Wednesday, July 12, 2017

On Net Neutrality, austerity, and "public goods" under capitalism

For many decades we have generally agreed that some things are a "public good" - to use market terminology. We said education, basic infrastructure like roads and bridges, and more are all too important and should be accessible to all.

However, thanks to neoliberal austerity politics we have seen these things underfunded and neglected. Our schools are like our bridges, old and falling apart and at worst broken and will get you nowhere.

This is of course done on purpose to get people to support privatization. Drinking water full of toxic chemicals? No worries, Coca-Cola and Nestle will sell you bottles of water that cost many hundreds (or thousands) or a percent more than getting clean water from the tap.

With today's push to support Net Neutrality, let us keep this in mind and think longer term and bigger picture. Even if we win in the short term and keep Net Neutrality, we need to think about how capitalism itself is a danger to the internet.

We already have an internet overseen by Big Bother, I mean the NSA, and huge corporations like Google and Facebook. We will continue to see the erosion of access and quality, and consolidation of power in the internet unless we can successfully organize IN REAL LIFE to challenge these institutions and the system that props them up.

Our schools, our bridges, our streets, our water, our air, our environment, our internet, etc. All of them will be remade in the interests of the powerful unless we see the attacks on each not as separate, but as many fronts in the same battle - a battle in which we have mostly been playing defense for 40+ years

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

So I got reblogged by It's Going Down...

I wanted to share this news because it's pretty cool. Some random thought I posted to facebook - by no means an "essay" I spent time writing - was reblogged by It's Going Down. I'm honored and I wanted to share that here (especially since I barely post much of anything on here lately), so here's the link to the full text - Bernie's New Minimum Wage Bill Leaves Workers A Decade Behind.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The theater of caring about UC students

The latest UC scandal is that a California state auditor found that the UC office of the President was hiding $175 million dollars. It wasn't reported to the UC Regents, nor to the state. Furthermore UC President Janet Napolitano interfered with the auditor's survey of the campuses, removing anything bad said about her office. Then when called to the capitol to testify to the legislature about the issue, Napolitano fell asleep, and then lied in her testimony.

In response students and workers started a petition with demands to rollback tuition, pay a living wage to all campus workers, fire Naplitano, and reform the UC system to create checks on the now totally unaccountable administrative power

The Deflection Game: Used to score points

Anyone following the history of the UC and the student movement will not be surprised to see both the legislature and the administration pretending to care about students, while continuing to use us to score political points, even if it means harming us.

The California legislature has had no problem significantly defunding higher education over the years, while the UC administration restructures the UC to look more like a corporation - with administrative bloat and skyrocketing executive compensation. (For more info see the middle of my post about the #FireKatehi movement).

When student movements sprung up to resist tuition hikes this let the two play off of each other, the administration saying "It's not us that's the enemy, its the legislature! They have defunded us! We *have* to raise tuition because they took our money!" to deflect from their own actions, and when students protest the legislature they got to deflect by saying "We can't just give a blank check to the UC, not with all this irresponsible spending! Look at those luxurious executive salaries!"

Well the cycle continues. California Governor Jerry Brown is now threatening to withhold $50 million of UC funding unless the Regents rollback the tuition hike. While we obviously want a tuition rollback, this is not the way to get it. UC admin has shown that when budget cuts happen it is the students and workers that pay (usually the most marginalized), not them.

This reminds me of a less deadly parallel to when the US imposes sanctions on a country. It is not the elites of that country that pay, it is the people, and usually the poorest of them. Saddam Hussein's lifestyle didn't suffer from the US imposed sanctions on Iraq, but an estimated over one hundred thousand to half a million children died because of them. Furthermore, the US administration showed their callousness about the deaths when Madeleine Albright was interviewed on 60 minutes:

Lesley Stahl: "We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?" 

Albright: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it."

