Some of you may have heard about the Chancellor’s office hours this week. The idea behind this new initiative is respectable, and in theory, honorable. The campus is home to “individuals who represent a wide variety of backgrounds, opinions and perspectives.” It only makes sense that the Chancellor would be interested in engaging in a dialogue with these individuals.
But the execution of this program merely pays lip service to the idea of administrative accountability and shows just how much Chancellor Drake has his head in the sand when it comes to student and campus issues.
The program, initiated in August, allows four students — randomly selected in a lottery — the opportunity to meet with Drake for 15 minutes each, with a new lottery every two months. This means that 24 students a year are permitted to meet with him through the program, adding up to just 0.1% of the student body. This also means that Drake spends, once the number is spread out over a year, under two minutes per day actually listening to students about their concerns.
The number of slots is also ridiculously small. How can 24 people be expected to represent a diverse campus population of over 20,000? Oh, and faculty and staff are excluded from the program, even though they are just as affected by Drake’s policies.
Another problem is the lack of notification. The office hours were announced less than one week ahead of time, without timely mention in the New University and other student media. Then if you’re lucky enough to be selected, you’ll only find out a day before. If you, like many students on campus, hold part-time or even full-time jobs, you did not have enough notice to take time off from work.
Many students are also in class during day-time hours, and busy schedules will likely conflict with the Chancellor’s available hours. Unfortunately, you can’t even send another student on your behalf to present your concerns.
If you are a part of a campus organization, you aren’t allowed to have multiple representatives present. This allows Drake to use his institutional power and authority to intimidate individuals. In other words, even if you’re selected, don’t expect to get anything out of your meeting. Pay attention to the verbal jiu jitsu he uses to marginalize your concerns.
The administration has also made it quite clear that you absolutely cannot schedule a meeting with Drake outside of these office hours — especially if you belong to an activist organization, which is ironic considering that Drake has repeatedly derided activists for not pursuing “proper channels,” i.e. meeting with him.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Drake doesn’t need to be a total hermit when it comes to interacting with students. Chancellors at many other universities routinely meet with students, even contacting student organizations to schedule time with them. As an undergrad in Wisconsin, my friends and I could meet with the Chancellor during his frequent cigarette breaks any day of the week. However, even there, students in the past have resorted to sit-ins and civil disobedience, sometimes with scores of students arrested, in order to catch the ear of unresponsive campus leaders.
Will this be necessary here at UCI?
Given the extent of the current budget crisis, it is completely unacceptable for Drake to be so reclusive and unresponsive to students, workers and faculty. Such limited office hours are nothing more than an empty gesture. This behavior only indicates a wider pattern of unaccountability to his own campus. At the very least, Drake must allocate time to schedule appointments with campus organizations and members of the campus community.
It is not unreasonable to expect Drake to meet with those individuals most affected by his policies, people like the 70 groundskeepers and janitors who are being laid off or the innumerable students who are being forced out of school by tuition hikes and cuts to financial aid and the termination of essential services such as the SAAS.
This communication failure speaks poorly of Chancellor Drake’s commitment to students and other campus member. It calls into question his ability to provide leadership on this campus at a time when leadership is increasingly needed.
John Bruning is a graduate student in sociology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.