Notice, October 1996

Berkeley Faculty May Vote This Month
On Motion to Censure Board of Regents

As a new fall term began, the UC Berkeley Senate seemed ready to take the unprecedented step of conducting a vote on whether to censure the UC Board of Regents. Some Senate leaders were hopeful, however, that a statement on shared governance that President Atkinson delivered to the Regents in September might be enough to persuade the UCB Senate to reconsider its call for a vote.

A mail-ballot containing a resolution that calls for censure of the Regents will be sent to all UCB Senate members in October barring a change of heart on the part of the Berkeley Senate, UCB Senate Chair John Quigley said in September. While the resolution stems from the Regents' July 1995 votes on affirmative action, it deals explicitly only with the subjects of shared governance and the alleged insertion of politics into UC's affairs. It charges the Regents with "violation of long-established traditions of University governance as well as . . . repeated failure to protect the University from the intrusion of partisan party politics." It also cites the Board's "continued disregard for the votes by all nine divisions of the Academic Senate . . . calling for the recision of SP-1 and SP-2."

The resolution was approved by the Berkeley Senate at a divisional meeting held this past April, though that vote was characterized as a "straw ballot" by the divisional parliamentarian. Upon approving the resolution, the division then voted to send it out as a mail ballot to all UCB Senate faculty. Since the divisional vote was held just as Berkeley's spring term was ending, the mail-ballot vote was delayed until this fall.

If the measure goes forward, it apparently will be a first in the history of the University. "So far as I can tell, there has never been an event in which campus faculty have voted to censure the Regents," said John Douglass, a historian who has done extensive research on the history of the University. There is no record of a censure vote being held, Douglass said, even in connection with some of UC's most turbulent episodes, such as the "Berkeley Revolution" of 1919 or the loyalty oath controversy of the 1950s.

When the resolution came before the Berkeley division in April, several Berkeley Senate leaders argued against it, on grounds that the division had already put in place a process for dealing with the issue of shared governance: a UCB Senate task force had drafted a resolution that called for a set of agreements and meetings between faculty and Regents on the issue. The task force resolution subsequently went to the Universitywide Senate's Academic Council. There it underwent several revisions before being presented to President Atkinson with a request that he take it to the Board of Regents.

Ultimately, President Atkinson declined to take the statement to the Regents, but in September he came before the Board with his own statement on shared governance. In it, he noted that "Our system of shared authority and responsibility among Regents, administration, and faculty is the single most important reason for the University of California's greatness, and it is just as essential to our success today as it has been for more than three-quarters of a century. I would not be president of this university if I did not believe The Regents join me in that conviction." (See box for full text.) Beyond this, the president noted that the Universitywide Senate has convened a task force to study the issue of shared governance and that this panel's findings will be reported to the Board.

The belief of some Senate leaders was that the president's statement and the work of the Senate task force have altered the calculus of going forward with the censure vote.

"In light of these actions, I think it's important for the faculty to think about how we can be most effective in support of the principle of shared governance," said Berkeley Senate Chair Quigley. "Our colleagues have to consider whether a vote now to censure the Regents will really further our common interests."

"Should this vote proceed, in my view it cannot be helpful to the relations between Regents and the UC faculty," said Academic Council Chair Duncan Mellichamp. "How will the faculty's strategic interests will be advanced by this approach?"

It is too early to gauge the general reception of the president's statement by supporters of the censure vote. However, Larry Wallack, one of the UCB faculty who first brought the resolution to the division, said, "Would reconsideration of the mail ballot be appropriate? Sure, if the faculty thinks it's in the best interest of the faculty and the University not to go forward." He added, however, that the point of the resolution was for the Berkeley faculty to express its view "that the Regents did something wrong and that the boundaries of shared governance need to be reestablished." In the president's statement, he said, "there is no acknowledgment of what has transpired in the past year . . . it doesn't really address the fact that faculty on all nine campuses identified [the Regents' actions] as a transgression of a norm of shared governance."

A reconsideration of the mail-ballot vote, Quigley said, can come only through a special meeting of the division, though he added that such a meeting can be called at the request of a small number of Senate members.