Bruin Alumni Association

Farewell, Dear Chancellor

By Andrew Jones
September 12, 2005

    Author's note: An adaptation of this longer column was published October 4, 2005 in the Daily Bruin             under the headline "Chancellor must recognize existence of dissidence."

    Wednesday’s news that UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale will be stepping down next year is a welcome opportunity to review Carnesale’s career, and, perhaps a little prematurely, begin pronouncing a verdict.

    Carnesale will be remembered primarily, one suspects, as a fundraising machine.  During his tenure, UCLA has raised an astonishing $3 billion dollars.  This trend – of UCLA raising money hand over fist – first developed under former Chancellor Charles E. Young, but didn’t reach its full flowering until Carnesale’s era.  

    Now, Carnesale doesn’t like to be portrayed solely as a financial wizard.  He insists publicly that academics are his first love.  But the fact that Carnesale dislikes the money-first characterization is not just an inference, but one at which I arrived through personal encounters with the Chancellor.

    Back in February of 2002, I appeared on The O’Reilly Factor to speak about the School of Education graduate students who were protesting the commencement speech invitation extended to First Lady Laura Bush.  While discussing the larger issues behind the matter, I commented that the Chancellor “spends 90 percent of his time running around fund raising,” and worse yet, that, “He's hardly even a chancellor for the students.”   

    Cuing off my comments to a nationally televised audience tuning in to that lead segment of the show, host Bill O’Reilly heaped on his share of punishment:  “ know, funny you should mention Albert Carnesale. I know him from Harvard, and I called him today, and his assistant told me to get lost. I don't think they know where he is.”  O’Reilly also threw another body blow at the school, noting that “UCLA absolutely called people…and told them not to appear on The Factor, were threatening some people.”

    <>O’Reilly then landed one final punch when he closed the segment by noting, “I might tell the good people of California that [if at UCLA] they're not going to have freedom of speech and they're going to…actively try to sabotage stories about the truth, there's something very wrong there.”

    For good measure, when given the traditional last word by O’Reilly, I declared, “For anyone who's listening, I would definitely withdraw any money you're giving to UCLA, and forever after, seriously consider when you're giving money to UCLA, because this is exactly the kind of stuff that goes on every single day.”

    Well!  I knew this wouldn’t sit well with the fundraising-est Chancellor in UCLA history.  So I wasn’t totally surprised by Carnesale’s blunt and unpleasant response to my subsequent email requesting a brief meeting to discuss the matters raised on The Factor. 

    On March 6, 2002, Carnesale returned the note via email, writing:

“I found neither your comments on TV nor the tone of your message to be
constructive, which leads me to doubt strongly that a meeting with you
would be productive. In short, I see no reason for us to meet.”

    It all makes sense if you understand that in Carnesale’s book, any interference with fundraising is highest treason – and definite evidence of an “unconstructive” attitude.  Never mind that it’s the Chancellor’s job to be diplomatic, to suffer the slings and arrows of people from all sides – perhaps even those of a conservative like me. 

    Now, Carnesale talks a good game about this task, acknowledging that, “I’m responsible for everything at UCLA.  I get credit for some of the wonderful things for which I deserve almost none of the credit. And I get blamed for some of the things that go wrong for which I deserve very little of the blame.” 

    But while Carnesale’s abstract understanding of the role is adequate, if he really believed it, his relationships with dissenting students – like me – should have been somewhat less, shall we say, frosty.  But as I found out, Carnesale had cast me out to his political Siberia – and wouldn’t be heading north to visit with me anytime soon.

    This was confirmed for me on August 19, 2002, when I sent Carnesale a letter requesting an in-person meeting to discuss the matter of my outrageously biased Political Science class taught by Southern California ACLU President Ramona Ripston.  I sent this request because, despite the earlier brush-off, I assumed he still maintained a commitment to a bare minimum of fairness on campus.  It wasn’t that bold of an assumption, given that his public pronunciamentos – and fundraising letters to alumni like my father – were full of high-flown talk of UCLA’s “excellence.” 

