Sunday, June 07, 2009

If I am Ever Elected to Public Office, I Promise Not to Put "Ph.D." after My Name on My Website

I'll begin with two disclaimers.

1) I am a media scholar. Media scholars do not like Leland Yee. Yee has a long history of pushing for more regulation of the videogame industry by touting his credentials as a child psychologist, despite the fact that an important Harvard study refutes Yee's assumptions and such regulation has been used to stifle political dissent in places like Italy. (Of course, I do love the fact that Yee boasts of being named "Person of the Year" by Game Politics in his official bio when the "honor" represents a similar rhetorical move to TIME naming Hitler "Man of the Year" in 1939.)

2) I teach at the University of California. University of California faculty have even less reason to like Leland Yee, especially now that he is backing legislation that has been described as the "bad idea of the week" to strip the UC system of its traditional autonomy. An unattributed official statement posted online titled "Putting UC under Legislature's control is a non-starter" makes the case bluntly:

It is absurd that Senator Yee and his co-sponsors want to rewrite the California Constitution to strip the university of its historic autonomy and place it under direct control of the state Legislature.

Given the current $25 billion hole in the state budget and the political paralysis that chronically plagues Sacramento, tossing a 10-campus public research university that is the pride of California and the envy of the world into the Sacramento mix should be a non-starter.

Let's be clear: UC is working. At a time when it has become popular to mock California, the university survives as one of the state's great success stories. It has thrived under the system of autonomous governance, led by the Regents, that was so wisely written into the Constitution by our pioneers.

California might have trouble marketing its bonds in the current fiscal crisis, but UC has a AA1/AA rating. The state budget may have fallen over a cliff, but UC has managed its resources prudently in a tough environment. It has been able to preserve its world class status -- a thrumming engine of educational opportunity, scientific advance and economic stimulus -- even as it has absorbed a steady onslaught of cuts dictated from Sacramento.

Even with pinched budgets, UC still can attract top leaders to its 10 campuses and five medical centers, and can do so despite the easily verified fact that we compensate them well below the national average for comparable institutions.

Rather than rely on an untenable defense of state governance in comparison to UC governance, Yee has issued a list of bullet points outlining his gripes with the UC system. Many of them have already been addressed without amending the state constitution by other legislation, as he himself admits. But there are some assertions that probably use selective data to capitalize on loaded issues, such as "the University conducts research on teen smoking cessation funded by the tobacco industry," which misrepresents what seems to be an exceptional case in the full context of millions of dollars done to promote anti-smoking research at UC.

Given the fact that UC salaries are part of a searchable public database maintained by the Sacramento Bee, his hyperbolic claims about the UC system's less-than-perfect transparency seem overstated. I couldn't help but notice that Yee seems to draw a much higher salary than any of the media scholars that I typed into the system.

Faced with threatened cuts and the prospect of a legislative takeover, UC President Mark Yudof has chosen a more tactful approach than the one in the "non-starter" press release. At UC for California, constitutuents can use an online form to write to legislators. UC for California is also using Facebook and Twitter to spread the word.

Naturally, Yee is no stranger to social media, since he has a Facebook page of his own and a Twitter feed. There is also a Reform the UC Facebook page at which there is lively debate about the legislation.

If anything, his office has been too busy maintaining his social reputation on the web. According to Leland Yee's Wikipedia entry, "On September 4, 2007 it was revealed using WikiScanner that IP addresses registered to computers in the California Senate office had made changes to its Wikipedia entry favoring Leland Yee.[14] It was reported that they removed the 1992 shoplifting allegations and the video game controversies sections."

There's some amazing discussion about the Yee Wikipedia incident on this talk page, where a staffer insists that the editing could have been done by "lowly student interns" without the consent of the office, but others describe it as suspiciously "word for word" copy from his official website complete with grammatically illogical statements about parents' rights.

Kudos to Virtualpolitik pal Virgil Griffith for inventing the WikiScanner, which has generated so much online amusement for Yee's critics.

Update: To give his office credit, it's good to see that Yee doesn't delete critical comments from his Facebook wall and does have a staffer doing non-robotic rebuttals on both Twitter and Facebook.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yee does in fact delete comments from his facebook. Last week I posted a critical comment about his proposal to eliminate UC autonomy, and it was deleted within 24 hours. A friend of mine posted a similar comment, and it also was quickly deleted.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Liz Losh said...

Interesting to hear! My comment still seems to be up on his Facebook page, and his staffers even posted a response. I'd be curious to hear more details. Feel free to send them via the back channel.

11:30 PM  

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