Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Chamber of Commerce and Endorsements

Last week the California Chamber of Commerce endorsed Meg Whitman for Governor.  That led to the resignation of the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges from the Board.  A few hours after that the President of the University of California "suspended" his membership.

The Community College Chancellor, Jack Scott, was a democratic legislator.  Scott, in a letter to the President of the Chamber, commented  "Today I resigned from the board, effective immediately. Although I would have preferred to remain in the position, in light of the Chamber’s action to engage in electioneering, it is no longer possible for me to serve in this capacity."  UC President Mark Yudoff took a bit less drastic step by suspending his membership in his letter he said "I must preserve my politically agnostic status."    Agnostic is a pretty good place for educators to be in this contest - although they may harbor personal feelings for one candidate or the other.   But resigning probably does not preserve agnosticism.

From my perspective both moves qualified as "bonehead."  Indeed, higher education must remain outside of electoral politics.  So in one sense the moves make sense.   The better move would have been to simply vote no on the endorsement and then to publicize the no vote.   By resigning and suspending memberships the education leaders, whether they want to or not, look partisan.   

There should always be a question about whether the leaders of higher education should, by the position of their leadership in one sector, be on the board of a business organization. If the Chamber is an important venue for the business community and if relationships with that community are important to higher education, then the leaders of two segments of public higher education need to use the venue, which they deny themselves if they resign or suspend.

The election for California governor, at this point, is a fairly close contest.   One could make the argument that the Chamber bumbled in making the endorsement (although from my perspective when Jerry Brown was governor the last time, he had one of the most anti-business records of any governor in recent memory).   But given that they did make the endorsement, the choice to the Chancellor and President was to get out of the organization or to simply not support the action by the board.   The downsides of getting out seem to outweigh the downsides of making one's non-endorsement public.

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