Discussion over campus closure, anti-Semitic fliers, AFSCME strike, other student, faculty concerns
After a busy Fall Quarter characterized most distinctly by UC Davis’ first campus-wide closure in over 30 years, The California Aggie sat down with Chancellor Gary May and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Emily Galindo to discuss the most pressing campus issues.
May and Galindo responded to concerns about anti-Semitic fliers on campus, the lack of student input in the appointment of a new director for the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center, the AFSCME 3299 strike and lawsuit and a number of other topics at the forefront of campus-wide affairs.
Air Quality/Campus Closure
The discussion began with California’s recent devastating wildfires. May noted the varied volunteer efforts by the UC Davis community, including the treatment of both human and animal victims, and said he was proud of the way the university responded.
The Camp Fire in Butte County affected air quality in Sacramento and Yolo Counties to such an extent that both UC Davis and Sac State cancelled seven days of instruction. When asked what the decision making process looked like on a day-to-day basis, May said it was only after he saw Sac State’s announcement it was closing its campus that he first considered doing so.
After classes were cancelled at both universities on Tuesday, Nov. 13, UC Davis announced classes would resume the following day. Following this announcement, there was an enormous and overwhelmingly negative response and backlash — including an online petition which gained over 17,000 signatures in less than a day. May said he had never received a response of that caliber to any decision he had made previously in his career.
“I appreciate the emotion behind the response and the concern students expressed,” he said. “There’s two things I kind of wish would have been different. Right now, there’s sort of a reflexive action to do petitions or resolutions, and I sort of wish student leaders would just contact me directly and talk about it. The second thing is I thought it was a little ironic that after people were so concerned about the air quality, 17,000 of them, the next day 3,000 of them are throwing rocks at the air.”
Taking student concerns into consideration, university leadership did decide to close the campus the next day, Nov. 14. Day-by-day decisions were made as to whether school would take place for the rest of that week. Ultimately, the campus was closed from Nov. 13 throughout Thanksgiving break. It reopened Nov. 26.
May emphasized the complexities involved with shutting down “a 60,000 person operation.”
“UC Davis had never been closed before, or maybe not in 30 or 40 years,” he said. “It was not as simple as flipping a switch and closing. We have two hospitals, the veterinary hospital and the human hospital, we’ve got thousands of animals on campus, we’ve got students who are on campus in the dorms that have to be fed and taken care of regardless of whether classes are happening or not, we’ve got a nuclear reactor — we’ve got all these things that people don’t consider.”
May said he and other university administrators were tasked with deciding which employees were essential and nonessential, “because some things have to happen regardless of whether the classes was operating or not.”
In the aftermath of the campus closure, the university has decided to create more clear guidelines in the case of a future closure — “so the next time this happens, because it will happen again, we’ll have a little bit better response,” May said. And the UC system is also working on its own uniform guidelines for air quality-related closures.
Asked to what extent he takes responsibility for the distress caused to students left in a state of limbo while the decision-making process was happening each day, May said it is typical, in other parts of the country, for decisions to be made that way.
It’s difficult to predict the air quality for the rest of the day, let alone the rest of the week, May said, and since the campus community is not used to that kind of decision-making, that contributed to the stress.
“My daughter goes to school in Florida where they have hurricanes and they have a similar system — they wait and see day-by-day,” he said. “As a parent, if I’m not satisfied with that, I just tell her to go home. And our parents have that same opportunity if they chose. So I don’t necessarily feel like all the responsibility is here, in Mrak Hall. I think people have to make decisions themselves for what’s best for themselves.”
Following a string of burglaries and a number of anti-Semitic incidents which occurred both on and off campus, the Chancellor addressed the measures being taken by campus police to ensure the safety of students and the commitments made by university leaders to address the campus climate.
In early October, anti-Semitic fliers were posted throughout campus. Following the incident, The California Aggie criticized the university’s response to the fliers, including issuing criticism in a editorial over the lack of a campus-wide email sent out by the Chancellor’s office.
Addressing this criticism, May said he believes he has been clear about his campus-wide email policy — such an email is only warranted if there’s an emergency or an immediate threat.
“I think our response was actually quite good, we got lots of positive responses from the external community — Jewish and otherwise — about how fast it was and how definitive it was,” he said. “I was a little disappointed one, that The Aggie wrote that article and two, that some of the students were expressing some negative thoughts about it because I thought we acted quickly and decisively. And I think if I hadn’t, I would’ve gotten criticism for not reacting swiftly enough. You can’t win sometimes.”
Following a meeting with Jewish student leaders, the university pledged its commitment to both short-term and long-term efforts to address anti-Semitism on campus, including holding a town hall and a series of trainings for students and staff led by the Anti-Defamation League. The first of the ADL’s workshops occured on Nov. 29.
