Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Crisis in the UC's

And, they even mention the CSUs

Why Are We Destroying Public Education?
University of California Students and Staff Prepare for
System-Wide Strike to Protest Cuts

Democracy Now - November 17, 2009


The governing body of the University of California
system, the Board of Regents, is preparing to vote on a
major tuition hike for both undergraduate and graduate
students. Undergraduate tuition would rise an average
32 percent, while some graduate schools would begin
charging thousands of dollars for programs that are
currently tuition-free. The Regents are meeting
Thursday at UCLA, where students from across the state
are converging for what organizers have dubbed a
"Crisis Fest," including mass protests, civil
disobedience and teach-ins.


Laura Nader, professor of social cultural anthropology
at UC Berkeley, where she has taught for nearly fifty
years. Earlier this year she co-authored a measure
approved by the UC Berkeley Academic Senate calling on
the school's athletics program to become self-
sufficient and stop receiving subsidies from student

Ananya Roy, Professor in the Department of City &
Regional Planning at UC Berkeley. She is canceling her
classes to take part in this week's strike.

Blanca Misse, UC Berkeley graduate student and
organizer with the Student Worker Action Team.

Michael Cohen, lecturer in American studies at UC
Berkeley and co-chair of the Solidarity Alliance, which
issued the call for this week's strike.

AMY GOODMAN: For our first segment today, a pivotal
battle over public education here in the state of
California. The governing body of the UC system, the
Board of Regents, is set to vote on a major tuition
hike for both undergraduate and graduate students.
Undergraduate tuition would rise an average 32 percent,
while some graduate schools would begin charging
thousands of dollars for programs that are currently
tuition-free. The Regents are also expected to approve
a new round of layoffs, furloughs and other spending

The Regents are meeting Thursday at UCLA, where
students from across the state are converging for what
organizers have dubbed a "Crisis Fest," including mass
protests, civil disobedience and teach-ins. Here in the
Bay Area, students and university workers at UC
Berkeley have called a three-day strike that begins on
Wednesday. Two unions, the University Professional and
Technical Employees and Coalition of University
Employees, will be walking off the job to protest what
they call the UC system's unfair labor practices.
Dozens of faculty members have also signed on to
support the strike.

For more, we're joined by four guests who have been
involved in the calls for affordable and accessible
education at the UC, University of California, schools.

Ananya Roy is professor in the Department of City &
Regional Planning at UC Berkeley. She is canceling her
classes to take part in this week's strike.

Laura Nader is a professor of social cultural
anthropology at UC Berkeley, where she's taught for
nearly fifty years. Earlier this year she co-authored a
measure approved by the UC Berkeley Academic Senate
calling on the school's athletics program to become
self-sufficient and stop receiving subsidies from
student fees.

Blanca Misse is with us, a UC Berkeley graduate student
and organizer with the Student Worker Action Team.

And Michael Cohen, a lecturer in American studies at UC
Berkeley and co-chair of the Solidarity Alliance, which
issued the call for this week's strike.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! This is a major
situation that has developed across California,
instructive for everyone. I want to begin with Ananya
Roy, if you can lay out the situation.

ANANYA ROY: Well, I think there is a very real crisis
in California, where continuing budget cuts have
devastated the infrastructure of public education, and
we have a governor who continues to call for deeper and
deeper budget cuts, even though there is nothing left
to cut. So we're clearly fighting for the ideal of
public education. We're fighting for the opportunity of
Californians and Americans to get a decent education.
But we're also fighting for the future of our
particular university, the UC system, and we're
fighting to be represented by leaders who believe in
and can defend the mission of public education.

I think what has been quite unique about the struggle
is the coming together of students, faculty and workers
to do so. This particular moment before us is one where
students face unprecedented fee hikes, and this is very
much, therefore, also a student strike, students
fighting for their own future and for the future of the
next generation of students.

AMY GOODMAN: Blanca Misse, can you talk about the kind
of organizing that the students are doing right now?

