Stop the De-tenuring of Ricardo Dominguez

Ricardo Dominguez (Associate Professor, Visual Arts, UCSD) is currently being threatened with criminal action and the revocation of his tenure by UCOP and several UCSD senior administrators. This is a long, rapidly-developing story.  Time is of the essence. Please sign now!

UC Office of the President has reportedly been upset over Ricardo's involvement in the Transborder Immigrant Tool -- these are recycled cell phones loaded with software that points border-crossers to caches of fresh water in the desert, obviously saving lives. It's a controversial project, to say the least; and Ricardo has received death threats from people in the SD community and beyond. The project was picked up by the national and international presses, and CNN named Ricardo one of its "Most Interesting People" of 2009 because of the project. Several Republican congressmen also recently sent a letter to UCSD demanding that the project be ceased and Ricardo be censured. In response to this, the university has been scrambling to find a way to shut it down. Importantly: the project has been included in every one of Ricardo's professional reviews over the last few years, all of which have gone successfully (and have been signed off on by this very SVC); in addition, the project has been FUNDED by UCSD (and yet again, signed off on by this SVC). Now that the controversy has gotten attention in DC, they're reversing course.

More recently, as part of the March 4 actions, Ricardo's bang.lab created a virtual sit-in on the UCOP web site. A virtual sit-in works in this way: participants go to a specified web page, which continuously "refreshes" connections to the target web page (in this case, This obviously increases traffic to that site -- much like a live sit-in at a specified locale -- with the potential effect of making it too busy to accept new incoming connections. It is similar, in form, to what's called a "Distributed Denial of Service Attack" (DDOS). There are several critical difference between a virtual sit-in and a DDOS:  a DDOS is prolonged and unending, used by various governmental groups to censor a wide variety of free speech groups, activist groups, etc, and non-transparent (the creators of the DDOS set up virtual robots to blast a given site with millions of hits, and hide the creators behind various firewalls and filters. A virtual sit-in is open, does not use such "robots," and the creators are identified freely).

Please sign the petition below to protect academic freedom and tenure from politically-motivated attacks. 

Dear President Yudof, Chancellor Fox, SVC Drake, and other concerned parties:

We the undersigned write in support of Ricardo Dominguez (Associate Professor, Visual Arts, UCSD) and his collaborators at b.a.n.g lab. We have recently heard disturbing news about Professor Dominguez's tenure being placed under review in response to several of his recent research and performance projects, and we are deeply concerned about such developments. Professor Dominguez is an internationally renowned performance artist and researcher whose work has been curated and anthologized in a wide range of venues; he is known as an exemplary artist, scholar, and teacher; and we count ourselves fortunate to have him as a colleague within the UC system. We write to provide some disciplinary context for his work, which we hope will encourage you to abandon any potential efforts to revoke his tenure.

We understand the projects in question to be:

(1) Professor Dominguez's participation in the inter-institutional project "Transborder Immigrant Tool"; and

(2) Professor Dominguez's participation in a virtual sit-in on the UCOP web site as part of the collective actions taken on March 4, 2010 in response to the current crises facing public higher education in California.

The Transborder Immigrant Tool is an innovative project that cross-cuts technology and the arts. Using low-cost and recycled mobile phones loaded with mapping software, the project aims to reduce deaths and serious illnesses/injuries for those traveling through California's deserts. Although this project has been met with some controversy in the press, we see this work as being imminently ethical and, perhaps just as importantly, a serious and innovative extension of precedents in performance research that have similarly aimed to pose questions about structural inequality, citizenship and civility, and humanitarianism. Such questions have occupied performance traditions throughout the 20th and 21st centuries; Dominguez's work, in this regard, is both part of a longer disciplinary tradition in performance and the visual arts and, importantly for the UC, an innovative and forward-thinking extension of these queries to the problems and conditions that define our contemporary age.

It is also important to note, despite sensationalist media reports to the contrary, that the Transborder Immigrant Tool has not as yet been used by anyone unaffiliated with b.a.n.g lab. It is still in development, with input from non-profit border organizations and the Border Patrol. We understand that UCSD has received complaints from several members of the US Congress who have unfortunately been misinformed about the project's scope, and who are attempting to intervene into the practice of academic and artistic freedom. As scholars and artists who have chosen to work in the context of a public institution in the interest of the "greater good," we find such interventions from political representatives into university research projects to be unethical and in breach of their responsibilities as elected leaders.

We also understand that information about Professor Dominguez's work with the Transborder Immigrant Tool has been included with all of his professional reviews at UCSD, only now (after the receipt of letters from members of Congress) to be investigated. We are deeply concerned that what might, in other disciplines, be called the "results" of a research project could be used retroactively to question that project's basis. We trust that you, too, will respect the necessary integrity of scholarly and artistic research by refusing to bend to political pressure and by continuing to support the vibrant, innovative, forward-thinking, and ethical research program of Professor Dominguez and b.a.n.g lab.

The March 4 "Virtual Sit-In" on the UCOP.EDU website, similarly, represents an innovative approach to political action and civil disobedience. It is not, as some reports have attempted to assert, the equivalent of a "Distributed Denial of Service" (DDOS) attack, for several reasons:

First, unlike all DDOS attacks, a virtual sit-in is transparent. This means that all participants actively accept the terms of the sit-in; the creators of the sit-in are openly identified; and only computers used by specific individuals are involved. (DDOS attacks, on the other hand, use anonymous software programs and filters to disguise the creators and participants; and create connections to target websites in great excess of the actual number of participants.)

Second, like "real world" (embodied) sit-ins, a virtual sit-in is part of a broader set of cultural and political actions directed towards a specific, non-essential site with a specific message in mind. It is also limited in time and scope, precisely like a performance, with a set beginning and ending. The purpose of a virtual sit-in is to participate in a broader collective social action (in this case, March 4), transparently, in the interest of conveying the sentiments of a collective social body.

Finally, given the primary purpose of public universities, we would hope that the UC would welcome the critical questions raised by a virtual sit-in--about collectivity, about accessibility, about the important role universities play in technological and artistic innovation--at a time when these cherished values are so severely under threat by diminishing state support. We see the virtual sit-in as an important extension of the many other collective actions engaged on March 4, pedagogically as well as artistically instructive.

In short: Ricardo Dominguez is at the very vanguard of performance art traditions, and we count ourselves extremely fortunate to count him as a colleague. His international reputation as an innovative artist and scholar strengthens the UC's position as a leader in the fields of theater/performance and the visual arts. We trust that the values of academic and artistic freedom that define the university's role in public service will convince you to abandon any  attempts to revoke his tenure.



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