley campus and surrounding community. This body will engage in the most open and engaging discourse on those very same questions:

What are the principal issues that should guide the selection of a Chancellor? What are the criteria that we want to use in evaluating any candidate? Then: invite candidates to apply in paper and appear in person to speak and engage in discourse with this community. Then:  some voting process to pass collective evaluation of the available candidates.


Of course, we cannot claim legal authority to make our choice “official”.  But consider the competition for legitimacy that this process sets up.


Any serious candidate in the official circuit will have to ask themself some questions: If the people of the Berkeley campus feel that I am simply being imposed upon them, how can I be an effective leader? If I choose to engage in that public process, how can I expect the Regents to favor me as their chosen executive?


What a marvelous tension: Democracy vs. Monarchy. The 99% vs the 1% .


What a marvelous opportunity for experimentation and learning on a university campus.


Furthermore, this opportunity is not limited to the Berkeley campus.  There are now three vacancies on the University’s Board of Regents. Normally, the Governor will make those appointments. (And he will make two more in March 2013 and another two in March 2014.)  Citizens at each of UC’s ten campuses can convene a General Assembly to occupy the process of selecting good candidates. Each may develop a list of names, candidates rated by the local citizenry as acceptable or preferred, and submit that to the Governor for consideration.