March 2010

With impeccable timing, the UC Regents met during UC’s Spring Break last week at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus.  On Tuesday, the main agenda item was the report from the UC’s Commission on the Future, aka the Gould Commission (named after subprime mortgage profiteer Russell Gould).  The recommendations offered by the Gould Commission are absolutely stunning (and you can read all about them here).  As Jonathan Dettman nicely summarized (on Twitter):

UC Regents’ grand vision for the future resembles nothing so much as turning the UC into the world’s most expensive diploma mill.

However, before anyone on this blog provides a sustained critique of Gould/Yudof’s vision for the (non)future of the UC, I want to tell you about what it was like to be present at the Regents meeting on Tuesday.

Students and workers protest outside the Regents' meeting.

First things first: if you haven’t been to UCSF Mission Bay campus, you may sometimes wonder where all our fees are going.  Once you’ve seen the sparkling new campus (that looks as if it sprung up overnight), however, you’ll understand the concrete (pun intended) consequences of privatization.  Indeed, on the morning of the Regents’ meeting, we gathered on the Bank of America Terrace just off the Koret Quad across from Genentech Hall.

Even though it was Spring Break throughout the UC, several dedicated organizers from UC Santa Cruz and Berkeley put together a picket and rally outside the meeting itself.  In addition, AFSCME and UPTE had significant turnout from UCSC and Berkeley.  Students drove up from UCLA and Irvine.  And, perhaps most powerfully, a teacher from Oakland Tech High School brought a class of her students to demand that the Regents take steps to increase racial diversity in admissions!  At the height of the picket, around 11:30 AM, there were 150 students, teachers, and workers chanting outside the meeting (in addition to a significant number of students and workers inside the room).  From 11 AM until 1 PM, the crowd managed to keep up a nearly constant chanting that observers report was very audible inside the meeting.

There was certainly a remarkably large presence of UC cops, but even so, I think that they were caught off guard by such a large number of protestors.  I suspect that UCSF police are not nearly as experienced when it comes to protests as their counterparts on undergraduate campuses and there was clear nervousness (as well as compensating postures of toughness).  At first, the officer in charge told us that we couldn’t protest outside the meeting at all because the sound would be too disruptive and he threatened to arrest us.  Later, the same officer threatened arrests for trespassing for protestors who were gathering in another part of the building.  I believe that it was only the presence of an intrepid observer from the National Lawyers Guild (with a videocamera) that prevented some police from over-reacting on this day.

"My other sign is a torch"

One performance highlight of the early afternoon was the creation of a giant air-filled black cube that Irvine students had made by ironing together trash bags.  They filled the cube with air using a fan and were in the process of spray painting slogans on all of the sides.  One side said “Chop from the Top”; another said “Fuck the Regents.”  However, during the spray-painting, the cube started to (inexplicably, to observers) float away.  As it continued to rise above the buildings, we realized that the sealed black balloon on a sunny day had become the equivalent of a hot air balloon.  Last we saw, it was floating several hundred feet in the air, heading south.  (Did it make it to the airport?  Did it land in the Bay?  Is it in Outer Space?)

The Irvine "Cube"

"Chop from the Top"



When the time for Public Comment Period arrived, however, things started to get nasty.  Those of us who remained outside the room gathered against the barricades outside the windows so that Yudof and the Regents would have to see us.  The police protection was stepped up.  This photograph from the Daily Californian pretty much sums up what “Public” Comment Period was like for most of the “public” that was there.

The relationship between the UC and the "Public."

Public Comment Period was also pretty grim for those who were inside the room.  Audio was provided for those of us outside through speakers (how kind!), so we could hear the comments.  It was a farce.  And a fascist one at that.  The admin began by announcing that because the Gould Commission presentations had run over, there would only be fifteen minutes for public comment (instead of the scheduled thirty).  Twenty speakers were chosen from the list (although at least thirty had signed up to speak) and they were told that they would each have less than a minute to address the Regents.  A beeper was set to go off when they reached the end of their remarks.  In practice, if the speaker exceeded her minute, the microphone was taken away; if the the speaker continued to talk, she was physically removed from the room by security goons in suits.  Outside, we heard one student, as she was trying to finish her comment, yell “Get your hands off me!”  Several other speakers were cut short.  The comments were impressive: sharp, sometimes angry, but always well-informed and constructive.  I am told that UC President Mark G. Yudof smirked throughout.  Many of the other Regents, I am told, acted appalled–presumably not by the strong-arm security, but rather by the hubris of students and workers addressing them as equals.  At the end of the question period, Yudof and the Regents slunk away behind a line of police officers with batons, smilingly impervious to the chants of “Shame on you!” from the students they are supposedly serving.

