This is the piece I’ll try to share on Monday at the UC Davis Rally in the Quad, if there’s an open mic and I get a chance. If not, then it will just be shared here. But somebody has to say it.
An Open Letter to My Students and Colleagues at UC Davis:
A lot has been said so far about who is responsible for the horrific violence on campus last week. A lot of blame is being passed around, and it’s all pretty accurate. But I’d like to take a different approach, if I may, and offer our students, my students—and yes, you are all my students whether I’ve had you in class or not—an apology on behalf of the faculty.
That’s right. An apology. Not just because there weren’t as many of us with you on Friday, getting arrested and pepper spray down our throats, as there were at Berkeley. But because of something bigger.
Because we left the wrong people in charge.
You see, with few exceptions, the people running this campus up in Mrak Hall think of themselves as administrators, not as educators. Because, with few exceptions, these are people who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in years, if not decades, if ever. These are people who don’t have you guys. They don’t have students to remind them every single day on this campus why they are here, simply by stopping by their offices with a friendly, “Hey, Professor, I just had a question about something…” These are people who don’t have you all to keep them humble by (to use a personal example) reminding them that they almost forgot to collect the paper that’s due in class today, or pointing out the typos on their final exams.
No, instead, what we have are people who end up thinking of you as data points and dollar signs, rather than as whole human beings, whose hearts and minds we as a faculty have the honor and privilege of shaping into the future of our state, our nation, and our world. (And I assert that no one who thought of you as whole human beings could possibly have called in armed riot police to deal with a peaceful protest, tents or no tents.)
So how did it get this way? Of course it’s complicated, but one answer is that, as faculty, we’re busy. I know, you hear that a lot, right? “We’re busy.” But it’s true. We expend a lot of energy on our research. And the vast majority of us put a lot of time and effort into our teaching too. Because we care about you. We do. But there’s a whole host of other things, administrative things, that go into running a university, that we as a faculty have had less and less to do with over the years. Things like budgets. And efficiency reports. And “Resource Management.” And the truth is that most of us hate those things, and we’re perfectly happy to let someone else deal with all of it.
As it turns out, though, there’s a kind of power in those things. Big power, actually. Money power. And in many cases that power wasn’t just taken from us, we gave it away, all too gladly.
You know, it wasn’t malicious. We thought it would be fine, better even. We’d handle the teaching and the research, and we’d have administrators in charge of administrative things. But it’s not fine. It’s so completely not fine. There’s a sickening sort of clarity that comes from seeing, on the chemically burned faces of our students, how obviously it’s not fine.
So, to all of you, my students, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry we didn’t protect you. And I’m sorry we left the wrong people in charge.
And to my colleagues, I ask you, no, I implore you, to join with me in rolling up our sleeves, gritting our teeth, and getting back to the business of running this place the way it ought to be run. Because while our students have been bravely chanting for a while now that it’s their university (and they’re right), it’s also ours. It’s our university. And as such, let’s make sure that the inhuman brutality that occurred on this campus last Friday can never happen again. Not to our students. And not at our university.
Cynthia Carter Ching
Associate Professor of Learning and Mind Sciences
Director of Undergraduate Programs, School of Education
University of California, Davis