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What’s Education Got to Do With It? : It’s time for some UC regents to wise up

There will be no show-down today over who is in charge of the University of California. Gov. Pete Wilson and Regent Ward Connerly wisely called off a special meeting that threatened to turn into a witch hunt at worst and a humiliation of UC President Richard Atkinson at best.

Atkinson’s mea culpa and affirmation of his “legal duty and moral obligation” to implement board policies seemed to satisfy those who saw a challenge to the regents in the president’s decision to delay a controversial step against affirmative action.

The state Constitution indeed grants “full powers of organization and government” of the UC system to the regents. But it also demands that the “university shall be entirely independent of all political or sectarian influence and kept free therefrom in the appointment of its regents and in the administration of its affairs. .J.J. " The regents set policy, but in the past the recommendations of the chancellors and professors have been strongly taken into account in board actions. In this debate they have been unfairly excluded.

Where is the freedom from political interference? Connerly, a Wilson appointee and the godfather of UC’s affirmative action ban, also leads the drive to qualify for the November ballot the so-called “California civil rights initiative,” which would ban affirmative action statewide. Though Connerly insists his two hats do not represent a conflict, he also readily indicates that he will not hide his “light under a barrel.” He’s quite public with his, and the governor’s, strident advocacy of the would-be initiative. To make the ballot, the proposal needs nearly 400,000 more signatures by Feb. 21.

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Connerly led the charge against Atkinson after the president dared to postpone implementation of the policy without consulting the regents. Connerly finally, and rightly, backed away from demanding that Atkinson, the nationally respected former chancellor of UC San Diego, identify chancellors who sided with him. That demand smacked of a witch hunt.

If Atkinson’s intention was to outsmart the board, then he bungled it. If he needed more time to implement the inflammatory ban, he should have consulted the regents. Still, those regents who called for the immediate meeting clearly overreacted. The last special review of a UC president’s performance took place in Gov. Ronald Reagan’s tenure and resulted in the firing of Clark Kerr, accused of being soft on student protesters. Atkinson, UC president since October, doesn’t deserve similar mistreatment.

When the regents meet Feb. 15, they must contemplate how this controversy is damaging the reputation of the UC system. As this debate continues, reasonable Californians must ask: What does this fight have to do with education?


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