Dear UC president: hear student voices

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Janet Napolitano,

In two days, you will visit UC Berkeley for your first official campus visit since becoming president, completing the final stop of your “listening and learning” tour of the UC system.

As the democratically elected student representative for UC Berkeley’s 35,000 students and as co-chair of the Council of Presidents, I write to you today to bring renewed focus and attention to the very real concerns students across the UC system have raised in response to your appointment as president.

As you conclude your formal campus tour and prepare to visit UC Berkeley, we must recognize that your tour has been defined by consistent and regular student opposition. Through my conversations with other UC students, it appears as if your engagement across the university has been limited to closed-door, small-group meetings, which not only limit the number of student voices you hear, but also shapes what they say. So as you prepare to come to UC Berkeley, I want you to also think about the numerous student protests, student government votes of no confidence, campus-worker strikes and protests and other signs of opposition that defined your tour.

I believe it would be wrong for you or for others to discount these strong signs of discontent and opposition. While some within the UC system have remained optimistic about your future as UC president, I feel it is my duty to uplift and represent the voices of students who too often become marginalized in the shadows of the status quo at our university.

So as you prepare to visit our campus, I want to publicly reiterate the key reasons behind student opposition to your appointment as I have heard them relayed to me by campus leaders and students across the state.

Many oppose you because of your long record of human rights violations perpetrated against undocumented immigrants, your lack of any educational or academic experience and the undemocratic confirmation process by which the UC Board of Regents appointed you.

At your previous job as the Secretary of Homeland Security, you oversaw Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which deported a record 1.6 million undocumented immigrants during your first four years on the job, splitting communities apart and separating parents from their children. You championed policies such as the Secure Communities program, which promoted racial profiling and aggressive detention policies as well as the rapid detention and deportation of many people for minor infractions such as speeding or driving without a taillight. Your actions at the Department of Homeland Security directly targeted many UC students and their families, which is why many undocumented students appropriately call you a threat to their safety and their families.

However, aside from your anti-immigrant record, your lack of educational experience or background in academia greatly troubles many students as well. You are the first non-academic to lead the university, which is concerning considering the university’s future as we navigate this period of unprecedented public divestment and the sentiment that students are not adequately supported in a system that was intended to make higher education accessible and transformative.

But your confirmation process is perhaps of greater concern. To start, your nomination was announced only one week before your confirmation, which limited the public debate over your appointment prior to the Regents’ decision and stifled student input. Additionally, UC Student Regent Cinthia Flores voted against you at your confirmation. Your appointment process was undemocratic, and it lacked comprehensive faculty and student input, which strikes at the legitimacy of your appointment.

Student opposition to your appointment is founded on many core beliefs about how our society and the public university should operate, and it is important that you understand the roots of opposition before you conclude your tour.

With these points about your presidency in mind, I want to add that student concern about your inaction as president is building as well. While many students simply oppose your presidency on human rights grounds, even students who were less resistant to you are now questioning your sincerity behind accepting this position. UC students demand that you take action to advance the public university.

Action to address the discriminatory UC admissions policies and underfunded outreach programs that perpetuate the university’s failure to recruit and retain underrepresented students. Action to address the inadequacy of the university’s public funding, not just through “cost-saving measures,” but through fighting for more public funding and not conceding for less. Action to roll back tuition as more public dollars return to the university. Action to implement systemwide Title IX policy reform adopted from comprehensive student input that actually protects the rights of survivors of sexual assault. Action to bargain in good faith and provide adequate benefits and pay for the union workers and graduate student instructors who make our campuses function. Action to reform the systemwide Professional Degree Supplemental Tuition policy so graduate students can be protected from sudden fee hikes. Action to dismantle the glass ceiling and honor more representation of women, most importantly women of color, in faculty and administrative positions, especially as the first-ever woman UC president.

While my term as ASUC president and as an undergraduate may be coming to a close, I can warn you that students’ concern with your presidency will likely increase with time. I urge you to break from the closed-door, small-group meeting structure that has defined your interaction with students throughout your campus tour, and I urge you to host open student forums, not just at UC Berkeley, but across the university. I call on you to do what’s best for students and to stop providing band-aid solutions for the university; listen to our voices with a genuine attempt to hear us and meet our call for a more inclusive, diverse and accessible university with sincere action.

DeeJay Pepito is the ASUC president.

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