Vice Chancellor Galindo was asked, from the student affairs perspective, whether any administrative officials organized events or healing or safe spaces for Jewish students immediately following the posting of the fliers.
“We provide, just through our regular community centers — we’re very connected with Hillel — opportunities for students to get together and talk through the impacts and talk through what they think would be helpful for them to feel safer,” she said.
In response to general campus safety concerns, May said Police Chief Joe Farrow secured a $1 million grant which will be used to install additional blue lights with better cameras as well as generally improve campus lighting over the course of a year.
Once complete, the goal is for individuals to be able to spot one blue box from anywhere they are standing on campus.
UC Davis Campus Police have not changed its enforcement policies. The Chancellor said he offered the police chief additional resources, but the department has instead increased its awareness and focus on ensuring students are protected and safe, especially early in the morning and late at night.
One of the crimes which occured on campus was an armed burglary which took place in late September. Victims of the incident, one of whom was punched in the face several times, met with the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor Galindo following the event.
“We tried to express our concern for them and our sorrow that this had happened to them and tell them what measures we were taking to one, find the perpetrator and two, make sure that didn’t happen again at UC Davis,” May said. “We were really sorry that happened, especially to freshmen students [having] their first experience here.”
Addressing a number of student concerns from the 2017-18 school year, the chancellor convened three task forces on mental health care, housing and food security in March of 2018. Official recommendations were submitted by each of the task forces to the Chancellor’s office. In response, the Chancellor said all of the recommendations have been accepted.
Vocal student concerns and protests at the Mental Health Town Hall last school year over the university’s failure to hire additional mental health counselors following a four-part Aggie investigation was one of the catalysts for the creation of the mental health care task force.
Under a four-year initiative by the UC Office of the President begun in 2016 and ending in 2020, student fees from UC Davis, specifically, allowed the university to hire 12 additional counselors. As of last year, there was a net gain of only a half of a full-time equivalent employee.
Asked whether there was now a timeline in place for when those counselors will actually be hired with the funds earmarked for that specific purpose, Galindo said, “it depends on who you ask in regards to what the exact number is supposed to be” and May said “there was some discrepancy as to the difference between FTE’s and headcount on those numbers.”
“We’ve already hired two and we have plans to hire an additional one each year for the next two years,” Galindo said.
Elsewhere on campus, a number of concerns from students and staff have been raised regarding resources for Latinx students.
UC Davis is on track to become a Hispanic Serving Institute in the Spring, but some faculty members from the Chicanx Studies Department have raised concerns — saying the existing Latinx student population is not being properly served. Asked how these concerns were being taken into consideration, May said the university formed the HSI task force, which both faculty from the Chicanx program and students sit on.
“We’ve got AB540, we’ve got El Centro, we’ve got myriad different enrichment and intervention activities for that student population and I’m not sure what they’re referring to when they’re saying those students aren’t being served well,” he said. “I wish people would express those concerns directly to us rather than just express them to a reporter.”
Galindo added since May 1, staff has been added at both the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center and El Centro.
One of the new staffing changes made at the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center was the appointment of a new permanent director.
Before the appointment, an open letter sent to May, signed by 11 faculty members in the Chicanx Studies Department, demanded the university hire a full-time director. Additionally, an ASUCD Senate Resolution demanded the position be filled and asked that the hiring process be more transparent and student input be taken into consideration.
On Oct. 29, students packed Galindo’s office and criticized her for failing to consider student input in the decision-making process.
“I did meet with a number of students after the fact, I shared with them that ideally, absolutely we would have brought students in as a part of the recruitment process for these positions,” Galindo said. “We do plan to do that — we’re in a process right now of identifying an assistant director and we’re recruiting students to help with that.”
Additionally, Galindo said the article published by The Aggie made it appear as if the appointment of a new, permanent director was based on “faculty input and pressure,” when Student Affairs was actually “undergoing restructuring.”
“As a result of that, in order to address the budget deficit, we did move some staff into leadership roles,” Galindo said. “That’s something you typically try to do so you can avoid lay-offs at any cost.”
Additionally, this quarter also saw the opening of the nation’s first Filipino-American research space.
“We always like to be in leadership in any area of scholarship or research, so it’s exciting for us to have yet another area of exploration and discovery into this population,” May said. “I think Filipino students and faculty and staff have unique experiences that are worth studying and celebrating.
Lengthening impasses and unsettled contracts are still pending with the UC and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299 and University Professional and Technical Employees CWA 9119.
AFSCME 3299 held its second three-day, systemwide strike in October with UPTE CWA 9119 members striking in solidarity.
Asked to what degree he agrees or disagrees with the UC’s handling of worker demands, May said he is a “supporter of collective bargaining,” but since the UC’s best-and-final offer was rejected, he said it seems AFSCME 3299 has not issued a response other than engaging in “PR-oriented tactics” rather than “negotiations in good faith.”
