Aggie Sports Talk
I stumbled across a fascinating thread on the op-ed that I wrote and had published by The Aggie regarding caution in moving towards being a big time sports school. It was amazing how quickly the conversation changed from "Are the author's arguments valid?" to "Fuck this guy!" I decided to jump in, and you can read my response here.
The Politics of Athletics in Rural Areas
One of the people in the thread is a friend of mine, so I spent some time chatting with him to see if my response was appropriate and well conveyed. He's similar to me in that we are likely considered nerds, but he cares substantially more about how UCD's athletics program performs. I asked why, and the response I received was very interesting. He's from a rural area, where sports are incredibly popular: "When the local high school has a game, it's a town-wide event." But it's more than that. "A lot of people from my peer group went to Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford, Duke, etc and (especially after going to UCLA for a summer) I feel like nationally people feel like UCD is less legitimate than those. I would love for us to be considered an academic power based on research, etc., but I think we're pretty much already there and we're not going to get that much of a publicity boost from that. So in an effort to make my degree mean more I'm standing behind the thing we have that needs the most improvement. (At least from a national publicity standpoint.)" I realize that when I say, "I want my degree to mean something," in the context of athletics, I am in effect excluding students similar to him from having their degrees matter in their hometowns. If you want to learn more about him or his thoughts, you can read his blog.
Schaeffer v ASUCD Senate
The saddest part of the Aggie Sports Talk thread was that I realized how others perceive me. A lot of my actions convey me as hypocritical or bitter, such as my recent ASUCD court case explained in this Aggie article. Nick summarized the court case well, but didn't include an explanation of what student led courses are, why they're significant or how ASUCD has failed to support them. In fairness, I don't think that such topics are relevant to the article, so I don't blame him. I think the reason why my actions come across as bitter is because I constantly look for ways to improve things, and in doing so, I upset those invested in the status quo. I sent a second op-ed to The Aggie that will hopefully be published, and I think it elucidates what I mean very well. This is what I wrote:
The Editorial Board authored an excellent piece on ASUCD's uncontested election and the lack of student engagement. Having one political party controlling both the legislative and executive branches is potentially dangerous and the Board is correct in calling attention to this. But I think that the Board's suggestion, that ASUCD could be improved by adding student protests and demonstrations to the discourse, misunderstands the reason why voter turnout and ASUCD competitiveness is at an all time low and I want to offer an alternative hypothesis.
Let's begin by considering the composition of Senate following this election. Nine of the twelve senators and the executive office belong to the SMART slate, whose members were heavily involved in protests (i.e. Black Lives Matter) and movements (i.e. Divestment from Israel). While ASUCD and those discourses don't coincide perfectly, there's substantial overlap. Recall that SMART is a relatively new slate and has grown from nothing to dominance in the past two years. If the key to student engagement is adding those discussions to ASUCD, then we would expect to see student participation rise. But exactly the opposite has happened. Why?
I think the answer is reflected in the composition of ASUCD leadership. Between the twelve senators, President and Vice President, only one and a half senators are not from Letters and Sciences, and the student leaders that are from L&S are from a small subset of departments with the college. Not one comes from Engineering or Agricultural/Environmental Sciences.
If we think about why, ASUCD is really two separate entities. The majority of ASUCD is like Campus Rec and Unions, in that Unitrans, the CoHo, the Bike Barn and other units provide services for students. The other side of ASUCD is the student government. They are superfluous with respect to the operating of these services, which raises the question of what the purpose of student government is.
When we think about other governments, like Davis City Council or the state of California, both work to craft policies that benefit their constituents. What's critical to note is that these governments focus on the common features of their constituents. What I mean by this is that even though many of Davis's residents are from the Bay or SoCal, the City of Davis limits itself to issues relevant to Davis residents. Likewise, many Californians are from other states and from other countries, but the state limits itself to issues relevant to California residents. You'd never hear of City Council or California attempting to dictate Russia's policies in Ukraine. The best way of summarizing this is that governments serve their denizens qua denizens.
When we apply the same logic to ASUCD, the government of UCD undergrads, we must first ask the question of what it means to be an undergrad at UCD. Students care primarily about how the quality of the education they receive and how much they pay for that education. These are the defining characteristics of students, and both are subjects that ASUCD is silent on. The only action ASUCD has taken relevant to tuition is attempting to join the University of California Student Association, which is not a very effective move considering that Sean Connelly, UCSA's professional capital staff, has no evidence regarding the impact UCSA has had on student-related issues, let alone the issue of tuition.