    But in the amount of time which had passed between these two contacts, Carnesale had apparently turned into an elephant – with the long-term memory that such a transformation would imply.  As evidenced by the following memorably terse response, Carnesale hadn’t forgotten my or O’Reilly’s stinging words:

I regret that you have again been disappointed with UCLA; however, in this instance, as in the case of your appearance on television, I do not find your approach to issues to be constructive. Accordingly, I do not share your interest in the prospect of our meeting to discuss this matter.”

    Now me, I’d moved on since my brief moment in the sunshine of national TV.  But Carnesale, a man in charge of the most prestigious public research university on the entire West Coast, had nursed his grudge, and was still mightily unhappy with me – to the point that he refused to even address my reasonable concerns, well-backed by evidence.

    Even more sourly amusing was Carnesale’s sarcastic phrasing: “I regret that you once again have been disappointed with UCLA” – as if I were an elderly crank hand-writing letters to the McDonald’s Corporation in Oak Brook, Illinois with complaints about my cheeseburger being served up at a temperature not quite to my liking.  Carnesale's insulting language brought my UCLA education down to the level of a retail transaction.  But then, the letter wasn’t about providing an intelligent response; it was nothing more than a polite-sounding kiss-off.

    It certainly wasn’t that the facts of the situation didn’t call for some response on the Chancellor’s part.  Indeed, many other people were taking the matter seriously, including a University of California Regent so concerned by my expose that he called Carnesale himself to express his displeasure.  But it wasn’t facts or logic which kept Carnesale unhappy, but rather, his grudge against my having interfered with his fundraising operation. 

    I would find out later through extensive discussions with other highly placed UCLA donors that this cold brush-off was standard Carnesale operating procedure.  One donor recalled expressing concern to Carnesale about the rising tide of anti-Semitism on the UCLA campus, and described the response as being “blown off.”  In the donor’s opinion, even donations (like his) large enough to finance a home purchase in the Midwest, were old hat to the Chancellor.  Only David Geffen-size largesse – that is to say, similar in scope to the $200 million donation that earned Geffen naming rights to the entire UCLA Medical School – would be sufficient to establish said donor as someone to whose complaints the Chancellor might actually listen.  With millions rolling in weekly, a single donor who had given only a few hundred thousand dollars was hardly worth answering.

    All of this criticism might give the appearance that I harbor a personal animus against Carnesale.  But that would be oversimplifying the situation.  I dislike certain things about Carnesale - his cold disdain for dissent, for his remote administrative style, and his refusal to address a growing problem of political radicalism on campus.  

    However, there was another group of students who fixed upon Carnesale a pathological, white-hot hatred.  While I pass no judgment on Carnesale the man, only on Carnesale the Chancellor, radical students would not make such a distinction.  From the day that Carnesale stepped on campus, they hated him personally.  He was not just a symbol for all that they considered wrong, but someone who was genuinely and personally evil.

    The radicals excoriated him in particular for his refusal to break the law and defy Proposition 209, the California proposition which ended affirmative action in the state.  For conservative students like myself, his refusal was a small, sad little saving grace – but a saving grace nonetheless.  A hothead like former Chancellor Charles E. Young might well have directly broken the law, just as the students demanded.  Regretfully, we never got to see such a showdown, as Young retired before the first affirmative action-free class of freshman entered in 1998.

    As Carnesale remembers it, “I’d just arrived and the extent to which I became the personal target [of radical students], as if I were a racial bigot, and that's why the enrollments were falling. And I thought, 'Wait a minute, me? I just got here.” [sic]  But despite their hatred, Carnesale wouldn’t hold a grudge.  In fact, under his watch, as the radicals would soon discover, things were about to get pretty good.

    Much of the benign neglect which characterized Carnesale’s tenure can be understood as a matter of political expediency.  A career bureaucrat through and through, Carnesale was scrupulous in mouthing the proper words about ‘diversity.’  And in light of these commitments, what would be less respectful of that sacred cow of diversity than cracking down – even for legitimate reasons – on the radical activities of a cosseted minority group like the Muslim Student Association?  Never mind their direct participation in rallies at the Israeli Embassy, their leaders chanting “Death to the Jews!”  These were students…of color!  And who would have a right to complain anyway?  As the administration’s thinking went, protests – even anti-Semitic ones – were all part of the wonderful hurly-burly of college life.