UC Announces Plans to "Investigate" Itself

In response to the public outcry about this scandal, the UC Regents have announced they will investigate Napolitano's interference with the audit."Lozano said she and four other regents will lead a fact-finding review of the allegations, assisted by the outside law firm or consultant hired. The full board will then decide what, if any, action should be taken."

The most obvious problem with this is that Regent Lozano, who will be leading this "fact-finding mission" was there alongside President Naplitano testifying by her side and supporting Napolitano. The two are a team, but we are supposed to expect this investigation to be unbiased?

Furthermore, Regent Lozano has an even bigger conflict of interest than former UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi! Katehi was forced to resign after it was revealed she took a paid position on the board of Wiley and Sons publishing, and students, referring to themselves as #FireKatehi, engaged in a 36 day long sit-in/live-in outside her office on the 5th floor of Mrak Hall. They also raised other grievances and brought up more structural issues about the very nature of the university and the growing power of the administration.

Lozano sits on the board of Bank of America. So one day she may vote to raise tuition, and the next students might take out a loan with BofA to cover tuition o living expenses. The very fact that Lozano was ever allowed to be on the board of Regents, or that after Katehi was fired she is still there, speaks to the absolute inability of the UC administration to hold itself accountable.

This investigation, like Governor Brown's threat to withhold money, is just political theater. Neither party cares about public education or students.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Speech at anti-tuition rally @UCD 3/2/17

In response to the UC Regents voting to raise tuition for the first time since 2009 students at UC Davis attended a rally organized jointly by the ASUCD Office of Advocacy Student Retention and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). I was asked to speak. Here are the remarks that I prepared.

My name is Duane Wright. I am a PhD candidate in the sociology department and a member of the TA union UAW 2865, and this is my 6th year at UCD. As both an activist involved in the student movement since my first quarter here in Fall 2011, when I watched UCPD pepper spray my friends right over there for daring to challenge the administration, and as a scholar of educational change and social movements I want to give you some of the historical context for today’s event.

So we are all here because the UC Regents decided to raise undergrad in-state tuition for the first time since 2009. Well who are the UC Regents? They are a group of corporate executives, and other millionaires with absolutely no background in education whatsoever who are charged with running our university.

Back in Fall of 2009 the Regents raised tuition 32%, and students responded by Occupying Mrak Hall. UCPD came in and arrested 51 students and 1 professor. Mrak was later reoccupied and people demanded that the charges be dropped. Later that academic year on March 4 students tried to march to the 80, to shut that freeway down - much like how we’ve seen Black Lives Matter activists do in recent years. UCPD and cops from various other precincts all tried to violently stop the march, but after students pushed past their first line UCPD decided to grab the young woman leading the march and hold her hostage - threatening to press charges and expel her from school unless everyone turned around.

In 2011 shortly after the Occupy movement sprang up across the country the UC Regents were considering raising tuition over 80% over 4 years, and so an occupy encampment sprung up at Berkeley - and UCPD threatened to take the tents down and end the protest. Students encircled the tents and linked arms, and UCPD can be seen in a viral video responding by slamming their batons into the rib cages of these students. Later UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau said that standing and linking arms was quote “not non-violent” justifying the brutality of UCPD. In response Occupy UC Davis was born 9 days later - putting the issues of economic inequality and tuition hikes front and center next to the issues of police brutality at Cal. Hopefully you’ve all seen the now infamous video of two UCPD officers casually using military grade chemical weapons that according to two subsequent  independent investigations they 1. Had no authority to use, 2. They had no justification to use, and 3. They had no training to use and used it too close a distance. News of the pepper spraying and its condemnations were international. Chancellor Katehi was in the spotlight and the whole world was watching, so the tents came back and over 5,000 people from all around the region came to a rally to show their support. The UC Regents felt the heat of the bad press and knew they’d only make things worse if they raised tuition so they backed down. It was a victory for students struggling to pay tuition and or rent, or students taking out loans to get by. It was a victory for the vision and the promise made by the California Master Plan of free public higher education.