BLANCA MISSE: Yeah. So, students began organizing in
the summer with the workers against the cuts, but they
started really organizing when the school started at
the end of August. And the kind of organizing is very
diverse, because it represents the diversity in our
campus. We have - we started general assemblies, where
all the students can come, discuss and vote together
what they want to do in a democratic way. And this
assembly has called for the 24th walkout and endorsed
the call of the strike of the unions, of the grad

But we also are working with other groups that were
organizing in the university for years, that have been
dismissed by the administration of the university for
years, especially the groups of students of color that
have been fighting against the racist procedures of the
university, where a majority of community of color is
excluded from our university. We have only like one
percent of Native Americans and three percent of
African Americans. So all these groups are getting into
this fight against the budget cuts.

And we are calling to go on strike these three days.
Many things are prepared for these three days. One of
the big - the most important part will be canceling the
classes and having the students walking out and
participating in rallies and actions, but we also are
going to organize with the faculty these alternative
university teach-ins, thinking what will be the
university of the future, what kind of public
university we want to see on our campus.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the September 24th walkout
follow-up? What happened then?

BLANCA MISSE: So, after the walkout that gathered 5,000
people in Sproul, we host an assembly with all the
students that want to get involved. And we've been
meeting like every week, all the undergrads and grad
students, but we also tried to contact all the other
student groups and tried to organize even by buildings.
For example, the buildings of social sciences and
humanities have host building meetings and teach-ins,
so we can build like base solidarity with lecturers and
the staff that have been laid off in our departments.
We can hear from the unions. We can hear from the
faculty who want to talk also about how they see the
university changing or what kind of university they
would like to have.

And basically we've - and also we have been doing
outreach to the rest of sectors of public education.
One of the major efforts after the walkout was to
organize a education conference, mobilizing conference,
on October 24th, one month later, at UC Berkeley, that
gathered 800 students and teachers and workers from
public education, because we want to do this fight
together, as Ananya said. We are also hit by this
crisis of the state of California, but we're not the
only ones, and we don't want the state to divide us
again, to say "We have to take money from the community
colleges to give to the UCs, or take money of the UCs
to give to the Cal States." We want to be united in
this fight. So we started also the dialogue with other
sectors of public education.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Cohen, what is the Solidarity

MICHAEL COHEN: The Solidarity Alliance grew out of a,
initially, faculty project of protesting the seizure of
emergency powers by UC President Mark Yudof. They began
to coalesce and discuss some possible responses and
began an effort to reach out to other constituencies on
campus. As soon as the unions on the campus learned
that there were faculty interested in joining cause,
the Solidarity Alliance grew rapidly and into a sizable
organization that represents all the heads of the local
unions on campus. Most of the student groups of one
kind, including the ASUC, which is the student
government bodies, but also the bridges, recruitment
and retention centers, the students of color
organizations, the General Assembly and SWAT are also
members. And group members of - individual members of the
organization SAVE, which is the faculty group, have
joined us.

And we are a consortium, or we are an alliance of
individual groups that have come together, because we
understand that in solidarity, in joining common cause,
we have strength enough to fight this, that the
university's typical procedures are to divide the
faculty from the workers and divide the workers from
the students and to divide the students from the
faculty. And as long as the three groups remain strong
and are - show their solidarity with one another, we
represent a formidable force on campus. And so, we
have - believe that we have the strength and the position
to call for this strike.

And many have joined us, and it has spread to the
entire UC system. And we believe that not only at UC
Berkeley do we - are we strong, but we - as Blanca said, we
need to expand beyond. I think we recognize quite
clearly that much - the propensity for some folks at
Berkeley is to seek a special dispensation, to seek a
kind of exceptionalism, that UC Berkeley, you know, is
the crown jewel of the UC system. And we recognize the
special place of Berkeley, but we're also very alive to
the fact that the farther you get away from the steps
on Sproul Plaza, the harder things are, and that in the
community colleges and the Cal State system, things are
in fact far worse, and that UC Berkeley and the entire
UC system has a special responsibility to join the
debate on behalf of public education statewide and, if
possible, to lead, but at a certain point to start the
conversation in a very aggressive way.

