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Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday, October 17, 2014
by Amanda Armstrong, Rhetoric Department, UC Berkeley.  5th of 5 talks from The Operation of the Machine panel, UC Berkeley October 1, introduced by Prof. Colleen Lye.  Cross-posted from Reclaim UC

Photo: Outside the office of UC Berkeley's Vice Chancellor for Real Estate, October 1, 2014 

I’m going to be talking today about the operation of the UC machine then, versus its operation now. But notthen as in 1965. More like then as in 2009.

I still have vivid memories from fall 2009—a semester when students, workers, and professors built assemblies, walked out of classes, and took direct actions to challenge austerity measures being imposed by the newly-appointed UC President, Mark Yudof. These austerity measures included a 32% tuition increase, furloughs for faculty and staff, and layoffs of over 2,000 service workers across the UC system.

At one of the first walkout planning meetings I attended that fall, people were talking about something called the “Meister report,” which I later learned was named after its author, UC Santa Cruz Professor Bob Meister. The Report talked about how UC administrators were able to take out low-interest construction bonds because they essentially pledged to Moody’s and other rating agencies that they would raise student tuition if necessary to pay back the bonds.

The Meister Report challenged the official story of the 2009 tuition hikes, which claimed that the hikes were necessary given the state’s defunding of public education. The report suggested that, in hiking tuition so drastically, UC administrators weren’t only making up for state defunding – they were also showing bond rating agencies that they had the political will and capacity to deliver steep fee hikes if necessary. And they were protecting their ability to carry on with construction projects, even if this meant trimming funds for basic instruction and saddling students with more debt.

In this way, the Meister Report opened up questions about how and in whose interests UC administrators were managing the money they did have, and about why so many construction projects were moving forward even at a moment of financial crisis. 2009 was thus defined by the politicization both of UC real estate development and of rising student debt levels; it was also a period of significant political mobilization. Even so, we did not succeed in stopping the fee hikes, or otherwise reversing austerity on a large scale. There were some minor victories though: at Berkeley, some of the demands of those who occupied Wheeler Hall on November 20thwere realized. The University renewed its essentially no-cost lease to the Rochdale co-op, and a number of custodial workers who had been laid off were rehired.

The larger political victory came in 2011 and 2012. Facing another round of steep fee hikes, students linked their organizing against privatization to the larger occupy movement. We set up encampments on the campuses, and, after acts of police violence, held massive strikes at Berkeley and Davis. The movement broadened through the spring, with people in all sectors of education marching to the capitol building in Sacramento and occupying it, in order to build support for progressive taxation and for the refunding of public education and social services. Ultimately, a ballot initiative for progressive taxation passed and, with guarantees of more state funding, the regents agreed to freeze in-state tuition for at least four years.

Since the political victory of 2012, some things have changed. In the aftermath of the in-state tuition freeze, the priorities and practices of UC administrators have mutated somewhat, which, I want to suggest, presents an altered political context, and some ambiguities, for those of us interested in challenging University privatization. To begin to get a sense of this new terrain, we can look at recent bond rating reports and UC financial documents.

This year, two rating agencies, Moodys and Fitch, downgraded the UC’s bond rating. In explaining their decision, Moodys noted that, while “The university's debt doubled over the last eight years,…. Political and public scrutiny of the rising cost of higher education will constrain UC's ability to grow net tuition revenue.” They continued: “The university's relatively low cost compared to other market leading universities and expansive geographic draw of students help offset these pressures.” In other words, UC administrators aren’t politically able to raise enough tuition revenue to offset their debts, but at least they can make money on out-of-state tuition, and maybe sometime soon they’ll be able to raise in-state tuition as well.

These bond rating reports, in addition to vindicating Bob Meister’s analysis from 2009, help clarify and explain a couple strategies recently undertaken by UC administrators—strategies that are spelled out fairly explicitly in UC’s financial documentsFirst: In the absence of a political context conducive to across-the-board tuition hikes, administrators have nevertheless tried to increase tuition and fee revenues by admitting more out of state students and by increasing other costs students have to pay (including for housing and healthcare). And Second: In an attempt to decrease their debt levels, administrators have begun to aggressively promote the privatization of development. Instead of generally taking on debt to construct buildings themselves, they are now often working to rent out university-owned land to developers who are willing to build, and in some cases manage, dorms, labs, and other facilities.

In what follows, I will discuss these two administrative strategies, as well as some of their possible political implications.  

First, on UC administrators’ recent attempts to salvage tuition and fee income. This really varies by campus, and I’m going to focus mostly on Berkeley. Following the crisis of 2009, Berkeley administrators started actively recruiting out of state and international students, who paid more in tuition. In the last couple years, as the cost of out-of-state tuition has risen to almost three times that of in-state tuition, administrators continued to admit progressively more out-of-state students. Last year, a third of new admits came from outside of California.

Like other public universities, Berkeley has started “leveraging” student aid to compete to enroll higher-income, out-of-state students. The new Middle Class Access Plan, the cutoff for which was just raised to include those from families making up to $150,000, leverages relatively small grants in exchange for the higher return of out-of-state tuition revenues. Berkeley has also selectively increased housing costs since 2012, raising rents dramatically on the most desirable housing options, while keeping other rents relatively flat. This follows a period of dramatic rent hikes; between 2001 and 2011, room and board rates nearly doubled. Finally, as part of the restructuring of SHIP in 2013, Berkeley raised healthcare premiums by thirteen percent for undergraduates and twenty percent for graduate students—a cost increase that mostly falls on grad students in professional schools, whose tuition rates have also continued to increase.    