But like all victories it was temporary. They tried again in 2014 for a 5%/year for 5 years tuition hike. As always, students across the UC protested, occupied buildings and more. Here at UCD we occupied Olson Hall for weeks. The Regents withdrew the proposed hike after the state promised to give the administration more money to do with as they please.

And so they are testing the waters again. They quickly and quietly passed this tuition hike, and they made it small so as to make it easier to swallow. But don’t be fooled. More will come once they see that they can get away with it.

And the same can be said about the use of force. After the bad press from the numerous instances of police brutality in 2011 UC admin didn’t just give up on cracking down on student protests - they just had to be savvier and less conspicuous. In 2012 dozens of students sat down blocking the entrance to a branch of US Bank that was inside the MU, trying to highlight the cozy nature of financial capitalism and corporate higher education- pointing out how instead of free education as a right we have normalized debt and education as a private good. So instead of sending in the riot cops to pepper spray the bank protesters they instead changed the students with trumped up charges of conspiracy and they were facing 10 years in prison and $1 in “damages” from the bank having to shut down. The Banker’s Dozen or the Davis Dozen as they were called, had to endure a year or more of trial, and the threat they faced was far greater than being pepper sprayed.

So have no illusions, this moment is a trial. How much can they get away with. Can they sell out our future for their luxurious executive compensation? Can they send it storm troopers to beat us into submission?

We will let them get away with this? Or do we have the resolve and the organizing skills to challenge those that sit on top of a multi-billion dollar institution? Will we fight for our future? For the future of our little siblings? Of our children or future children? Will we accept this corporate university that has invested its money in private prisons, fossil fuel companies destroying the planet, war profiteering companies, companies that profit off of the occupation of Palestine and the human rights abuses going on there, the banks that are funding the Dakota Access Pipeline? Will we accept that so called public education is inaccessible for most of California’s youth - both in cost and in the way in which some groups are severely underrepresented? Are we ok with the people running our university being the kind of people who unilaterally cut the pay of the lowest paid workers in the system - the food service workers, the custodial staff, and the patient care workers, most of whom qualify for public assistance but when giving 3 UC chancellors a 20% raise - all of whom already earned over $300,000/year said that it was quote “an injustice” that they didn’t make more? Are we ok with growing class sizes and increased workload for our TAs?

Are we ok with all of this? Or can we imagine a different kind of university? One that prioritizes education and research over executive compensation, one that maybe isn’t even run by executives but rather democratically by the students and workers themselves? One that doesn’t invest in destroying Black and Brown communities and lives, or the planet, but rather fights for a just and equal society? We are told college is where you ask questions. But it seems the most dangerous question, the one they don’t want you to ask, is what kind of university do you want?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Not Just a Bad Apple: #FireKatehi was a struggle over the nature of the university

On August 8, 2016, UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, the infamous pepper spray chancellor, stepped down from her position as chancellor after many months of controversy. The media ended up portraying her fall from grace as the result of a clash between her and UC President Janet Napolitano, months of investigative leave looking into allegations of misuse of funds, nepotism, and violations of ethical codes of conduct(1). What seemed to be the final nail in the coffin was the revelation that Katehi had hired a private firm to bury search results about the university that brought up mention of the Nov 18, 2011 pepper spray event which sparked international outrage. This contract was for at least $175,000 and most controversially didn’t just focus on the university’s reputation but also on Katehi’s personal image(2). Saturated in scandal coverage and the spectacle of the celebrity boxing match that was the back and forth between Katehi and Napolitano what the media and the public lost sight of was that the resignation, the investigation, all of it, was the product of brave student activists who held a thirty-six day long occupation outside Katehi’s office on the fifth floor of Mrak Hall in the face of threats from the administration(3). Their sacrifice turned what could have just been just another spat of bad press for the campus into a sustained movement that kept public pressure on the issue, making sure it didn’t get lost in the news cycle. But the most important thing that the media lost sight of was that the occupiers didn’t see Katehi in isolation, and they viewed her resignation as a first step in creating structural changes in the UC.

