Thursday, January 28, 2010

Re: New Yorker Article: PROTEST STUDIES - “Restoring state investment to a truly accountable system [of higher ed] …would cost the median California taxpayer just $32 next April 15th.”

Letters in response to Tad Friend’s article (January 4, 2010 - see following)
Related Links: Tad Friend’s “Protest Studies”

January 25, 2010

Tad Friend captures the anguish that has built up over the past decade in California’s public higher-education system (“Protest Studies,” January 4th). Complacently led and too easily divided, the system’s three segments have, even now, failed to unite and compete vigorously for state resources. While California’s elementary and high schools, health and welfare programs, and, especially, its prisons have all seen their budgets grow faster than population, higher education has been losing ground per capita for twenty years. Ideologically driven attempts to disinvest public funds, abandon the public mission, and float the universities on student debt have now pushed the system into reverse: denying opportunity, not creating it. According to my calculations, restoring state investment to a truly accountable system, while rolling back tuitions to 2000-01 levels, would cost the median California taxpayer just thirty-two dollars next April 15th. As long as talking about tax increases is taboo in Sacramento, gutting our colleges and universities appears irreversible and inevitable.

Stanton A. Glantz

Vice-President, Council of U.C. Faculty Associations

Professor of Medicine

University of California, San Francisco

San Francisco, Calif.

January 25, 2010
The consequences for education of Proposition 13 go far beyond the fact that, as Friend puts it, the law “in effect, broke the government.” Equally destructive was that it did away with taxation based on representation. By making property-assessment increases contingent on a super-majority legislative vote that could never be mustered, it projected an image of a politics free of negotiation or argument. This sham politics, which mirrors the sham “direct democracy” of the ballot-initiative system itself, draws its strength from the fiction that prosperity depends upon the outcome of a hand-to-hand struggle between beleaguered property owners and some predatory group of “have-nots” (the poor, the uneducated, the young, and immigrants) who must be stopped by law at the edge of the front yard. This fiction has encouraged millions of Californians to think that unless they profit directly from a public service they have no obligation to support it. Against this background, the students who are fighting for a decent and affordable education are also fighting for a politics of shared responsibility.

Timothy Hampton

Professor of Comparative Literature and French

University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, Calif.

Tad Friend, Letter from California, “Protest Studies,” The New Yorker, January 4, 2010, p. 22

Read the full text of this article in the digital edition. (Subscription required.)

ABSTRACT: LETTER FROM CALIFORNIA about student protests at the University of California. The University of California has long been America’s best public university. U.C. is also the country’s most multifarious university, comprising five medical centers, four law schools, three Department of Energy laboratories—and suddenly, two serious problems. It’s as broke as the state that funds it, and many of its faculty and students are in open rebellion. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a budget that cut U.C.’s allocation by $637 million. As a result, two thousand U.C. staff members lost their jobs and the remaining staff and faculty were asked to take furlough days. In mid-September, U.C.’s Board of Regents discussed a budget-balancing plan proposed by the university’s unpopular president, Mark Yudof. The plan would increase undergraduate fees. The regents agreed to vote on the plan when they met again, on November 19th. This gave the opposition plenty of time to organize protests. In late October, Berkeley students convened a daylong Mobilizing Conference to Save Public Education. Discusses the proposals put forward at the conference. Tells about Ananya Roy, one of Berkeley’s star teachers. Roy was a stalwart of the faculty organization Save the University, but was only loosely affiliated with the more radical Solidarity Alliance, a coalition of union members, faculty, and students which organized a September 24th walkout at Berkeley. With state support withering away, many U.C. divisions and departments have felt the increasing pressure to pay for themselves, either by attracting research grants or by raising corporate or private endowments. Yet this approach, known as “privatization,” can introduce outside agendas and limit academic freedom. Tells about a Washington Post op-ed written by Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau in which he suggested that the leading public universities could stay afloat if the federal government matched, at two to one, private endowment funds raised by the universities. The chancellor also decided to gradually increase Berkeley’s out-of-state enrollment. Describes the strike called for by the Solidarity Alliance to coincide with the Regents meeting in November and the ensuing unrest on the campus, including the occupation of Wheeler Hall by forty students who barricaded themselves inside the building. Campus police encircled the building, and soon hundreds of students were at the barricades. Tells about Ananya Roy’s role in negotiations between the protesters, the police, and the administration. On December 11th, police were again sent in to Wheeler, arresting sixty-six protesters who had occupied Wheeler for four days. That night, more than forty people carrying torches marched on Birgeneau’s residence. A handful of the protesters smashed the outdoor lights and threw cement planters and burning torches at the house, scattering only after the chancellor’s wife, who was writing Christmas cards, woke her husband and he called the police.

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