Thinking politically about this situation, it’s worth saying initially that a politics organized around the principles of racial justice, class equality, and affordable public education remain critical. Since 2009, the admission and enrollment rates of black students have declined even further than in the immediate aftermath of Proposition 209. Over this period, the class composition of the student body has also been shifting; there are relatively fewer low-income students but significantly more from the highest income brackets. Since 2001, the costs borne by all students have continued to rise, even for those receiving the maximum support from Pell Grants and the Blue and Gold plan. For these and other reasons, it’s critical that we continue to target the race and class exclusions that are only becoming more entrenched in the admissions process.

But I think we also should be thoughtful about how politically to address the fact that the bulk of new tuitionand fee revenues has been coming from out-of-state and international students, who now make up a greater percentage of the student body and have the potential to take on a greater role—as either protagonists or antagonists—of any student movement against privatization that might reemerge. Perhaps advocating for across the board rent and tuition reductions, including for out-of-state tuition, would be a generally compelling way to address affordability issues, which would push back as well against UC administrators’ post-2012 strategy for increasing tuition and fee revenues.   
         
The second post-2012 administrative strategy concerns the privatization of development. In June 2012, right around the time the Regents announced that they would freeze in-state tuition if Proposition 30 passed, Berkeley housing administrators announced that, in order to limit their construction-related debt, they would begin seeking out private developers to build new dorms. This kind of privatization of dorm construction had been happening for some time at Irvine and Davis. And Berkeley had done something similar with the Blum Center, as well as in partnering with BP to fund the construction of the Energy Biosciences Institute building on Hearst and Oxford.

Just in the last couple of years though, the privatization of construction has significantly intensified across the UC system. The UC Office of the President recently posted on their website documents outlining the various partnerships, or rent agreements, the campuses are looking to make with private developers. At Berkeley, housing administrators announced that the Martinez commons would be the final dorm funded and built in-house, and they recently leased Bowles Hall to a private entity interested in redeveloping the building. They are working now on finding a developer interested in building and managing a new dorm on Ellsworth and Channing. The Berkeley rent stabilization board has expressed concern that such privately developed and managed dorms could further drive up student rents, especially when other privately-run dorms, such as the newly-constructed Metropolitan on Dana and Durant, charge rents higher than the cost of room and board. Construction workers’ unions have also raised concerns about the fact that, unlike building projects on campus, these development projects won’t be bound by state prevailing wage laws, and so could involve more dangerous and exploitative building practices.

UC Berkeley administrators have also been working to make arrangements with private firms for the development of portions of the Gill Tract, in Albany. So far, the efforts of Occupy the Farm have stalled this development, and have put on the agenda the conversion of the Gill tract into space for community-based farming, research, and education.

Berkeley administrators, including the newly appointed Vice Chancellor of real estate Robert Lalanne, are also working on coordinating a massive development project on 109 acres of land owned by the University in Richmond Bay. They are saying this project will involve private construction and management of some of the research facilities, and recently published an “Infrastructure Master Plan,” outlining ways for private companies to buy space and influence at the Richmond Bay campus. 

A coalition of labor and community groups has issued a number of demands around this development project including the payment of prevailing wages to construction workers, the promise that all service workers employed in the facilities will be represented by AFSCME, the opening up of space for community-based and community-driven research, that those profiting from the project help fund affordable housing in Richmond, and that formerly incarcerated people be hired for some of the construction and other work set to occur. These are demands that students and workers on campus can help amplify. And in general, I think it’s imperative that we respond to UC’s efforts to privatize construction by building relations of solidarity with local communities and making the case for a kind of public knowledge making.

I can imagine some ambiguities and difficulties that might accompany such a project, aside from just the myriad practical challenges of coalition building and of building power sufficient to interrupt administrative agendas. It might also be hard to know when to oppose new development outright and when to try and direct it to less damaging, more accessible and public-oriented ends. And there’s a question as well about federal research money, which is public in one sense but is often linked to military or other state interests. In a power-point presentation last spring, Robert Lalanne, the Vice Chancellor of real estate, noted that drone development and testing is part of the research agenda for Richmond Bay. Given the entailments of much federal research, how can we envision and struggle for a kind of public knowledge making that is resolutely anti-militarist?

Any renewed movement against university privatization will need to work through these ambiguities and difficulties. But if the last six years have shown us anything, it’s that concerted action on the part of students, workers, and instructors can fundamentally shift the operations of the university, and can block the worst effects of university privatization, if not reverse this process outright. So there is reason to try, and to hope.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 0

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Chris here: This was too long for the comments section so I've posted it.