    For Carnesale, the choice hardly even had to be weighed.  If he confronted the MSA, he faced a campus backlash and total lack of support from fellow Diversitista administrators.  His choice: sit on the campus powder-keg, smiling broadly and hoping nobody would light a match.

    That’s where UCLA’s new byword of “excellence” comes in.  The most successful con man is the one who can tell the boldest lies – ‘UCLA has never been better – don’t listen to those axe-grinding critics’ – with the straightest face.  Carnesale’s poker face was good – in fact, it was great.  And the donors ate it up.

    Meanwhile, the campus continued to descend into radicalism, ethnic factionalism and violence and discrimination against those who dared to think – or speak – differently.  And again, when a few simple words and simple actions by Carnesale could have reversed this slow slide, UCLA’s top man was nowhere to be seen or heard.  One example of his inaction was on building takeovers during student protests.  In 1998, just days after his taking office, when student radicals occupied Royce Hall, Carnesale did authorize outside LAPD intervention.  The illegal demonstration was swiftly broken up and 88 students were arrested. 

    But rather than being pleased with the result, something about the experience badly rattled the Chancellor, because, in 2000, and again in 2001, there were copycat building takeovers by radicals – and both times, Carnesale refused to call in the LAPD.  Carnesale’s Keystone Kops approach to dealing with selfish student radicals would have consequences which extended to the highest levels of Los Angeles city government.

    On March 14, 2001, capping a day of protest which coincided with a UC Regents meeting on the UCLA campus, radical students entered Royce Hall at 3 pm, and later made their way into the building’s famous auditorium as it was being prepared for that night’s Los Angeles mayoral debate.

    The Daily Bruin story from the protest lays bare the absurdity of Carnesale’s new hands-off attitude:

    “University police, led by Chief Clarence R. Chapman, were ready to intervene at 5 p.m., but Chancellor Albert Carnesale had them wait until 6:30 p.m. Carnesale then approached the protesters, saying that if they left Royce by 6 p.m., he would write a letter stating his support for the repeal of SP-1.”


    Compounding the unintentional comedy of the situation, Carnesale then moved the deadline back to 6:30 pm, and then, in celebration of the arrival of mayoral candidate (and UCLA MEChA alumnus) Antonio Villaraigosa to the now-cancelled debate, granted a third extension to 8 pm.  When the protesters finally exited at 7:45 pm, everyone was pleased as punch with themselves – and the city of Los Angeles was the poorer for it.  Not just because of selfish student radicals – but because Carnesale, the man with the power and duty to act decisively, inexplicably refused to take the necessary action to end the illegal behavior.

    The chaos on campus – whether it is banner headline activity like building takeovers, or just a little old-fashioned mob violence during an anti-war protest – is directly attributable to Carnesale’s decision to reward - or at least condone - thuggish behavior.  Students with real concerns about the campus – the kind who don’t take over buildings while screaming slogans – can’t get a minute with the Chancellor.  But if you break the law, you’ll be rewarded with a polite personal appearance.  The futility of trying to appease people who are at base completely unappeasable should be obvious.  But it isn’t – at least not to Carnesale. 

    So the final question, having reviewed Chancellor Albert Carnesale’s shaky record, is where UCLA goes from here.  Given the obvious financial benefit to keeping a skilled fundraiser in the Chancellor’s office, there will be great temptation on UCLA’s part to hire another bureaucratic chameleon – someone who can be all things to all people.

    But for the sake of concerned alumni and members of the public alike, the next Chancellor needs to, in the words of Barry Goldwater, be a choice, not an echo.  For UCLA to ever be brought back to the institution it can – and should – be, the next Chancellor must provide us a clear choice. 

    With a more conservative selection, the BAA would find a partner in the Chancellor’s office with whom productive relations could be a reality, not a distant dream.  And if the selection goes (as I suspect it will) in a more liberal direction, there will finally be a clear representation of the radical campus reality in the Chancellor’s office. 

    As improbable as it might seem, there is much to gain and little to lose from a more left-leaning Chancellor.  Such a candidate couldn’t possibly be any more neglectful of the growing problem of radicalism on campus.  But, such a selection would clearly embody for alumni and members of the public the black-and-white choice between reform or ruin. 

    Salvation in a radical?  At UCLA, it might just happen.