And if we have achieved anything in - with the walkout on
the 24th and with this strike, we have certainly forged
a strong alliance between workers, faculty and
students, which is something that has never happened in
the history of UC Berkeley - we've always been
successfully divided - but also that we have begun a
serious conversation about what the value and purpose
of public higher education is, to restore this question
of what role does the public play in all of this and
what is it about Berkeley that marks it as - and the UC
system, in general, that marks it as different, as
special, something that needs to be both preserved and
transformed, expanded, even in the conditions of this
severe economic crisis. Public education is needed more
now than ever.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura Nader, speaking about the history of
public education, the cutbacks, the priorities, you're
an anthropologist, a social cultural anthropologist.
Give us a little history on this struggle.


AMY GOODMAN: Go back as far as you want.

LAURA NADER: Now this debate has been with us as far as
the beginning of the country, when Thomas Jefferson and
some of the founders pointed out that you can't have a
democracy without public education. So some people
disagree, and they say public education is too
expensive. You have the profit model of education, or
you have the public model of education. The public
model says it's a public good. The private model says
it's a private good. And it's been going on.

So, 1868 our university was founded, and it was founded
as a public good. Everybody over the age of fourteen of
moral character could come to the University of
California. It was meant to be free. They didn't
achieve that completely. But even in 1952, it was only
$28 a semester. So we've gone a long way towards not
achieving a free public education, although poorer
countries than ours have free public education, both in
Latin America and Europe. So that's - in 1908, the whole
issue of whether you commodify education or not was
raised to the fore by Thorstein Veblen, a well-known
economist. It was picked up by Upton Sinclair, 1922,
and he was devastating, in his critique, of all the
things that we're critiquing today.

AMY GOODMAN: Upton Sinclair, who wrote The Jungle -

LAURA NADER: Yeah, he wrote The Jungle.

AMY GOODMAN:  - exposing the meat-packing plants.

LAURA NADER: And this book on education was called The
Goose-Step, interestingly enough. And he ran for
governor and almost won. So there was a lot of ferment
at that time. This is an old debate, back and forth,
worth fighting for.

Now, when Obama went to China - he was in China yesterday
talking to the students - one of the students said to
him, "You have things in the United States we don't
have. You have great public universities. You have a
democracy." I mean, that's what people see. At a time
when the United States is in trouble over being an
empire in Afghanistan and Iraq, here we're destroying
something that people all over the world admire. It
just doesn't make any sense.

Now what we need, I think, is transparency. Charlie
Schwartz in the Physics Department has been calling for
this for over a decade, trying to get the numbers that
are always hidden away, etc. We need transparency about
such things as intercollegiate sports, which is a
problem all over the country. And Brian Barsky and
Alice Agogino, these are people in computer studies and
engineering, they can add the figures, and the figures
don't make sense.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

LAURA NADER: The figures, it's supposed to
be - intercollegiate is supposed to bring in money to the


LAURA NADER: In fact, they're in debt, intercollegiate
sports. So we're subsidizing, the student fees are
subsidizing intercollegiate sports. And we're closing
libraries. So we had - the libraries are supposed to be
closed on Saturdays. There were some students that sat
in, professors that spoke. And a wonderful donor,
anonymous, gave money to keep the libraries open on
Saturday, but the university didn't fall into line and
open the libraries on Saturday. So these are issues of
transparency and accountability, fiscal accountability,
that are very important today.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Roy, what is differentiated

ANANYA ROY: Differentiated education is one where there
are differential fees imposed on students in particular
disciplines and professions, and this seems to be an
expanding option for our Board of Regents and for our
administrators, so the imposition of fees on students
in what are seen to be high-value disciplines and
professions, the arguments being that those getting a
professional degree from law or business, now from city
planning or architecture, can somehow earn more, and
therefore they should pay a higher fee. I've been
talking about this as differentiated education, because
it's similar to the creation of toll roads, to say you
have to pay a toll to enter this particular enclave.