First, faculty attitudes themselves: The most systematic research shows that a majority are moderate liberals, that leftists are a very small minority.  See reporting on Gross & Simmons here and here (showing faculty centrism, rejection of political influence over hiring across the political spectrum, and the anti-"PC" views of a majority of faculty "stars").  These studies were conducted by investigators who went out of their way to find evidence of radicalism and PC views.  They found moderation, professionalism, and increasing conservatism as one rises in status and influence. (I also work through studies endorsed by David Horowitz and others in a late chapter and appendix of Unmaking the Public University.) This and similar research has been around for years.  It shows a relatively small number of self-identified conservatives on faculties, and moderates outnumbering liberals.  It does not show a professoriate that is unrepresentative of the electorate when you poll electoral views on particular issues.  I don't know party registration of UC faculty, but since Republican registration in CA is now at 28% , it's at least possible that UC is more Republican than the state of California. 

Second, there's the question of whether party affiliation or inferred ideological commitments affect professional performance in either instruction or research.   One of the insights of the "human sciences" over the past fifty years involves the ways that personal identity and social positioning affect perception and the structuring of knowledge itself.  So for human beings the answer for *indirect* influence of outlook on behavior including professional behavior is always yes.  This is one reason why professions exist, along with their cumbersome methodologies that are difficult for outsiders to understand or appreciate--protocols of various kinds are put in place to manage perceptions, insure regularity, create reproducibility, etc. 

The most important examples are not in the humanities but in clinical testing, where human subjects are in life-or-death situations.  There, "double blind" protocols among many other safeguards are put in place to control for the effects of human intention.  Something similar happens in non- academic professions like policing.  It would be wrong to assume that the party affiliation of police officers controls their professional conduct.  You can read on this blog a criticism of what I regard as the overpolicing of this past year's Deltopia event without finding speculation about officers’ ideological bias or dismissing the existence of their professionalism, which they both have in abundance and which affects their behavior.  In the humanities, various forms of peer review make the same kind of effort.  

Some non-academics have gotten in the habit of dismissing all of this with a wave of the hand as itself a kind of ideology, but that is because of lack of experience with the reality of these generally unforgiving methodologies, which are never applied in everyday conversation or to media discourse, little of which would survive the kind of tests to which academic publishing and teaching are subject. 
  
In short, there is really no evidence that faculty are unable to subject their own views to professional controls in their research or teaching, and, inflammatory exceptions aside, plenty of evidence that they do exactly this in the classroom--teaching by connecting conclusions to evidence, looking at evidence from various angles, making sure the evidence is relatively complete, and teaching students how to follow these procedures on their own.  There's quite a bit more to say about academic procedure and why it is so superior to American political discourse in our era, but I will let it go there. 

Third, there's the issue of whether citizens can ethically subject public agencies to party affiliation tests and opt out if they perceive, on an individual basis, an imbalance.  The answer is no. Police, fire, health, education, road maintenance units could potentially be subject to checks of one's party cards, but the Soviet-like nature of this gesture is obvious and I'm always surprised when conservatives go down the road of making a condition of proper funding (or of reversal of previous cuts in the case of higher ed) their preferred ideological balance on staff.  I assume that police officers are as a group more conservative politically than I am. I would never dream of making funding judgments about them on that basis, or think that it's ok for them to have their pensions cut or have inferior equipment because they don't vote like me.  Whether the issue is public safety or educational quality, the issue is the professionalism of staff, insured by peer review and qualified, procedurally explicit, systematic judgments, not their political beliefs.

Finally, the hostility of some members of the Santa Barbara community toward their local university is nothing sort of tragic.  It overfocuses on isolated (and often sensationalized incidents), and it ignores the fact that UCSB is the backbone of the middle-class economy for the overall county, both in terms of salaries and benefits and in terms of student expenditures in the local economy.  Some Santa Barbarans complain all the way to the bank, as they cash rent checks in the amount of $800-1000 per month per bed, with no interest in how the absence of cultural amenities or of even a basic friendly attitude towards students outside of their designated I.V. / Lower State playgrounds affects their behavior, their education, and their well-being.  Could we contain our older-and-wealthier disapproval of the younger-and-poorer long enough to actually help them get a proper start in the world, or simply to try to understand their concerns?  Will later Californians remember Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz as making active contributions to the future of the state or as dragging their feet the whole way? The most probable answer makes me sad. 
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 21

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014
by Chris Newfield, UC Santa Barbara

4th of 5 talks from The Operation of the Machine panel, UC Berkeley October 1, introduced by Prof. Colleen Lye

Members of the FSM had to fight for free speech on campus, as we still must. But they did not have to fight for a free university.  They already had one. They succeeded at winning specific free speech protections.  The free university, they took for granted. 

For UC students in 2009 and 2011, Free UC was a nostalgic memory, like 78-RPM records and episodes of Marcus Welby, MD. They had to fight to block massive tuition hikes.  They succeeded too—not in blocking those hikes, but in raising the political cost of hikes so high that UC & CSU tuition has been frozen for the past several years. 

The University isn’t really that happy about this.  They’ve used tuition hikes to top up revenues for decades now.  Faculty aren’t really that happy about it either.  Some of us oppose high tuition on the grounds that it damages access and the public functions of the university. But most faculty have given up on their senior managers’ ability to get correct public funding from the state.   Most see high tuition, coupled with what’s called high financial aid, as inevitable, fated, predestined, and necessary to restoring UC quality.

In this context, when you oppose continued tuition increases, you are told that you are being selfish and shortsighted, and that maybe you don’t understand the generosity of UC financial aid.   

You are told that low tuition is a subsidy to the rich. You don’t want to subsidize wealthy students, do you?