The #FireKatehi Occupation

It all started when the Sacramento Bee reported that Chancellor Katehi took a $70k/year paid position on the board of DeVry(4), a for-profit university facing federal investigation and litigation for predatory practices and fraud because of allegations that the University was fudging job placement numbers in order to get people to enroll. Further reporting by the Bee and the Davis Enterprise revealed that Katehi also previously taken positions on the boards of King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia and the text book company Wiley and Sons. King Abdul Aziz University was condemned by the international academic community after it came to light that they were buying academic publications and ranking. The once unknown university suddenly become top ranked internationally by offering high profile professors tens of thousands of dollars to co-credit the university with all of their research. People knew something was wrong when an obscure university that only had a math department for 2 years was suddenly ranked #7 in math internationally - above M.I.T.(5). The Chancellor also took a paid position on the board of Wiley and Sons a textbook publisher. This conflict of interest brought in about $420,000 from 2012-2014 in salary and stock for Katehi(6), who already made over $400,000 per year as Chancellor, plus free housing and other benefits.

On Friday March 11th, 2016 a coalition of undergraduate students, graduate student workers from UAW 2865, and community members held a rally to “Fire Katehi” and marched to her office in Mrak Hall. The Chancellor was allegedly on a “leadership retreat” (irony it seems has a sense of humor) but the students held a sit-in demanding to see the Chancellor to demand she resign or be fired. The Chancellor refused to meet with the protesters after the retreat was over so the sit-in became an overnight occupation. The protesters were told by administrators that the Chancellor refused to meet with them at the Mrak Hall occupation, but the occupiers refused to back down and the occupation continued, despite threats and an ultimatum given on the third night of the occupation that anyone who continued to stay would face charges with Student Judicial Affairs and potentially be suspended or expelled(30).

Katehi and the UC Davis administration tried to paint the occupiers as a handful of misinformed complainers, but before the occupation even began two California Assemblymembers had called for Katehi's resignation(7) and others later joined their call. Furthermore there was an outpouring of support(8) from on-campus groups, from the Davis Faculty Association, campus unions, undergraduate student government leaders, and student organizations, as well as off-campus groups from the larger community and some even further away, such as the Portland State University Student Union which sees their struggle against an unresponsive administration connected with the struggle of the occupiers.

Neoliberalization of the University of California

This latest incarnation of the student movement needs to be understood as a response to the neoliberalization of the university - best understood through the twin forces of privatization and corporatization.

The most visible and most controversial change that has been happening at the UC has been the skyrocketing rise of tuition. The California Master Plan set out to make higher education free for all California residents, however the cost of tuition in California was the fasting growing in the country from 2008-2011(34). Tuition has nearly tripled from 2003 to 2011(35) as shown in Figure 1 below. If tuition had risen at the pace of inflation since 1965 it would have cost $2000 in 2011, instead it cost around $11,000 that year.

Figure 1: UC tuition costs (36)

By shifting the cost of tuition to the individual, and their family, this once public good has now become an individual’s responsibility to pay for and access. Combined with the end of affirmative action in acceptance procedures, we see that the state of California has shifted from investing in higher education for Black and Latino communities in particular, and instead the money that has been taken from higher education has been shifted to mass incarceration, predominantly of Blacks and Latinxs.

The UC administration tells us that the reason they have to raise tuition is because the state has defunded higher education. While it is true that there has been a decrease in state funding, Reclaim UC(37) points out that this perpetual budget "crisis" isn't really a crisis, and that there should be no deficit because the rise in tuition brings in far more money than the amount that the state withdrew, so this "crisis" is just a rhetorical strategy used to justify the restructuring of the university and to shift blame away from administration.