What is quite stunning then this week is that the Board
of Regents will not only vote on the undergraduate fee
hike, which will have huge consequences on access to
public education, but it will also most likely approve
the expansion of differential fees in a host of
graduate programs throughout the UC system. And in some
cases, the Regents will have to violate their own
policy that prevents fees in graduate programs from
being higher than those in competing public
universities. In other words, the trustees of
university policy will declare exceptions to that
policy and perhaps ultimately discard that policy in
order to create this differentiated education.

Now, I have to note that about two months ago, the
Regents were talking about differentiated education and
differential fees at the undergraduate level in
disciplines like business and engineering. And they
have now seemed to have backed away from that, and
perhaps one of the reasons for that has been the
mobilization around these issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Nader, for the last five years
Governor Schwarzenegger has attempted to eliminate
funding for the UC, University of California, labor
programs. Can you talk about this? Pressured by right-
wing Republicans and other opponents of labor around
the issue of the labor movement?

LAURA NADER: Well, you have to see that in perspective
also. The University of California has been dubbed one
of the worst employers in the state, and that's been
for a long time. So, Governor Schwarzenegger worsens
that situation by his dealings with labor issues. I
mean, people are working for the university because
they love public university and want to do something,
but they shouldn't be taken advantage of to the degree
that they are.

AMY GOODMAN: The proposal of the State Assembly
Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, who has proposed an
oil severance tax to benefit higher education,
Professor Roy?

ANANYA ROY: Yes, we had an important event on campus on
October 26, organized by faculty, students and workers.
And this is an important proposal, because in fact it
shows that there are ways of creating revenue streams
for public higher education in California. It's
important that, in fact, these funds would be divided
among the UC system, the community colleges and the
California State University system. This is not perhaps
the silver bullet that will solve the problem of public
higher education in California, but it demonstrates
that we have state politicians who are willing to step
up and come forward with solutions. I think what has
been perplexing for us is how and why UC administrators
have not, until now, been in conversation with some of
these state politicians around these proposals. In some
ways, it is the movement that has done the work for UC
administrators, brought the state politicians to
campus, formed these alliances, and we look forward to
doing a lot more of this.

LAURA NADER: But isn't the reason that the
corporatization of the university? You distance
yourself -

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by that?

LAURA NADER: That means that you give preference to
companies like BP to come on the campus, Novartis
before BP, and you want to get private money so that
they can call the tune. I mean, the head of the Regents
set up an institute, which you know, in the University
to study poverty. And who decided that? He just gave
them money, and he wanted to do poverty and development
and so forth. So who's calling the tune? Who's deciding
what an educational institution should be? The donors?
We're supposed to have arms linked to have a good, good
university. We don't have arms linked. If they had - if
they taxed the oil companies in California, we'd get a
billion dollars a year just from that. So there's no
effort being made by - I think that's what Ananya is
saying - by the university to connect with the
legislature and with the tax people to see how can we
raise revenues for our purposes.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Cohen?

MICHAEL COHEN: Well, I think that this is important. I
mean, the state of California has real problems with
its revenue streams, in terms of its taxation policies
and the like. And we've seen, as your headlines
indicated there, the crisis is quite real here. And
this isn't something that is exclusively about
university policy. This is about students in classrooms
and workers who are being laid off, their unions are
being busted, so that, you know, enormous bailouts can
be given to private capital firms in California and on
Wall Street, and yet the public education system has to
suffer. And this bill that is coming due for
undergraduates and that the wages that are being
suppressed for janitors and for building maintenance
workers and technical and clerical staff, that burden
is being passed onto us, to the most vulnerable members
of the state of California and to the most vulnerable
workers at the University of California.

And so, we - they are going on strike to oppose this, to
resist this. The workloads that are being imposed upon
those who survive are so onerous, they are desperately
afraid to keep their job. And it's a tremendous act of
bravery for the unions on the campus. And I'm a member
of AFT. Blanca is a member of the United Auto Workers.
That the unions are very strong on campus, but they're
desperately pressed right now in a way that it behooves
the rest of us to stand up to come to their common

I mean, our students are, as well. They come to my
classes. We ask them, "How many of you are going to be
affected by a 32 percent fee increase?" And many of
them - and it is overwhelming the students of color, the
transfer students who come from the community colleges,
the first-generation college students, the returning
students, the student parents, all of them, that
universally raise their hand and say, "If they raise my
student fees over $10,000, I will probably not be back
next year." And we have to ask, will there be space in
the CSUs? They're cutting 40,000 people from their
enrollment. Will there be space from the community
colleges? They're going to vote in January to eliminate
their summer quarter, a full 25 percent.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the CSUs.