You are told that low tuition hurts the poor, because they have to subsidize students with their taxes.  You don’t want to hurt the poor, do you?

You are told that low tuition is a political “non-starter.”  You don't want to waste your time on lost causes, or tilt at windmills like Don Quixote, do you?

You are told that low tuition would undermine the high financial aid levels that have protected poor students from unaffordable fees, and that are now expanding to the middle class.  You don’t want to hurt aid for low-income students, I’m sure.

You are told that low tuition would undercut improvements in teaching and learning—that educational quality depends on high tuition, and on more non-resident students paying even higher tuition than residents.  You don’t want to lock in “limited learning” at Berkeley or anywhere else, I know.

So it looks like current tuition levels are a bare minimum, and that pretty soon they’re going to have to go even higher—we’re realists, and we agree that college graduates get the benefits of their degree so should pay most or all the cost.  Don’t we? 

But in reality, all five of these statements are wrong.  The right answers point not simply to freezing tuition, which is one cause UC free speech was used for, but to rolling tuition back.  

We can dispense quickly with first two statements—that Free UC subsidizes the rich by charging them far less than they could afford, and is a burden to the poor, by forcing them to subsidize students at Berkeley where they can’t go.  The way to deal with these is through progressive taxation at the state level.  For a family making between $300,000 and $400,000 a year, there could be a higher ed surcharge of $1700.18.  Someone making $17,000 a year would pay an additional $5.13—or nothing, if there were a threshold. I’ll explain those strange numbers in a minute.  For now, the main point is that the tax system can equalize burdens for all public institutions according to ability to pay.  That’s the basic idea of progressive taxation.

The third truthy statement is that low or no tuition is a political non-starter.  The truthiness part is that it is non-starter only for a portion of the political and business class, who have no interest in paying more taxes themselves to lower college costs for the masses of California students.  Regent Blum thinks low-tuition is a non-starter.  Regent Gould thinks low tuition is a non-starter. Columnist Dan Walters thinks low-tuition is a non-starter. Former President Yudof thought low tuition was a non-starter. Former Chancellor Birgeneau thought low tuition was a non-starter. On the other hand, in polls Californians think low tuition is a great idea. They think the tuition is too damn high--they’ve been saying this since the early 1990s. They think somebody should pay more taxes, and recently 40% said they should pay more taxes themselves.  The need for high tuition is a social construction, a fabrication, an artifact of a passing era, a conventional belief.  It can be changed. Changing beliefs is a purpose of free speech, of thought itself, of movements of the kind that have brought us together today.

But, they say, Free UC is a nice idea but we just don’t have the money.  Actually, we do! The Council of UC Faculty Associations did the math, and showed to get tuition back down to 2000-01 levels $5300 in today’s dollars), and state funding back up to spend 20001 amounts per student, would cost to the median individual California taxpayer , each year, a total of $50.  Restoring full quality and affordability for the state’s 1.6 million public college and university students would cost the state median taxpayer about the same as a holiday bottle of single malt scotch.  That would get us halfway back to a Free UC

So Free UC wouldn’t help the rich, and wouldn’t hurt the poor, and wouldn’t cost too much. We’re on the fourth defense of high tuition.  What about all that high financial aid—the Blue and Gold Plan, the Middle Class Scholarships, Cal Grants plus Pell Grants, Berkeley’s own programs--that have inoculated low-income students from high tuition? Well actually, they haven’t. 

As you know all too well, students must cover not only tuition but also the full “cost of attendance,” which includes rent, food, clothes, books, and similar everyday expenses.  On-Campus cost of attendance is over $33,000.   High overall costs make a huge difference in who gets to complete.  

High tuition means that degree completion depends on ability to pay, which depends on family income--and debt capacity.




Source: Tom Mortenson, PostSecondonary Education Opportunity 2010.

Nationally, 71% of the top quartile completes their degree. 10% of the bottom quartile completes their degree.  Note too that as you move from the top to the next income quartile (which starts at around $90,000 for a family and ends at somewhat above $50,000), attainment falls by half.  

What does the High tuition /high aid model do to fix this?  Does it give grants to low-income students so they don’t have to borrow? No. It gives them grants to cover a portion of their total costs of attendance. And then they have to borrow to cover the rest of their costs. Here's what that looks like broken down by income. 


Average Cumulative Debt by Parent Income Band: 2011-12 UCB Graduating Cohort


Poor students borrow about as much as rich ones.  Even more dramatically, they borrow a much higher share of their family income –over 60% in the lower brackets.  

(The situation is worse than it appears:  this chart folds non-borrowers into the averages, and it excludes parental borrowing through the PLUS and similar programs e.g. Figure 1-7).

UC Berkeley expends significant money and effort to mitigate the damage to affordability of the high tuition model, and yet after all that work it keeps borrowing to pretty close to the national average. 

Median Debt Levels of 2007-08 Bachelor's Degree Recipients by Income Level 

Source: College Board, Trends in College Pricing

High tuition does not fight inequality—it feeds inequality. High tuitionn does this by keeping college proportionately more expensive for low-income students—who are disproportionately students of color.  Since college is relatively more expensive for them, they are less likely to finish college.  High tuition is not worth keeping for its high financial aid.  The aid system is a debt system. It makes inequality worse.

