Column: Protecting dissent

We all know that fee hikes in the UC system are out of control. Last year’s 15 percent, plus another 15 percent on top of that, after multiplying, comes to a total percent increase of 32.25 percent. When the upcoming 8 percent increase takes effect, that will make a net increase of 42.83 percent since 2009, or nearly 43 percent.

Yes, it’s true that fee/tuition hikes are an important issue to address, by protesting and by whatever diplomatic means are still possible at this stage. But the issue of our broken shared-governance system should be of equal concern. If faculty members, or graduate student employees, are not allowed to be critical of the way the university is run, then we actually don’t have a real university. One of the critical, defining features of a university is the idea that it should be a place for free and open debate and exchange of views, whether the topic is how the university itself is managed or whatever other topic exists under the sun. Without open debate on all subjects we would just be an employment-training agency or a corporate research agency.

An article appeared in the Oct. 1 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle written by Michael Wilkes, a professor in the UC Davis School of Medicine. (See: http://tinyurl.com/ucdpsa) In the article, he offers insightful criticism of a “men’s health” workshop that is offered to the general public at UC Davis. I contacted Dr. Wilkes and he suggested that it would be better for me not to write about his situation.

When Dr. Wilkes taught as a faculty member at UCLA he came up with a new concept for the field of physician training which he calls “Doctoring.” In 2001 he accepted a position at UC Davis and adopted the program for use here. Specifically, the Doctoring curriculum trains new physicians to be culturally competent and ethical, subjects that are often not adequately covered in typical programs. But it teaches more than that. As Dr. Wilkes explained in one article: “Doctoring teaches content that is not specific to any one discipline, and which is typically missed in traditional medical education. Traditional courses are the bricks, while Doctoring is the mortar that creates the whole doctor.”

After reading about the topic in depth online, it is apparent to me that Dr. Wilkes has become a pivotal player in the world of medicine and could potentially become one of the most important doctors in the world. Dr. Wilkes promotes integrity, ethics and the practice of a type of medicine that is not driven by money, and he is now being threatened by an administrative supervisor with having his courses taken away from him as a result of the article he wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Student protesters, myself included, should feel especially compelled to support people of the caliber and integrity of Dr. Michael Wilkes, and should rally around such people and support them when they come under attack from intellectually corrupt sectors of the medical industry, including situations where the corrupt sector has tentacles that reach into the bowels of our medical schools. Such types of cases have the potential to make or break university chancellorships, and this would include the Katehi chancellorship as well.

An important policy-change proposal that would protect professors like Dr. Wilkes from arbitrary or incompetent administrative actions is now making its way through a system of review. The proposal would amend the existing Academic Personnel Manual (APM) sections 010 and 015 to allow UC professors to criticize the university administration and university policies. Currently they are not protected, unless their field of expertise includes the topic of university administration itself or program administration itself, which is not a common situation.

A change in existing policy has proven necessary due to recent court decisions which have determined that government employees are not protected by the First Amendment when they criticize the agency they work for while on the job, even if it’s a matter of public concern. This too is a very important matter to be addressed, but we can take care of the threat it poses to shared governance in the UC system by making the simple changes that have been proposed. The approval process could take until the end of the next year, and final approval, if it gets that far, will be in the hands of, (pause), the UC Regents.

Reach BRIAN RILEY at bkriley@ucdavis.edu.

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