MICHAEL COHEN: Sorry, the Cal State schools - San
Francisco State, Cal State East Bay.

AMY GOODMAN: And the difference between the Cal State
schools and the UC schools, the University of

MICHAEL COHEN: There's a - the master plan of higher
education is a three-tier system in the state of
California. The community colleges are the largest, and
they are required, by policy, to accept all comers. The
Cal State system as the second-tier system, and
it's - they're very - there's a much larger number. I'm not
sure. Perhaps Professor Nader knows the exact number.
And then there are ten UC schools, the University of
California system, that ranges from Riverside to Irvine
to UCLA to Berkeley. And it's understood as a kind of,
you know, hierarchy and this tiered system.

But if you whittle away at the bottom, and the
community colleges disappear or are dissolving, and the
CSUs are dissolving and breaking apart, there isn't
going to be that funnel of students upward to the
system to UCs, in general, and that ladder of social
transformation, that great democratizing engine that is
the Cal State, the University of California system, or
California public higher education is dying. It's being
squeezed from within, because these cuts are being
imposed on us, rather than tax yachts or oil extraction
or reapportion the taxation system in the state of
California. Workers, poor students -

AMY GOODMAN: Does war fit into this?

MICHAEL COHEN: Clearly. I mean, California has always
been an economy that based itself, you know, on war and
the military-industrial complex. I think Professor
Nader certainly can speak to the reason why protests at
Berkeley are necessary. I think I - briefly, I mean,
protests at Berkeley are necessary, not because the
water produces radicalism or that there's something,
you know, that we just do at Berkeley; it's the nature
of the institution. In the '60s it was necessary to
protest UC Berkeley, because they were developing
atomic weapons. And now it is necessary to protest at
UC Berkeley because of what is being forced on us.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Nader?

LAURA NADER: I think Americans - Americans really need to
wake up to the fact - Chris Newfield, a professor at
Santa Barbara, has written a book about the destruction
of public education in America. Forty years it's taken
to get to this point. But it isn't something that just
happened, and it isn't something that was unplanned.
People really do adhere to the model that this is
not - shouldn't be a public good. And if we continue in
this direction, there's going to be a two-class system:
those who go to college are going to be those who can
afford it, and those who don't are going to be the
middle class. And a few poor people will get a few
scholarships, so they can justify it. But this is
happening, and it's a major deal. Everybody in
California and across the country - this is something
that people admire our country for. Why are we
destroying it? It boggles the mind.

AMY GOODMAN: When I mentioned war, I meant the money
that's being spent by this country on war.

LAURA NADER: Of course.

AMY GOODMAN: And Professor Roy, maybe you can comment
on this and what is happening at the same time here at
home with the state budgets, with our educational
system. UC Berkeley is not the only one going through
this. For example, the news from the University of
Champaign-Urbana in Illinois: apparently, in this last
week - let's see if I can find the information - graduate
teaching assistants at the University of Illinois,
Urbana-Champaign went on strike yesterday after the
university refused to guarantee continuation of the
teaching and grad assistant tuition waivers.

ANANYA ROY: Yes, I do think we have to see this issue
in a national context. I teach a very large class on
global poverty and inequality this semester, 700
students packed into a classroom at Berkeley, which is
a class that will be on strike this week. How can we
not be? But we, of course, look at issues of poverty
and inequality here in this country, and one striking
trend is that between 2002 and 2007, the years of this
massive financial boom, recent studies show that two-
thirds of the income gains during that economic
expansion went to the top one percent of Americans.
That's stunning. But we also know the other side of
that, that when that bubble burst, there were massive
losses that were socialized, i.e. borne by the 99
percent, not by the one percent. So we are part of a
historical moment where there is deepening inequality.
And the issue is whether or not state policies,
government policies at various levels, from the federal
government to state governments, deepen those
inequalities further, or whether in fact we can have
instruments of opportunity and justice. And in this
context of inequality, one doesn't need radical
instruments of redistribution. One only needs a few
things, like decent public education or access to
healthcare or some sort of reasonable approach that
says enough of this massive spending on war.

