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"

Oops.

Goodbye!

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.

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