Figure 2 Logo of the University of California (left); and its short lived no logo

The restructuring of the UC refers to a major shift in the composition and practices of the university.The shift to a more corporate model can be seen by the massive grown in administration, the skyrocketing pay of executives, the aforementioned rising costs of tuition, construction projects, increasing class size, outsourcing of labor, and privatization of services. Education and research are no longer the priorities of the university, instead like one would guess from a corporate model, branding is the most important element of the new UC. We see this in the UC’s failed attempt at unveiling a new logo (Figure 2 right). The old logo (Figure 2 left), has a book in the center and the slogan “let there be light” aside from its biblical connotations, also hints to enlightenment. The other logo looks corporate, it could be anything from a digital media service to an arms manufacturer, the logo has no aesthetic other than “corporate”. While this logo flopped after it was announced and critics made fun of it, saying it resembled a toilet bowl, or a computer loading screen, as if the UC is slow to boot, the real heart of the problem was that this sleek new colorful minimalist logo betrayed what everyone wants to believe the UC is, an institution primarily concerned with the production and dissemination of knowledge.

Administrative growth has vastly outpaced the growth of employees. Across the UC from 1991 to 2012 the number of full time employees increased by 51%, while the number of full time administrators grew 252% during that same period. Figure 3 (9) shows a breakdown of administrative growth per campus. Furthermore at Davis things looked even worse, with administration more than quadrupling while during the same time period the number of full time instructional, research, and service staff decreased 4.5%(38).

Figure 3 Administrative growth at the UC, 1993-2013 (9)

Probably the most ridiculous example of the top heavy bureaucracy of this corporate model is that in 1997 there was 6,809 faculty and 3,476 senior management across the UC, and in 2011 there was 8,669 faculty and 8,821 senior management across the UC(10). Under this corporate model the top public university in the country now has more senior managers than faculty members!

Figure 3: Administrative Growth vs Faculty growth at the UC, 1997-2012 (10)

The problem isn’t just that the UC has become numerically top heavy, it is that a portion of these administrators are seeing their pay skyrocket.In the three years from 2008 to 2011, the number of individuals receiving more than $200,000 in base pay grew by 44 percent. Employees grossing more than $200,000, while only 2.6 percent of the total workforce, now account for 13.8 percent of 10+ billion in payroll payments. This excessive executive compensation cost the University nearly $1.5 billion in 2011. If just the top 225 administrators in 2011 gave up their extra compensation and stuck to their salaries, averaging at $335,500, it would save roughly 20 million dollars.(source AFSCME 3299 -I lost the link to the source I am currently looking for it)

In 2014 the UC Regents voted to give the lowest paid Chancellors pay raises up to 20%, saying that it was an “injustice” they weren’t paid more(12). This was just a year or so after the UC tried to unilaterally cut the pay of its service workers in AFSCME 3299, the vast majority of whom qualify for public assistance(13).

Construction, privatization of services, and increasing class size all go hand in hand under this corporate model. Enrolling more students, as per Chancellor Katehi’s “2020 initiative”(14) and undertaking numerous construction projects gives the impression of success because the campus is growing. The privatization of services such as housing allows the administration to wipe its hands clean of any responsibility to, for example, figure out where to put the 5,000 new undergraduate students they plan to enroll by 2020 with insufficient plans for housing in a city that has a vacancy rate that is below 3% and often dips down below 1%(15). The demolition of affordable family housing and the plan to replace it with greenwashed lifestyle housing allows the UC to print glossy brochures of pretty buildings that have all sorts of buzzwords and promise to sell a lifestyle that, let’s face it, in this economy a much smaller percentage of students will have after they graduate.In fiscal years 2011-2013 there were around 200 construction projects underway at the UC each year, valued between $6-7 billion total each year(16).

Here at UC Davis a brand new welcome center was built, for the price of $2.8 million(17).The administration says that tuition money wasn’t used but rather short term loan interest. But the question that needs asking is why was this welcome center prioritized over, literally anything else? Why did they spend $456,000 buying and installing a giant touch screen wall(17)? They can say that they didn’t spend tuition money on this, but why wasn’t this money put toward lowering tuition costs?

