Speeches


Hello, everyone. My name is S.M.R., and I’m a graduate student here at UCSC. I’m here representing our campus’ branch of the UAW, the TA union. I’m also a member of Academic Workers for a Democratic Union, a reform caucus of our UAW local working to create a more democratically organized TA union.

We are all here today to defend public education. Education is a human right. A real democratic society, a society in which all truly have a voice and a chance to actually pursue happiness, cannot exist without an educated public. Without making possible universal access to higher education, a society cannot call itself truly democratic. The corporate interest-driven assault on public education happening in California, as well as across the country and the world, amounts to an attempt by the ruling classes to recreate a kind of feudalism in a corporate model. As we speak, Gov. Brown is pushing for an extra $1.4 billion in cuts to the UC, the Cal States, and the community colleges. The budget cuts handed down already by the UC Administration and the state have resulted in 40,000 fewer students being admitted to the Cal States, and 250,000 fewer being admitted to the community colleges. The community colleges, which are quickly becoming the last possibility for higher education for people from the working class and many students of color, will lose in the vicinity of 350,000 further admissions slots in the next year. That is seven hundred and forty thousand more people, in California alone, who now cannot attend any college.

Meanwhile, cuts to our own UC system have resulted in the layoffs of thousands of workers, staff members, and lecturers, forced others to take furloughs, led to the destruction of the Community Studies and American studies programs, and have caused the cutting of classes to such an extent that many undergrads are now taking a fifth year they can’t afford because they can’t get into courses required for their majors. Fee hikes have driven undergraduates to drop out. The number of TAships available to graduate students at UCSC have been slashed, TAs were recently refused a real raise by the university, and TA workload protections are under threat. More and more graduate students are dropping out for financial reasons, and many of these are among the most experienced TAs. The more the UC makes the lives of graduate student employees impossible, the more TAships it cuts, the more students it puts in our sections, the harder it becomes to do our jobs. Undergraduates rely on our being able to do our jobs properly; we teach their sections and their labs, we grade their papers and tests. The more our experience as grad students suffer, the more our ability to do our jobs is constrained if not outright made impossible, the more we have to spend time looking for extra work and worrying about funding, the more the quality of education for the undergraduates suffers. The execs raised the fees extravagantly, and meanwhile the undergraduates are getting less and less in return for all that money and the debts most students have to incur to pay it.

This state, and the UC system, once believed what I do: that Education is a human right. That higher education should be free and accessible to all, because education was vital to creating an informed public and a truly democratic society. This state can believe that again. We’ve already forced Mark Yudof to promise no more fee hikes for the time being; now we demand that the hikes be rolled back, that UC employees be given the support and respect they deserve, that graduate student employees be given a living wage and better living conditions, that an Ethnic Studies Department be created, and that the undergraduate student body be given the education it deserves, with that education accessible to all. They tell us the money isn’t there; yes, it is. We live in a state overflowing with the mega-rich, people who pay property takes at 1978 levels, and instead of taxing them, Gov. Brown is proposing regressive taxes that will impact the working and middle classes instead of the people who actually have the money. It is time for the rich to pay up. It is time for the state to get its priorities straight, and it is time for public institutions like the UC to stop behaving like corporations. This is not a corporation; this is a school, and a system, founded for the public good, and these millionaires in charge are supposed to be civil servants, not corporate executives. The privatization of the public university must be fought as hard as we can fight it. Education is a human right.

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[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.