Professor Fasts to Protest Regents Board : Education: UC Berkeley teacher says the governing panel is undemocratic and he wants power transferred. School officials say they will not respond to his actions.
A UC Berkeley professor known on campus as either a voice of moral conscience or a publicity-seeking gadfly said Thursday he is on a fast to dramatize what he contends is the undemocratic nature of the UC Board of Regents.
But UC officials say they won’t respond to his fast or his proposals to transfer most power to councils of faculty, students and staff.
Physics professor Charles Schwartz isn’t threatening suicide or even to make himself seriously ill with the fast that he said he began Aug. 20. But Schwartz, 60, said he will continue consuming only water and salt until either regents schedule a discussion of his proposals to overhaul how UC is governed or “someone can persuade me that I’m being foolish.”
“This Board of Regents is a truly anachronistic structure that goes back to the days when universities were only for the aristocracy,” Schwartz said in a telephone interview from his campus office. “What I’m fasting for is not to implement democracy, but to simply discuss the idea.”
Asked how the regents might respond if Schwartz’s fast endangers his health, Ron Kolb, spokesman for the UC administration, said, “He is not going to influence us one way or another.”
UC Regent Roy T. Brophy was more blunt. “Dr. Schwartz has never been short on causes. . . . He changes causes like some people change shoes. So it’s difficult for me to take him seriously,” said Brophy, who recently ended a term as chairman of the Board of Regents, which has ultimate say on the nine UC campuses. Besides, he added, the state Constitution establishes powers of the regents, most of whom are appointed by the governor with legislative review.
A UC Berkeley professor since 1960, Schwartz was arrested for trespassing last year at a sit-in at UC system headquarters in Oakland, where he sought to debate UC President David P. Gardner on nuclear weapons research. That was only one of the many times over the years that Schwartz protested UC’s management of two federal energy and weapons laboratories. He gained some faculty sympathy although regents and Gardner want to keep the labs.
In his recent campaign, Schwartz wrote to regents, asking them to discuss his plan for “a democratically-based reorganization” of UC. He proposed that the regents be stripped of most powers and be limited to roles in fund raising and auditing expenses. Each campus would elect a governing council, possibly including students, which in turn would choose a chancellor. The chancellors as a group would then set most policies and choose a system president, Schwartz said.
Regents chairwoman Meredith J. Khachigian said Thursday that the board discussed governance last year. “I don’t see it being revisited in the near future. We have a system that works,” she said, adding that she was sorry that Schwartz is fasting.
Schwartz said he taught the fall semester’s opening classes this week and plans to continue working, although he added, “I expect I’m a little less than energetic.” He said he weighed about 164 when he began the fast and has lost 10 pounds.
He said he will make up his mind next week on whether to continue the fast. “If nobody else is interested in my ideas, it might make no sense to pursue it,” he said.