Finally, wouldn’t low tuition undercut improvements in teaching and learning?  No again. The university’s limited spending on learning is what limits learning—we spend less than half of “core funds” on instruction (Display II-3).   Instruction is the one thing that public officials clearly understand the value of paying for. As tuition takes over paying for instruction, politicians have ever less incentive to rebuild public funding, or help UC keep enough places for California students.  

Other private sources expect their funds to stay with targeted projects.   This is true of philanthropy, where up to 99% of funds raised are restricted to special activities.  It is true of research funding, which must be spent on particular research—and which overall loses money for the university, requiring additional subsidies from internal university sources. It is true of instruction, where the state is now subtracting from the General Fund the costs of the Middle Class Scholarship program. University costs go up as the university tries to replace lost public funding, and little of that helps instruction.

In the fifty years since Berkeley students fought for free speech, all students have been steadily losing “free university.”  Every financial aid fix has been tried, every bank has devised a student loan program, every scam and for-profit rip-off has been deployed.  One result is the world’s highest cost of higher education.  Another result is the destructive explosion of student debt.  A third is decades of stagnating degree attainment.  We have in fact spent most of the last five decades privatizing public universities.  The results of the experiment are in.  Privatization has failed to deliver low costs, or low fees, or low debt, or more degrees for low-income students, or high quality.  Privatization in the form of high tuition has undermined the public purposes of public universities. 

Now we have reached a turning point. UC student protests froze tuition, and Gov Brown, the original austerity Democrat, is now enforcing this. Tuition freezes without funding increases aren’t sustainable.  The next step is to rebuild public funding.  It won’t work to say the university needs more money in the abstract, that we’ve been trying to save and have done our best.  What will work is laying out the student outcomes of recovered public funding.  

This is what the current no-tuition movement is about. It’s about inclusive, general, taxpayer based, whole-society-contributing public funding of the overall enterprise, and accountable to the overall public.   Public universities uncover and develop the individual brilliance of regular smart people, those millions whose large but previously underdeveloped talents transformed the economy and the society in the past, and whose talents, on a mass scale, are needed to transform it again. 

Now is not the time to scale back mass Bildung and return it to the ivory towers of our elite private universities that do excellent work in miniature.   We need the thousand-foot mural art of public universities.  This is going to require getting people to pay taxes for higher education again—an extra 50 bucks!  The real goal should be free public university—Free UC.  We need to use our free speech to call for that.


Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 10

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Thursday, October 9, 2014
by Wendy Brown, Political Science, UC Berkeley

3rd of 5 talks from The Operation of the Machine panel, UC Berkeley October 1, introduced by Prof. Colleen Lye

I want to make two brief points this afternoon, one about freedom and one about speech. 


If forced to compress into a few sentences the contours of student freedom and its limits in public universities 50 years ago and now, those sentences might go this way:


Then:  Because developing the next generation of Californians as educated individuals, citizens and contributing members of society was widely valued as a public good, the university offered a free, high quality education to qualifying (mostly white) middle class and working class students.  Faculty (also mostly white and male) had significant power over large domains of university policy-- they determined what was to be learned and how, what counted as an educated person worthy of a degree, and much more.  But the university administration not only prohibited student political expression, it codified a panoply of restrictions as it sought to be a zone clear of politics, unmarried sex, illegal substances and, implicitly, non-whites.  Thus “the gears of the machine”—from racial exclusion to speech restrictions—were tangible controls that cast students as rightless children being prepared for educated participation in society, economy and politics.


That was Then.  And Now?  UC doors are open to anyone with the wherewithal, parental pressure or supplemental support structures to deliver the test scores, grades, and profile to compete for admission (or who have singular athletic ability, or are well-off non-residents). No longer a public good or publicly supported, UC is construed as a place to invest in oneself as human capital, and according to a set of calculations about what will appreciate or diminish this capital.  Courses are increasingly on offer like Walmart goods, and respond heavily to consumer demand.  And faculty power has receded to a few small corners of the plantation—students feel it most in the form of access to classes and grades.  In the domain of student political, social and sexual expression, just about anything is permitted.  


However, the burden is on each of you to invest your time and effort strategically, not only to gain high return on your expensive investment but to develop the little speck of human capital that is you and that is yours alone to develop.  


This burden is so great and so impossible to put down for anything —an alluring music class or other exciting course outside your major, let alone a political cause, or dwelling for uncounted hours with an idea, a question, a compelling bit of text. Thus, if there are few repressive rules or overt restrictions on what you can do or say, the conversion of the university from a public good to a private investment made by you and your family radically changes the coordinates of unfreedom faced by students today.  How much can you afford to think, learn, want or do that does not comport with enhancing your future value to employers, grad or professional schools?  What freedom to speak, protest or organize against injustice can you exercise that would not be suicidal for the human capital you are enjoined to develop here, into which you have invested family life savings or taken on debt, and which has become the supervening if not sole purpose of a university education? 
Thus, today, the gears of the machine don’t clang and grind out there:  they are are soft, quiet, and deep inside us.  And throwing our bodies on them in resistance requires a complex contortion and commitment.

