Comments by CFA Associate VP Molly Talcott to Cal State LA Academic Senate

*Note: The following are full comments prepared by CFA AVP Molly Talcott. Her comments to the Academic Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 26 were abbreviated due to time constraints.

Colleagues, Senators, Students, Community, 

As I speak to you, I do so on Tongva land, in a country that has been governed for most of its existence by racial apartheid and settler colonialism, a country that has never undertaken the work of a process of healing, truth-telling, redistribution, decolonization. So that means we are also living in communities swirling with multigenerational trauma.

We are in a state that is the 5th largest economy in the world, with more billionaires than any other country outside China and the US as a whole, and here we are discussing whether or not we are going to cut even more historically marginalized students out of a public education, which is a human right, in my moral universe.

This is what 21st century institutional violence looks like. 

This is an upside down conversation. We should be discussing how to expand access and fight for free public higher education for all, as our faculty union (CFA) has been doing. Occasionally, I hear about how what our students really need to succeed is “grit.” But where is our grit? Where is the grit of our so-called leaders in the CSU? Where is the grit of the privileged? 

I was not able to be at the forum last Thursday, so I watched it on YouTube (search “CSULA impaction hearing”), and I strongly recommend that all faculty bear witness to our students’ and community members’ stories of rage, and of surviving and challenging institutional racism and classism, as they exist in our communities and in our university.

And I especially invite those like myself who were not first gen students, who are white, who were not originally part of the communities and histories of struggle in East and South LA, to bear witness and to do so wholeheartedly. It is our duty to know them, to listen to them, to love them, to teach them, to learn from them. And finally, to stand with them. 

Now, onto shared governance in particular. 

The shared professional principles that define “shared governance” have been articulated by the American Association of University Professors, in authoritative policies that many of us believe have been violated by the Cal State LA administration. These include the following:

From the AAUP “Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities,” I quote:

“The variety and complexity of the tasks performed by institutions of higher education produce an inescapable interdependence among governing board, administration, faculty, students, and others…. Effective planning demands that the broadest possible exchange of information and opinion should be the rule for communication among the components of a college or university.” 

There has been a lack of transparency and communication surrounding the decision to declare impaction. The plan was not announced until the end of fall semester, meetings held during times when faculty and students could not attend, there was no clarity on the process, and as we now know too well, “consultation” means something very different to faculty, students, and our community than it does to the administrators responsible for this plan. 

To further quote the AAUP’s statement: 

“Such matters as major changes in the size or composition of the student body [....] should involve participationof governing board, administration, and faculty prior to the final decision.” (“Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities,” pg. 118.)

There was NO meaningful consultation. The final decision was made prior to meeting with campus and community stakeholders, including the senate. 

And finally, to quote AAUP:

Governing Boards are under “a special obligation to ensure that the history of the college or university shall serve as a prelude and inspiration to the future.” (AAUP, “Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities,” 119.) 

Impaction changes our campus’ historic mission. 

Moreover, with respect to shared governance, Alejandra Marchevsky recently described impaction as a plague spreading across the CSU. The other plague is the outright destruction of shared governance, which is the height of uncollegiality.

Our PUBLIC university system, the People’s University, has been captured by a corporate managerial culture. As faculty, our insistence on real shared governance is inconvenient to the technocrats – and their disdain for shared governance starts at the very top of this system.

For two years a GE task force (GETF) has been meeting practically in secret, with no notes taken. During the last meeting in January, two history faculty from CSUF attempted to attend the meeting. CO police escorted them out of the building. So, the Cal State Dominguez Hills Senate is deliberating on a resolution to reject GETF on its face, based on the following considerations: (And I quote): 

  • Though the Task Force was convened by the ASCSU, the deliberative process that generated its final report was corrupted, rending its recommendations invalid on their face.  
  • The process was marked by a total lack of transparency. The GETF conducted its discussions and proceedings behind closed doors. To this day, meeting agendas, minutes, and other correspondence among task force members are not available, despite a public records request demanding their release.[1]  
  • There is credible evidence suggesting that one or more members of the Board of Trustees, present at GETF meetings unofficially and out of a declared “interest” in its proceedings, unduly influenced its early deliberations.

Over nearly two years, the GETF did not make a meaningful effort to consult with CSU faculty or students. It did not solicit input from campus senates, and it studiously avoided input from faculty whose programs deliver General Education curricula and whose disciplinary expertise was directly relevant to its work.

So those are my concerns and the concerns of many regarding shared governance. If we don’t stand up for a meaningful structure of shared governance today, the integrity of our university will be even further eroded tomorrow. And we will have been complicit in that. 

I also want to say this to my faculty colleagues. As intellectuals, we are visionaries, not functionaries. Our first responsibility is to our students and then to each other, not to our bosses, even when that feels uncomfortable. 

I also want to put this out in the open. There are many faculty and staff who are afraid to speak their minds, to exercise their academic freedom on this campus. A toxic culture of fear and mistrust pervades this campus. I know this to be true. Faculty come to me about it; staff tell me about it.

On a campus where 60% of faculty are teaching here without a long-term commitment made to them by this university, I can assure you, there is more dissent than we might realize, as we sit here week after week in senate. And yet we also know – from the teachers’ strikes in LA and Oakland – it is teachers who fight for our students as well as ourselves.

So let’s be the kind of teachers, like those in LA and Oakland, who are fighting like hell against those who want to close off education to Black and Brown and poor students. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.