“I wish that this particular labor situation would reach a resolution more quickly,” he said. “I understand there’s some real thorny issues that have to be worked out. My understanding is — and I’m sure people on the other side will dispute this — we in the UC are waiting for AFSCME to come back to the table. I care very much for all of our staff and workers at UC Davis and would like to see them treated fairly and be part of the family here. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a good communication between the leadership and the rank-and-file, but I don’t know the details.”
One of AFSCME 3299’s primary concerns is the outsourcing of jobs. During the three-day October strike, a number of AFSCME 3299 and UPTE CWA 9119 workers voiced these concerns to an Aggie reporter following the announcement of a partnership between UC Davis Health and Kindred Healthcare, which will construct and operate a new rehabilitation hospital.
“No UC employees will be displaced by the Kindred partnership,” May said. “We’ve made this very clear. In fact, we will create 200 new jobs and some of those jobs may be potentially filled by our UC workers.”
In addition to outsourcing concerns, the general labor practices of the university and of the UC itself have come under fire recently.
Within the past two months, the Public Employment Relations Board, a neutral state agency which enforces the state’s labor relations statutes, filed a number of complaints with the UC alleging officials engaged in union-busting activity. And just recently, this same agency filed complaints alleging UC Davis violated labor law in its termination of contracted counselors in the summer of 2017 while accretion negotiations were occuring.
Although he did not officially begin his position as Chancellor until Fall of 2017, May said he does not believe “the university has violated any labor laws or policies.” And in regards to the complaints lodged against the UC Office of the President, May said the university is “sort of at the mercy” of whatever occurs between UCOP and union leadership in negotiations.
May said it is hard to say how these allegations, in addition to the lengthening impasses with AFSCME 3299 and UPTE CWA 9119, might impact the image that the UC has with regard to its labor practices.
“You certainly hear things and read things in the media that sound pretty harsh,” he said. “But at the same time, when I walk around campus and talk to the folks in those unions, it’s very cordial. I ask folks how they’re doing and they tell me ‘hello.’ It feels like those folks are anxious to get this out of the way and move on and are generally happy with being employed at UC Davis.”
With newly-announced plans to break ground on the West Village expansion project before the winter holiday and construction continuing in the Cuarto residence halls, the university is moving forward with its goals to expand affordable housing options.
Earlier this quarter, however, AFSCME 3299 announced it was filing a lawsuit against the university, which could potentially stall the construction of student housing.
“We’ve had at least one interaction with our leadership and AFSCME leadership to see if we can get that resolved, but they’re not willing to budge,” May said. “The concern I have is that that’s a lawsuit against our environmental impact report. Even if that lawsuit wins, which I don’t think it has a very good chance to, the only impact is that we have to rewrite the report. I’m disappointed that they would choose to use that attack, because the only people that get hurt are students — it delays the project and increases costs.”
The university came out in strong opposition of the lawsuit, even paying to take out a full-page advertisement condemning the suit in an issue of The California Aggie.
“We wanted the students to understand, we wanted the community to understand, we are trying to fulfill our obligations that we talked about in our housing initiative and do it quickly and efficiently and affordably,” May said in regards to why the university paid for an ad in the newspaper. “And this was a hindrance to that. We don’t want anyone to be confused about that fact.”
In addition to housing projects, there have been developments with both the To Boldly Go campaign, a campus-wide strategic plan which is now in its final draft, and the Aggie Square project, which secured state funds and looks to develop UC Davis’ partnership and presence with and in the City of Sacramento.
May said the university plans to establish an oversight steering committee for the To Boldly Go plan.
“We counted 178 promises that we made in the document,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re following on those promises, so we think we need a group to oversee that.”
The plan aims to support diverse research and provide students with a multi-dimensional, comprehensive educational experience. Asked how the plan expects to support these feats in both the STEM fields and the humanities, May said the plan accounts for “growth in research enterprises on all parts of the spectrum, from the STEM fields to the arts and humanities.”
Additionally, two oversight committees have been established for Aggie Square. One is comprised of neighborhood leaders and faculty members “doing research in the community,” May said. And the other is comprised of elected officials, council members and individuals in the mayor’s office.
The first project will be UC Davis Health’s rehabilitation hospital, which is expected to break ground in early 2019. Other projects include a parking structure, housing, a classroom/office building and a laboratory/research building.
“We have two major industrial partners who’ve already agreed to collaborate with us and we’ll announce those as soon as the agreements are signed,” May said. “12 electric buses are under construction right now and we hope to have those mid-2019 [with] a frequency of every 30 minutes.”
Written by: Hannah Holzer — firstname.lastname@example.org
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