Not everyone is so fond of these new construction projects(18). The only two affordable family housing areas on campus were slated for demolition, and after Orchard Park was vacated the residents of Solano Park pushed back. The administration held numerous meetings and tried to appease the crowd by saying that these new units would be under market value and that there would be more of them available than there are currently at the Parks. However, the residents, who are primarily graduate students who TA to pay rent, pointed out that many of these units cost more than our entire TA salary. In meetings between residents and administrators and developers that I attended,when asked how they are expected to pay for housing that costs more than our salary the response given was to “take out loans”. The truth is that student families were just not going to be given space on campus, and that they would be pushed out for undergrads from wealthier backgrounds who would pay for this sleek new housing.

Underneath the veneer of this finely crafted image is the reality of public education in decline. A 2010 report on the competitiveness of the UC Graduate programs that came out of the Office of the President announced that for the first time in the history of the UC more than half of accepted graduate students choose to go to another university(19). The main reasons were the low pay (insufficient funding) and high cost of living. The “pay gap” (including cost of living adjustments) for the top ten competitor schools was $5,000/year, which is between ⅓ and ¼ of the pay that graduate students receive as Teaching Assistants, Instructors, or Research Assistants.

The quality of undergraduate instruction is also on the decline. Grad students, the people who teach the discussion sections and labs and grade the papers, have been decreasing in proportion to undergrads. Graduate enrollment “from 1970-2000 grew at less than 1/10 the rate of undergraduate enrollment. In relation to their counterparts at comparable schools, graduate enrollees at the UCs now constitute a significantly smaller percentage of total enrollees.”(20) Larger undergrad to grad student ratios mean less one on one time and less feedback on assignments.

A lack of funding for graduate students results in failed experiments like the 400 person UCSB literature class with no sections. Or more ominously, on some campuses 100+ person classes with no or few discussion sections simply become the norm. During contract negotiations between the union representing Teaching Assistants and UC management, one undergrad at UC Berkeley quipped that he thought the new stadium being built was a classroom at first.

The corporate model means not just squeezing more tuition dollars out of undergraduates, but also squeezing more work out of those who make the university run. Larger class sizes are like an old fashioned speed-up, getting the same or even fewer workers to produce more. The administration has also been under a lot of heat for outsourcing jobs to subcontractors, who pay significantly less and usually without job security and benefits(21). The union representing service workers has been fighting this, and got the UC to guarantee a minimum wage to all workers even subcontracted workers. The catch was that this new rate only applies to full time workers, which only incentivizes increased precariousness on the part of these workers(22).

Financialization - the blood money at the heart of the neoliberal university

As if the above wasn’t bad enough, this discussion wouldn’t be complete without discussing the symbiotic relationship between the neoliberal university and the forces of capitalism, white supremacy, colonialism, and imperialism. The corporate university is complacent, or even enthusiastic, about austerity; as it means more autonomy from the state and the increased ability to do whatever it wants with its money, instead of prioritizing education and research, such as wasting it on useless construction projects like a welcome center with a giant touchscreen wall, or executive pay and perks.

One method of trying to generate revenue that doesn’t hold the administration accountable to students, campus workers, or the public is by taking out temporary loans from Wall Street banks, and often swapping these loans for other loans, in a risky “interest rate swapping” venture, which has actually cost more money than it has brought it. A study from UC Berkeley titled “Swapping Our Future” explains,
UC management has more than doubled the university’s debt burden from $6.9 billion in May 2007 to $14.3 billion at the end of 2011. Rather than contributing to UC’s core mission, funds have been directed toward more profitable UC enterprises like medical centers and attracting out-of-state students. Medical center profits have increased steadily to $900 million annually last year… UC is currently losing about three-quarters of a million dollars each month on interest rate swaps associated with debt issued for two of its medical centers. Since 2003, UC’s swap agreements have cost the university nearly $57 million and could cost the university another $200 million. (23)

The UC can only take out these low interest loans by showing its lenders that it can generate revenue to back up these loans, i.e. the administration goes to Wall Street and begs for money and in exchange it has to prove that it can raise tuition whenever it wants. So if these loans are actually losing the UC money then what we effectively have is the plundering of the university guaranteed by the militarization of the campuses, because if administration can’t secure tuition hikes by stopping student protest, it will get its credit rating lowered and access to low interest loans cut off.

