Monday, September 21, 2009

The rhetoric of neutrality

The UC budget cuts have sparked a number of contentious arguments. Like Robert Boyle with his air-pump, people in official university positions have made an effort to reduce controversy and produce consensus.

I invite you to read the letter by the (ironically-named) Professor Kutz, chair of the Berkeley division of the UC Academic Senate, regarding Wednesday's faculty walkout. What rhetorical gestures does he use to signal neutrality? In what ways are they similar to or different from Boyle's rhetorical gestures?

(This is not an assignment -- just a practical application of our discussion of Leviathan and the Air-Pump.)

Dear colleagues:

As you may know, a group originating at UC Davis has called for a systemwide walkout from classes on Thursday, September 24th (the first day of the term for the eight quarter-system campuses). The organizers mean the walkout to express disapproval of UCOP policies regarding furloughs, tuition increases, layoffs, and compromises to instructional programs. A website describing the walkout is at

This action will coincide with a strike by UPTE, the union representing UC's research support professional employees and technical employees. It appears that other groups, including staff and students, may walk out and/or picket on that day. There will also be a range of communications and educational activities about the budget crisis and public education on campus. Some faculty may prefer to teach their classes off-campus, so as not to cross a picket line.

The Berkeley Senate Divisional Council shares the deep concern of all faculty, students, and staff about the terrible effects of the budget cuts imposed on the public teaching and research mission of the University. However, after discussion, the Divisional Council also recognizes the diversity of faculty opinion on the merits of a walkout. We therefore neither endorse nor oppose a walkout, regarding participation in it as a matter of individual faculty conscience, and knowing that faculty will meet their obligations to their students. We know that the campus administration sees matters in the same light.

Relatedly, you have probably received a direct email from the AAUP characterizing UCOP's rejection of the systemwide Senate's unanimous position in favor of teaching-day furlough days as an unacceptable deterioration of a "strong faculty voice in governance." Systemwide Senate Chair Harry Powell and Vice Chair Dan Simmons have issued a rebuttal letter, making the case that while the Senate regards UCOP's decision as profoundly mistaken, the faculty voice in governance remains strong. They have asked that their letter also be distributed to the faculty. It may be accessed here: (I note that I agree with Chair Powell and Vice Chair Simmons.) The AAUP letter may be accessed at:

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments, either via email, at, or on my Senate blog, at:

Yours in shared governance,

Christopher Kutz
Chair, Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate
Professor of Law

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