Ok, that was freedom.  Now speech, where I will also mark just one of many major differences between then and now, or between what we might call the repressive liberal era and the putatively emancipated neoliberal era.  This one pertains to the ways that the neoliberal assault on public things—a public sphere, public goods, public life--has led both university administrators and would-be activists into a certain confusion about free speech as a distinctly political right, one born from political struggle and secured historically for political life.  We have seen a bit of this confusion in recent months when “civility” or “respectful listening” have been mistakenly declared an inherent entailment of free speech or academic freedom. Certainly civility and respectful listening may be expected at a dinner table, a university classroom or a department meeting—it would be good if they prevailed more routinely.  But they have nothing to do with the exercise of free speech in public, where (barring threats, harassment, or dangerous incitements), anyone may say anything…and no one must listen or listen well. 


A far more treacherous instance of contemporary confusion about our political rights comes from the Supreme Court in recent years.  From Citizens United to Hobby Lobby, the Court majority has been busily granting political freedoms—of speech, of religious belief-- to corporations who may now use their enormous wealth and power to overwhelm the last standing icon of democracy, elections, and withhold medical insurance for Constitutionally guaranteed reproductive rights.


This confusion, from high places, of whom and what our political rights are for, and what they do and don’t entail, would take hours to analyze properly.  But I want to consider one especially troubling version of it on college campuses today, one that we can do something about.  This is the effort to regulate public speech to protect certain vulnerable groups from offense, hatred, being retraumatized.  


This protection racket begin, alas, a couple of decades ago with well-intentioned feminist and anti-racist efforts to outlaw hateful or offensive speech and images.  But this tool, which aimed to shield the historically hated or subordinated from being hit again in the present, has not remained in the hands of the Left.  Indeed, while it’s animating the contemporary “trigger warning” madness (a discussion for another day) it has also become one of the more potent instruments of illiberal American ultra-Zionism today.  It is what dignifies the fallacious argument that publicly criticizing Israel on campus creates an unsafe or offensive climate for Jewish students.  


So what begin as a concern with subordinating or hateful speech has been appropriated to silence protest against power.  Of course any political argument can be flipped—Californians know this best from the legislation that ended affirmative action, which, you’ll recall, was called The Civil Rights Initiative.  But there’s something more troubling here, which is the confusion of the public sphere with therapeutic spaces or homes.  The domain of free public speech is not one of emotional safety or reassurance, and what you might hear in Sproul Plaza or up at this podium might be disturbing, uncomfortable, enraging, even offensive.  


Public speech is one of the most powerful weapons ordinary human beings have, and even the most civilly uttered sentences can disturb or terrify.  Certainly the speeches of Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., or Malcolm X made neither white people nor many blacks feel safe.  Certainly the revolutionary slogan, “liberty, equality, fraternity” did not reassure either the French aristocracy or its minions in mid-18th century Paris.  Do you think Wall St Bankers felt safe when they walked past thousands of Occupy protestors decrying the obscene wealth, destruction of democracy, and carnage of public goods for which they were being held responsible?  Do you think closeted homosexuals felt safe when the Stonewall rebellion broke out? Do you think men who have pushed, drunk or drugged women into unwanted sex feel safe as women on campuses everywhere are finally speaking out against the commonplace of sexual assault?  Or that civil servants, police and other hired guns of regimes across the Middle East felt safe when citizens amassed in public squares to denounce them during the Arab spring?  Emotional safety is not what the public sphere and political speech promise.  It’s for cultivating at home if you are lucky enough to have one.  It is what you seek among friends and intimates where you expect your vulnerability to be taken into account. 


A university education, too, ought to call you to think, question, doubt.   It ought to incite you to question everything you assume, think you know or care about, not because those assumptions or cares will be jettisoned.  Rather, because, as those wild-eyed radicals Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill insisted, there is no possibility of knowing what’s right, justified, valuable or true unless you question deeply and relentlessly…unless you’re willing to consider whether your attachment to an idea or principle is really just a teddy bear you cling to, a comforting familiar.  The public sphere and a university classroom are not for hanging onto your teddy bears.  Your bears have their place, back in your room where you’re safe and restored.   But when we demand—from the Right OR the Left-- that universities be cleansed of what is disturbing, upsetting, enraging, “offensive” or triggering, we are complicit both with the neoliberal destruction of university as a place of being undone, transformed, awakened (rather than a place to get job training) AND with neoliberalism’s destruction of public spaces and the distinctive meaning of political rights, (rights that some in this room fought to bring onto campus 50 years ago).  


Let’s demand something far more important, which is to be provoked and challenged, every day and down to our very toes in what remains of this extraordinary institution.  Let’s have the courage to stand for that, and to be willing to withstand it.  
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 8

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tuesday, October 7, 2014
by Leigh Raiford, UC Berkeley
with thanks to Michael Cohen and Nzingha Dugas
Photo credit: Harvey Richards
2nd of 5 talks from The Operation of the Machine panel, UC Berkeley October 1, introduced by Prof. Colleen Lye

Fifty years ago today, Jack Weinberg, a student activist, set up a table outside of Sproul Hall in direct defiance of the campus ban on political speech.  What followed is of course well-known: a campus police car drove into the middle of the plaza to arrest Weinberg, students surrounded the vehicle and occupied Sproul Plaza for the next 33 hours, Marios Savio climbed atop the car and gave a powerful speech….  And the Free Speech Movement was born.