Although I was present at the UCLA Regents’ Meeting in November (the one where police pointed shotguns into the crowds of students), I found this meeting to be almost equally demonstrative of the UC’s current mode of operation.  At this point, any gesture that Yudof and the Regents make toward the “public” (and in this I am including students, faculty, and workers, in addition to the people of California) is merely theatrical and entirely empty.  Sometimes it’s “good” theater (like when they manage to keep protestors away during press conferences or “public” forums); sometimes it’s “bad” theater (like when the goons in the suits get a little too aggressive).  However, this type of theater only works when most people do not recognize its theatricality.  Which, I would suggest, gives us something to think about for the next Regents’ meeting in May.

26 March note: evidently April 10 in Fresno is off, and there’s talk about having a conference in LA instead April 17 or 24. The concerns about process and agenda – making this conference a productive one for the movement – stand.

Defendcapubliceducation (the “official” statewide March 4 blog) has finally posted official notice of the April 10 statewide conference in Fresno – a successor, I suppose, to the October 24 Conference, and a very important opportunity to talk about what’s next for the statewide movement after March 4.

The agenda:

Proposed structure of the conference

1) Demands
2) Action(s)
3) Breakouts
4) Reconvene
5) Open

See the rest of the motivation and structural proposal here.

Frankly – and this me speaking as an individual – I think this conference is incredibly important, and the structure proposed looks incredibly weak. Most importantly, there needs to be a structure for people to submit detailed proposals in advance for discussion. The thought of spending several hours listening to men trained in sectarian socialist modes of operation put forth more-radical-than-thou (or even more-intersectional-than-thou) proposals for demands brings me physical pain. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. It brings me intense psychic discomfort. And I say this as a socialist and as someone who thinks the term “sectarian” can be flung around in irresponsible ways. The problem is not socialists – organized socialists have played a vital, necessary role in this movement. The problem is sectarian, masculinist modes of communication that get amplified in a room full of 400 people and not-strong-enough facilitation. (more…)

(Via Auniversitywithoutstudents)

The key to the success of March 4 at UCSC was in the details–the details of organizing.  James Illingworth explains how we did it in “What we learned on March 4.”

(via Socialist Worker)

But the strike pledge campaign was by far the most important aspect of outreach for March 4. For six weeks leading up to the strike, members of the Strike Committee went out all day, every day, and asked students to sign on to a pledge in support of the action. This gave us the opportunity to convince people that a strike would be possible, necessary and effective.

By the eve of March 4, we had collected around 2,000 signatures on the strike pledge and had talked to thousands more students about the plan for the day. We started to get a sense that this was going to be one of the biggest protests in UCSC’s recent history.

Read the full article.

We’ve been making the case for some time that while a long-term commitment to public education in California will require some vast structural changes, the immediate crisis of the UC stems at least as much, if not more, from misplaced priorities. Bob Samuels makes that side of the case very well, here, and he crunches the numbers to make his point:

(via Changing Universities)

UC faculty and students are still being manipulated by the administration to blame all of the university’s problems on state funding, but as I have previously shown, most of the UC’s budget issues are internal. While I have argued that we still need to fight to increase the state allocation for higher education, we have to pressure UC administrators to provide truthful information regarding the university’s finances. Moreover, the solution to our current inability to provide access, affordability, and quality higher education in the California is to increase enrollments and make sure that the enhanced revenue finds its way into the classroom. While many people will argue that we cannot afford to have more students, I will show below why we cannot afford not to have increased enrollments. To make this argument, I will refute several of the standard myths that the UC circulates about its own finances.

Myth 1. UC does not get enough money from the state and student fees to cover the total cost of instruction.

Fact #1: I have calculated that while the University of California receives $15,000 from the state for each student, and student fees and tuition brings in another $10,000 per student, it only costs about $3,000 to educate each student. This means that most of the money that students and the state pay goes to fund external research, administration, and extracurricular activities. Furthermore, the main reason why the cost for instruction is so low is that research universities rely on large classes and inexpensive non-tenured faculty and graduate students to teach most of their undergraduate courses.

To determine the basic educational cost at any university, you simply need to take the average salary of the people who teach the courses and then divide that salary by the average number of courses to get the per course cost. In the case of the University of California, the average salary for a professor teaching undergraduate courses is $100,000, and the average course load is 5, which means the per course cost is $20,000. However, half of the undergraduate courses in the UC system are taught by non-tenurable lecturers and grad students, and their average per course cost is $6,000. If we average these two costs together, the combined average cost per class is $13,000. The next thing to do is to determine the average class size, and the best way to do this is to look at the size of the classes that the average student takes in an average year. In the UC campuses using the quarter system, students average 8 large classes and 2 small classes per year, and the large classes average 200 students, and the small classes average 20 students. This means that the average per student cost for a large class is $65, and the average per student cost for a small class is $650. Now, we can add up the cost of the ten courses a student takes in a year, and we get $1,820 ($1,300 for 2 small classes + $520 for 8 large classes).