AMY GOODMAN: I'm going to end - oh, yes, Professor Nader?

LAURA NADER: I just want to say, you're making the
point that everybody should be making every single day,
which is we're not connecting the trillions of dollars
for war with the fact that we don't have healthcare,
and we're now destroying public universities.
Connecting the dots is absolutely important to do.

AMY GOODMAN: I'm going to end with Blanca Misse.
Yesterday we were at the Free Speech Cafe at the
University of California, Berkeley, which honors the
free speech movement back to 1964. And for people who
aren't familiar with Mario Savio, who gave this famous
speech, where he said, "There's a time when the
operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you
so sick at heart, that you can't take part, you can't
even passively take part, and you've got to put your
bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the
levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make
it stop." What specifically are the actions that are
happening here on the campus at UC Berkeley and also at

BLANCA MISSE: So, at UC Berkeley, the actions - the main
action is going to be the strike, which is, you know,
maybe the most radical action we can take in our
campus. That means picket lines in the mornings at 5:00
a.m. to shut down the construction sites, with workers
and students picketing. And it's not just picketing,
like walking around; it's also showing physical
solidarity. And besides that, we're going to have a
rally at noon the Wednesday. We're going to have a
march. And we would like to get out of the UC,
university, go to Berkeley City College, go to Berkeley
High School, to see how we can build a real solidarity
in this movement, how we can fight together for public
education. And we're going to come back and have a
meeting, an assembly, to discuss how we want to move
forward. There's going to be a tent city in the campus.

Tuesday in the morning - Thursday in the morning, we're
going to do all these teach-ins and open university
activities around the picket lines, so people don't
have to choose between education or a strike, because
this is a strike for education, and we don't want to
enter the game of the University that we are against
education by striking. We are striking because we care
a lot about public education, and we care about another
kind of public education maybe than the one they offer,
a real public education out of the corporate model.

And there's lots of actions that are going to be
planned, but it's important to remember that this is
not only Berkeley. In UCLA, there's going to be a huge
mass protest Wednesday and Thursday to protest of the
Regents meeting, to protest of the way this university
is structured, the way this university functions. But
also, at the conference of public education, we voted
to have solidarity actions across public education for
these three days of protest. So, for example, San
Francisco State University is going to do a huge rally.
And we don't know what else it's going to do. Maybe
they're going to just also walk out of the classes. We
know that San Francisco City College is also going to
hold a rally and a teach-in. We don't know what other
schools are going to stand in solidarity with us. So
this is just the beginning, because we're building for
a massive action in the spring, March 4th. We voted to
go on strike across public education.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being
with us. It's been very interesting to come across the
country on our Breaking the Sound Barrier Tour and
begin right here, where there's so much activism that's
happening, and we'll certainly follow it through the
week. We'll be broadcasting actually tomorrow from
Stanford, and then we're moving on through California
up to Washington state and Oregon. I want to thank you,
Blanca Misse, for joining us, UC Berkeley graduate
student, organizer of the Student Worker Action Team;
Michael Cohen, lecturer in American studies at UC
Berkeley, co-chair of the Solidarity Alliance, which
issued the call for this week's strike; Professor
Ananya Roy is a professor in the Department of City &
Regional Planning at UC Berkeley, canceling her classes
to take part in this week's strike, no small event,
considering the class is 700 students; and Professor
Laura Nader, longtime professor here of anthropology at
UC Berkeley, where you've taught for nearly half a
century, earlier this year co-authored a measure
approved by the UC Berkeley Academic Senate calling on
the school's athletics program to become self-
sufficient and stop receiving subsidies from student



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