Another method of generating revenue that is less risky is long term investment of the UC endowment. UC endowment money has been invested in fossil fuel companies, private prisons, the occupation of Palestine, and corporate banks, among others.

Fossil Fuel companies are major contributors to climate change, which the effects of disproportionately affect people of color, both in the US, for example higher asthma rates among urban POC, and POC in the global South by creating environmental refugees from Climate Change caused environmental disasters. And as Naomi Klein points out in “This Changes Everything” it is Native/Indigenous people who are having their land plundered and poisoned and are in the risk zone for spills from drilling or having pipelines run through their land. Lastly, Fossil Fuel companies monetarily backed a successful vote no campaign on a gas tax to raise education funds in California, and they sponsor bullshit science from think tanks to argue that climate change isn’t real, both of which very directly go against the interests of the university.

UC money has been invested in companies profiting from the occupation of Palestine and human rights abuses there. Companies like Violia which runs segregated bus lines in the Occupied West Bank support the apartheid regime. G4S provides the technology for many of the notorious checkpoints and helps run Israeli prisons where Palestinians are often held without trial and tortured, and where children are among those imprisoned. Lastly UC money has gone to helping caterpillar make more bulldozers, which it sells to Israel for illegally bulldozing Palestinian homes to make way for settlements.

Recall that when the state of California started to defund the UC system, and higher education in general, that money went to prisons instead. One would think that the UC would not want to support an industry it is competing with for funding, but endowment money has gone into private prisons, which spend lots of money lobbying for tough on crime bills which increase the prison population which is massively disproportionately Black and Brown in California and across the country.

Endowment money has also gone into corporate banks, such as Wells Fargo, which is a major investor in private prisons, so even after the UC was pressured by the Afrikan Black Coalition this year to divest from private prisons it still indirectly invests in them.Furthermore one of our UC Regents is Monica Lozano, who sits on the board of Bank of America, a notorious bank for subprime mortgages which were twice as likely to be given to Black people, especially after it bought Countrywide, which made a killing off of subprime mortgages, two-thirds of which went to Latinos in California.

So while the short term investments are effectively a plundering of the UC by Wall Street, the long term investments are the plundering of communities of color by the UC and its corporate allies.

UCPD - holding it all together

The violence off campus that the UC is investing in is held together through violence on campus. Neoliberalization of the UC hasn’t gone unchallenged, and neither has its investment practices. Administrative power is at the heart of this corporate model, and it is the UC police who have the front line task of holding onto that power. We have seen again and again how the UC uses repressive measures to crush any opposition. Davis is now most famously known as the pepper spray university, but the use of police brutality and legal repression against non-violent protesters isn’t isolated to that day or even that campus.

Just nine days before the pepper spraying at Davis there was another infamous act of police brutality at UC Berkeley. Student protesters locked arms and formed a circle around Occupy tents that they had put up on the quad, and UCPD was caught on video slamming their batons into the ribs of protesters(24). During the 2009-10 student opposition to tuition hikes police shot pepper balls at protesters on a march, and there was reported use of a taser(25). Also during that time period Chancellor Katehi sent riot cops into Mrak Hall to disrupt an occupation; fifty-two people were arrested and charged(26). During this time a UCPD officer was also caught on video at UCSF during a UC Regents meeting drawing his gun on peaceful student protesters twice(27). At first the University denied it, but video evidence proved them wrong. And let’s not forget the Davis Dozen, or Banker’s dozen, the eleven students and one professor who faces charges of eleven years in prison and a million dollars in “damages” for sitting in front of a US Bank on campus everyday, blocking the door, in protest of the privatization and the comfy relationship between the university and corporate banks(28).