If ASUCD wants to be relevant to more than a small subset of students, it needs to tackle issues that concern all students. ASUCD needs to fight for student representation in the Academic Senate, not just in the Administration, and fight for policies that improve the quality of our education. Here's one suggestion - require professors to learn how to teach. Currently (at least in my department and a few others I can name) professors are not required to demonstrate teaching competency or take classes on how to teach. Here's another suggestion - incorporate instructional quality in the Academic Senate's rules regarding hiring, retention and promotion of faculty.
I will not imply that changes like these will be easily accomplished, or that these changes will be accomplished at all. But so long as the only work that ASUCD does is dictating Middle East policy and editing their bylaws to correct grammatical errors, ASUCD will continue to fall towards irrelevancy.
Apologies for, and an Explanation of, My Racist Video
Last night, I made and published a video on YouTube that was unintentionally, but unequivocally, racist. I have since taken it down, but I want to explain what it was and apologize for my offensive action.
Yesterday, I read this fascinating article yesterday on the Silk Road, in which the writer compares Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht to the mafia. I found his description of the mafia to be strikingly similar to my view of administrators here on campus (minus the killing, of course).
"In his memoir Men of Dishonor (1993), the former mafioso Antonino Calderone describes the world of the mafia as one where no fact or statement ever has only one meaning. The mob boss Toto Riina ordered the death of Calderone’s brother and then delivered a glowing encomium to the dead man at his funeral. After betraying his close friend Emanuele D’Agostino to a mafia chief, Rosario Riccobono was rewarded with an invitation to a barbecue at the chief’s estate; he awoke from a post-prandial nap to find his killers looming with a garrote. Stefano Bontade actually knew his murderers well enough to make them coffee before they killed him. One consequence of all this bloodletting is that criminals must perpetually monitor each other’s statements for subtle intimations of betrayal. As Diego Gambetta, the sociologist of the Sicilian Mafia, put it, they are ‘constantly afraid of being duped, while at the same time they are busy duping others’."
Let me give three examples of why I think this. First, I have been asked my administrators to write letters complaining about the behavior and performance of other administrators; in both cases, the administrators were removed from their positions and relocated elsewhere (firing someone in the public system is impossible, as I understand it). Second, while I was ASUCD Controller, the ASUCD Business Manager was very friendly towards me; now that I've left, when we run into each other, she still pretends to be excited to see me, but her smile doesn't reach her eyes and she never has time to stay to chat. Third, a friend recently asked the Chancellor to write him a letter of rec, and she agreed, on the condition that he write a draft and send it to her for modification. He was ecstatic, knowing full well that her prestige would substantially aid him in getting accepted into the graduate program. He gave her the letter over four weeks before the deadline and continually checked in that it would be summitted on time. A week after the letter was due, the Chancellor's chief of staff told my friend that the Chancellor would not be writing the letter. I'm reminded of a story (that I can't find to verify) of a US President that when asked why he left academia to run for president, he replied, "I was tired of politics."
Meanwhile, my roommate (for unconnected reasons) sent me a link to Geto Boy's Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta. I thought it would be hilarious to create a video where administrators are synced to the song, so I did. I chose to put the Chancellor, the Provost, and the Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Life in the video. I chose to include the AVC for three reasons. First, when he speaks, unlike other administrators, he is very animated and uses lots of gestures - perfect for a rap video. Second, and more importantly, the AVC is the best administrator when it comes to speaking a lot, but saying nothing. In fairness, it's probably because as AVC, he has to speak to students more than other administrators and needs to sound motivational, which lends itself towards vacuous commentary. But the AVC is the only administrator I've ever heard someone suggest creating "Buzzword Bingo" for - "leadership," "synergize," "future-oriented," "cohesive," "the future," and the like. Third, he has been more disingenuous than most. Over the summer, he invited me and several others to his house for food and a pool party. It was fantastic, but it was clearly a ploy to buy our trust, made clear by the fact that he never followed through on what we discussed. He's also called me into his office and told me about the career benefits that can come through befriending administrators, especially if I keep him posted on what other students are doing.
Most importantly, though, my video was unacceptable. The AVC is black. When you make a rap video that starts with one of the few (I can think of two) high level administrators who are male and black, that's racist. It wasn't my intention, but it is indisputably racist. I want to apologize for my actions, and especially to anyone who I offended. My video was offensive, tasteless, and I am sorry for my actions.