One thing that I have left out of this calculation is the cost for small sections taught by graduate students that often accompany large lecture classes. In the UC system, this additional cost adds another $1,000 to each undergraduate’s yearly bill, and if we now multiply the whole total by the cost of providing healthcare for all of the instructors (15%), our new total is $3,243. We are still a long way from the $25,000 that the UC claims it costs to educate each undergraduate student per year. More importantly, it is clear that if the UC increased enrollments, it would have more money for all of its other activities.

Read the rest of this article here.

[This is a transcript of remarks delivered at the noon rally at the base of campus.]

My name is Brian Malone and I’m really happy to see all of you today!  On behalf of UAW 2865—the Teaching Assistants union—I’m so glad to see so many of our members, our students, our mentors, and our co-workers out here on this gorgeous day!

Last week, you probably received an email from Chancellor Blumenthal and EVC Kliger about today’s events here at UCSC.  You may remember the email because of the apparently unironic inclusion of the following sentence: “UC Santa Cruz has a long history of passionate participation in the democratic process.”  Alas, if only we could say the same for the UC Santa Cruz Administration…

But I am more interested in another part of this letter, the by-now familiar reference to UCSC’s “Principles of Community”—a reference that seems to appear in every administration statement about student protests.  Well, by bringing up the Principles of Community, the Chancellor and EVC got me thinking–thinking about what kind of community I want to see here at UCSC.  And while the current Principles of Community statement is a fine document in many ways, it’s actually pretty vague about most of the things that I think are crucial for a community like ours.  So, in the next few minutes, I’d like to sketch out some better Principles of Community–principles that we can aim for as we work to re-imagine OUR university.

First, we need to do more thinking about how to make this a community constituted not by economic privilege or social power.  Let’s just agree up front that we cannot be charging $10,000 in tuition to join this community.  You should not have to take on crushing debt to come to the UC.  You should not have to be working full time while you struggle to get your education.  Our university must be affordable.

Equally important is diversity.  We cannot have a community without full inclusion and participation of racial and ethnic minorities.  But let me be clear here: while the UC pats itself on the back for its supposed attention to diversity, OUR university needs to go several steps further.  We need to consider race and ethnicity in admissions again.  We need to expand retention programs.  We need to change the campus climate.  We need an ethnic studies program!  And if someone violates the safety of our community with hate speech, we need to do more than to punish the perpetrator: we need to restructure the institution itself to prevent it from happening again.  Our community must be as diverse as California itself and our students must be safe.

Here are some other principles of community for OUR university:

–Workers, students, and faculty must be given a full democratic share in campus decision-making.  Our university will have true shared governance.

–Teaching must be re-prioritized as a primary focus.  Our university will not cut instruction to fill budget gaps.

–Speaking of budgets, OUR university will be financially accountable and transparent.

–OUR university will restore funding to departments and programs that do not bring in corporate money:  departments like Literature, History, Philosophy, History of Consciousnesss and Languages.

–And finally, OUR university will not deploy administrators and police officers to surveil and intimidate student activists.  Our administrators will not belittle the concerns of student protesters or refer to their protests as a “luxury”–a luxury indeed, might I note, as most protesters here today are paying tens of thousands of dollars for their education.

Of course, maybe outlining these new Principles of Community makes me hopelessly utopian.  Maybe I’ve lost touch with that “reality” that legislators and administrators (and even, sadly, some of our classmates and coworkers) enjoy invoking so much.  Maybe the community I’m asking us to envision is too far away–in space and in time.

But, on the other hand, maybe we’re closer to it than we think.  Look around.  Here we are, thousands of people standing up for public education–surrounded, in California and beyond, by hundreds of thousands more doing exactly the same thing.  This might not yet be the University Community that we want; but as we stand here together today, it’s not so hard to imagine it.

So as we continue this struggle, let’s keep our ideal community in mind.  And let’s remember that today gave us just a glimpse of what it will be like.

Thank you for coming.

My last post generated some interesting conversation on Facebook. A couple of people posed interesting challenges, and my responses quickly became way too long for FB comments. I decided they were probably too long even for a comment on the original entry, so I made them into a new post. This post is a bit esoteric for this blog, but it’s a slow Wednesday: it’s either turgid analysis or a video response to Dave Kliger’s latest absurdity. If the latter is your cup of tea, here you go!

If you’re interested in some further considerations on economic context and the political bloc I suggested in my last post,  read on. (more…)

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