“The chancellor always looks forward to these meetings and the dialogue that comes from them,” said Scott Hernandez-Jason, spokesperson for the UC Santa Cruz president’s office, in an email the day before Chancellor George Blumenthal met with the Student Union Assembly.
After listening to resounding shouts of “shame!” for an hour and a half, Chancellor Blumenthal may beg to differ.
The SUA meeting held the evening of May 15 invited Blumenthal and Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor (CP/EVC) Marlene Tromp to speak with students from major campus organizations about topical issues facing the student body.
Student organizations in attendance included Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA), the Worker-Student Solidarity Coalition (WSSC), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Asian and Pacific Islander Student Alliance (APISA).
“We’re all tired,” said MEChA leader Brenda Gutierrez Ramirez. “We’re paying them to be here — we need to start demanding they actually serve us.”
The groups took the allotted hour and an extra 23 minutes to pose pressing questions and assert the needs of UCSC students to the administrators. The crowd in attendance delivered impassioned speeches and narratives to drive their points home.
“I’m really impressed by their energy and the work they’ve done. Tonight, [students present] said, ‘We’re here because we care.’” CP/EVC Tromp said. “The chancellor and I, we’re here because we care.”
The topics addressed by the speakers ranged from the Strategic Academic Plan, to UC divestment from arms manufacturers sending weapons to Israel in the midst of Israeli occupation of Palestine, to the AFSCME 3299 strike last week. The chancellor and CP/EVC also answered inquiries about the housing crisis in Santa Cruz and the investigation process of the UCSC Title IX Office.
Tensions ran high as students shared stories of feeling discriminated against and mistreated across many facets of the UC. This included students calling out what they view as administrative inaction regarding allegations posed against certain dining hall managers.
WSSC members grilled Chancellor Blumenthal about the violent arrests and nature of police presence on campus during the strike.
“How does any action justify that sort of police brutality?” said a student activist who preferred to remain anonymous and WSSC member Sabina Wildman. “Why don’t you act in favor of the students by calling the district attorney of Santa Cruz and asking the charges be dropped? Why won’t you speak on it except to say that we are an inconvenience?”
The chancellor responded by explaining the UC’s hands-off approach to local politics. Blumenthal elaborated that his position as chancellor of UCSC, a major institution in the area, disinclines him to comment on issues in the town.
“I don’t intervene in the city of Santa Cruz,” Blumenthal said. “In regards to student conduct, my view is that they need to go through the system and be adjudicated in the normal way. My role and Marlene’s role in student conduct cases is at the very end. We do not intervene.”
Members of WSSC also presented the chancellor with a list of demands to present at the next regents meeting and went down the list affirming whether or not he would endorse each one. The chancellor verbally agreed to present the WSSC demands to UC President Janet Napolitano at their next meeting. However, he chose not to sign the letter of endorsement that the SUA and WSSC drafted, which outlined the demands, to great dispute from the crowd.
The chancellor claimed he would not sign the letter on the premise that he “never, in my entire time of being chancellor, signed a letter that was placed under my nose by a group who said ‘sign this.’”
“I am perfectly happy to convey to President Napolitano what I believe to be strong feelings about the AFSCME demands by the SUA. I won’t sign it though,” Blumenthal said.
The atmosphere at the meeting continued to climb as the chancellor and EVC remained obstinate in their positions.
“If he’s not going to actively help us, [Blumenthal should] at least remove obstacles that are obviously still in our way as an underrepresented community,” said third-year Laila Issa, SJP member and co-organizer of the Nakba Day march, which took place prior to the meeting.
At the end of the meeting, the chancellor and vice chancellor made a hasty exit as they were sent off with chants of “Free! Free! Palestine!” The anonymous student activist left a strong reminder with the administrators about the state of their students.
“I just want you to know that you just give us fifteen […] minutes, but this affects us 24/7,” the student said.