What perhaps is not so well-known about this moment is that Jack Weinberg was the head of UC Berkeley’s CORE chapter.  CORE—the Congress of Racial Equality—was a frontline civil rights organization, that along with SNCC—the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—had organized the massive black voter registration and education effort in Mississippi that year, known as Freedom Summer.  Weinberg, Savio, and numerous other campus activists had joined more than 800 other students from around the nation, mostly white, mostly Northern, and they lived, worked, and organized side by side with Southern African Americans against the Jim Crow system of racial apartheid.  These volunteers witnessed and experienced firsthand the violence and terror that maintained Jim Crow: the murder of four summer volunteers by Klansmen, the more than eighty people—including Savio—beaten by police as well as citizens, the hundreds arrested, and the bombing of scores of homes, businesses and churches.

When they returned to campus in the Fall of 1964, galvanized and also sobered by their experiences, they were eager to continue the struggle and to recruit others to join in the fight for racial justice.  But instead they found an administration that, in Savio’s words, was “out of touch.” 

Here [Berkeley and Cal campus] was one of the main outlets in the free part of the country…for recruiting people to go down there [to the South, and it seemed outrageous] that the University would presume to cut this off…because [the southern freedom struggle] was the most important thing going on in the country.  If the university could throttle politics on the campus, then in the spirit of “Which Side Are You On?’ they are saying… ‘we are on the same side as the state of Mississippi.’… It would be shameful not to stand up…

--stand up against UC’s ban on free speech and more specifically on what Savio biographer Robert Cohen has rightly labeled “the University’s attempt to disable the student arm of the civil rights movement" (pp 76-77).

I begin my comments here because I want to remind us that the legacy of the Free Speech Movement is the legacy of Freedom Summer; that the Free Speech Movement and Civil Rights are inseparable, and that the Free Speech Movement could not have happened without student commitment to issues of social justice beyond the campus.

So, Fifty years later, where are we now?  What is the legacy not just of free speech on campus, but of Civil Rights, integration and racial justice at UC Berkeley?

It is in an inescapable truth that since the passage of Proposition 209, the so-called California Civil Rights Initiative that ended affirmative action in the state, the University of California has failed the legacy of the Free Speech Movement.  Though we give lip service to diversity, more as a comforting image and corporate commodity, the messy work of a true diversity is no longer a priority at this university.  In the year after Prop 209’s passage, diversity at UC Berkeley completely collapsed, reducing the numbers of students of color by more than half in a single year.

For the last 18 years, the black student population has hovered at 3%, the Latino/Latina student population at about 11%, the Native American student population at about one half of one percent--in a state in which these groups make up 7%, 40% and 1.5% of the population respectively.  Eighteen years.  Prop 209 is old enough to enter Cal’s freshman class.  What that means is that these numbers – evidence of an American legacy of racism and discrimination in education -- are seen no longer as constituting a Crisis.  But like the shocking rise of tuition, this situation has become the New Normal.  We can no longer delude ourselves into believing that the University has the will or commitment or imagination to honor the civil rights legacies of the Free Speech Movement, namely representation and integration.  It has, instead, fallen silent.

What are the ways in which we see this complacency manifest?

If we look to the 2014 UC Office of the President Campus Climate Report, we see that students of color, and African American students in particular, reported the lowest feelings of respect on campus.  This is something that those of us who work with students of color hear everyday and didn’t necessarily need a report to confirm. It is easy to see in terms of a persistently hostile racial climate, micro (and macro) aggressions both within and outside of the classroom, and general feelings of anti-blackness.  These include reported incidents of the hanging of nooses across from African American theme dorms and the racial profiling of students of color by campus police. 

The ongoing rise of tuition makes it difficult for all but the wealthiest and the very poor to attend UC, when we know that class divisions are very much articulated via racial divisions.

We also see the outsourcing of recruitment and retention work to the students themselves--work that the University itself is no longer willing or able to take on.

And we can also point to the fact that I am here, in part as a token, one of less than twenty black women faculty on a campus of more than 1400. 

But I want to speak specifically to two ways in which the campus’ failure to address the ongoing diversity crisis constitutes a violation of free speech.

That students of color constitute such a tiny minority on this campus squelches their freedom of speech at a most basic level. With such low numbers, students of color take on and bear an incredible burden of representation.

In most of the classrooms on this campus, students of color find themselves the only one of their kind in the room.  And when the subject of race comes up—you know, Ferguson, or immigration or President Obama for that matter—they are looked to, by professor and students alike, to act as expert and representative for their race, to stand in for their group, effectively to stand in for all those who have been excluded from campus.  This incredible burden of representation has the effect of silencing students of color, of further isolating and marginalizing them. 

Our new Executive Vice Chancellor Claude Steele has termed the associated fear “stereotype threat,” by which he means an anxiety that one will confirm or conform to all the degrading dehumanizing stereotypes held about one’s group.  A hundred years ago, WEB Du Boiscalled this problem “double consciousness,” the “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of always measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks along with amused contempt and pity.” And yet, the Development Office continues to use the silent images of these marginalized students —to trade on and sell their difference—as part of the “Thanks to Berkeley” capital fundraising campaign on banners all over campus in numbers disproportionate to their actual demographic.

The second example I want to cite is in light of the Task Force on Academics and Athletics’ report released last week.  In conversations with student athletes, a number of them have told me and other faculty that they are instructed by coaches and other athletic staff “not to do anything” which might jeopardize their eligibility.  This includes participation in student protest or political activity.  Now of course there is no written policy, but former members of revenue-generating sports teams (football, basketball) as well as other (non-revenue, Olympic or intercollegiate) teams have for years expressed their feeling of being silenced.  For black student athletes and for the black student population on campus, this has deep impact.  The University cynically uses alternative admission standards for student athletes and then uses these increased numbers of black students to pad already dismal diversity numbers.  By placing unspoken restrictions on the free speech of student athletes as a tacit condition of their eligibility, the university effectively isolates these students from the larger black student body, further marginalizing an already diminished population.  The cost of playing Cal sports while black is silence.

I want to conclude by returning to Mario Savio and the legacy of the movement Savio spent the Spring of 1964 protesting discriminatory hiring practices in San Francisco hotels.  He spent the summer of 1964 living and organizing against racial injustice in the Deep South.  His was an identity formed in community, a coming to self through working alongside others for the betterment of society.  Savio’s legacy in part is one in which we are reminded that to be our best selves, to create the kind of University community we aspire to, we must speak up and make space for the least visible and most silenced members of our campus.  This includes following up on the progressive recommendations of the Task Force on Academics and Athletics, continuing to fight for tuition reduction, and advocating for a more racially diverse campus.  What we remember and celebrate here is Mario Savio standing on a cop car speaking eloquently about fighting the machine.  What we need to remember is that it was the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for racial justice that gave Savio his voice and his community.

Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 6

Monday, October 6, 2014

Monday, October 6, 2014
By Colleen Lye, English Department, UC Berkeley, and Co-chair, Berkeley Faculty Association.

This fall marks the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) at UC Berkeley, a student movement that since Mario Savio’s death in 1996 has gained increasing institutional acknowledgement as part of the campus’s celebrated history.

 The 50th anniversary commemorations, however, got off to an unexpectedly rocky start with Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’s campus-wide message on civility. The free speech rights won by students in 1964 became the basis for time, place and manner regulations governing student conduct. It appeared to some that Chancellor Dirks’s comments suggested a misunderstanding of those rights, or a new policy reversal of them. With media attention already trained on campus because of the FSM anniversary, combined with the fact that the Salaita case at the University of Illinois had, over the course of the summer, turned “civility” into a hot-button word in a debate over faculty academic freedom, an avalanche of negative publicity required the Chancellor to quickly drain the force of his initial remarks in a follow-up message. In a meeting with the staff of The Daily Californian, which had run a critical forum on the Chancellor’s message on civility and his subsequent clarification, Dirks talked about how his own scholarship on colonial India had once analyzed the ways in which civility had been used by those in power to restrain the freedoms of the disempowered.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Berkeley faculty, staff and students returned to the business of commemorating the FSM, in light of which a large number of events have been planned for the fall. From the perspective of the Berkeley Faculty Association, FSM-50 represented an opportunity to take stock of the distance traveled since the time when the co-author of the Master Plan and the avatar of student free speech had once been primary antagonists in a drama that kicked off the Sixties as that period in which universities came to be conceived as a base from which to organize for broader social change. 

Is the increasing sympathy many feel for the position of Clark Kerr—as embattled liberal caught between a reactionary Sacramento and an insurgent student demand for their First Amendment right to express politically consequential speech on campus—indicative of the extent to which we are still fighting the battles of the Sixties but on ever weakening ground? Racial segregation is still with us, feminist reproductive rights are under siege, corporate power has seized extensive control of our democracy, preventing even modest government amelioration of growing economic inequality. The dismantling of the notion that higher education is a public good rather than a consumer choice, and the degradation of the link between democracy and education that follows from that, is something that our UC administrators—scrambling to patch public deficits by all available means on a short-term basis—seem unwilling or unable to combat.

Thus since 2009 it has fallen largely to UC students, staff unions and faculty to diagnose our structural situation from the standpoint of the public interest, with this blog serving as a primary outlet for expression. As part of this tradition, the Berkeley Faculty Association organized a teach-in entitled “The Operation of the Machine: UC Then and Now” on Oct 1, in commemoration of the day that thousands of students surrounded a police car on Sproul Plaza that held FSM activist Jack Weinberg, and refused to allow his arrest and removal. At our event last week, UC faculty and student speakers addressed a packed audience on some of the most crucial topics relating to the question of the changed relationship between freedom and the university since the 60s.

How does the heavy burden of tokenism placed upon the few African American students left at Berkeley since Prop. 209, and the fact that student athletes are constrained by their scholarships from participation in political protest, combine to rob underrepresented minority students especially of their freedom of speech? 

How is the conservative seizure of a therapeutic discourse of a safe campus climate functioning to regulate academic and campus debate in a way that fundamentally departs from an understanding of the university as a place of intellectual provocation and challenge? 

How is it that a free university education for Californians can seem so far-fetched when our current high fee/high aid model is contributing to relentlessly increasing student debt, and persists because of a lack of political will rather than an economic necessity? 

How is UC Berkeley’s increasing privatization of its real estate holdings likely to raise the cost of student housing and diminish campus community access to facilities and resources previously understood to belong to a university commons? 

Finally, what is to be done?

These questions and more were explored by Leigh Raiford, Wendy Brown, Chris Newfield, and Amanda Armstrong, whose talks will be published here starting tomorrow. 
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 2