UC Davis has also developed its own soft-policing apparatus where they get mid-level administrators to observe and spy on student protesters(29). Especially after the fallout from the 2011 pepper spraying the UC has been reliant upon these more subtle measures to try to break student power. Katehi knows that another picture of UCPD brutality against student dissidents could cost her her job, so they have instead tried to demobilize students by sending in administrators to “listen” and encourage students to get involved with university committees, which have no real power and are generally used to demoblize and stall. However, we have seen that when that tactic fails the administration has no problem making threats, as they have to the #FireKatehi occupiers, who have been threatened with Student Judicial Affairs charges of possible suspension or expulsion(30). For those dependent upon financial aid or upon the university for employment these threats are very real. As a graduate student whose entire income comes from TAing, if I were suspended I wouldn’t be able to pay rent, and therefore wouldn’t be able to house or feed my son. This violence is less interpersonal and less flashy than batons or pepper spray, but can be even worse in its effects.

Finally, the UC has been working to restrict free speech altogether around issues that are proving to be a flashpoint for student activism, mainly the Palestinian solidarity movement, but we will see what they target next if they are successful with this. The Regents also adopted a new policy against intolerance in 2016 which restricts speech by falsely linking anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism(31).

Not Just a Bad Apple - Two Visions of the University

Protests and occupations against tuition hikes, strikes, pushes for divestment, calls for disarming or disbanding the UCPD, and the demand that a Chancellor be fired are not disparate actions, but rather manifestations of struggles across the many facets of the corporate model of the university. The administrative class has found allies with Wall Street and is propped up by global systems of White Supremacy that plunder People of Color. It is no coincidence that in their letter of support of Chancellor Katehi that Provosts, Vice Chancellors, and Deans(32) referred to Katehi as a visionary, and that UC President Janet Napolitano said that Katehi’s wrong doings don’t outweigh her usefulness as a fundraiser(33). The administrative class sees in Katehi someone who fully understands the direction of the university, someone who has been able to execute the transition to the corporate model, and they commend her for it. Katehi’s actions are not unique to her alone, rather she was just the one who got caught in the spotlight. In other words, this wasn’t a case of corruption, as some of Katehi’s opponents liked to frame it, because corruption implies an individual skirting the rules of a system that is designed to be fair for their own gain. The neoliberal university exists to enrich the executive class at the expense of students and workers, of teaching and research, much like how a pharmaceutical corporation’s mission to sell treatments is secondary to its primary mission of making its executives and shareholders richer - if the former mission undermines the latter, it isn’t pursued. Under this framework, if Katehi is guilty of anything it is blatant or excessive neoliberalism. The corporate culture of UC administration encouraged her to take unethical paid and unpaid board positions on predatory anti-student anti-academic institutions. Furthermore the people who are supposed to hold her accountable are just as bad, if not worse. For example, as already mentioned, one regent Monica Lozano also sits on the board of Bank of America. UC Regent Richard Blum, Diane Feinstein’s husband, own Blum capital which has held the largest shares of stock in two different for profit private educational institutions. UC President Janet Napolitano’s appointment lacked transparency and input from even the academic senate. The secret backroom agreements that led to her appointment sparked protests across the entire UC, but she is still here despite the obviously rejection of her by students and campus workers.

This is why a change in the face of the university won’t be enough. UC students have a history of fighting for a different vision of what they think the university should be and they will continue to do so. We imagine a university primarily concerned with teaching and research, one that provides quality accessible education, one that is a model of social justice, not one that is invested in oppression. Katehi became a symbolic face of the nature of the corporate university, and students knew that smashing administrative power starts with deposing her, and then the real fight begins, to challenge the very structure of the university and the unchecked power of administration.

The #FireKatehi movement succeeded in deposing he chancellor, and they have two representatives on the hiring committee looking for a new chancellor., but whether or not the #FireKatehi movement succeeds in creating structural changes it will undoubtedly continue this discussion of neoliberalization of the UC, and it has shown that only students and workers will hold adminstration accountable and only a movement of students and campus workers can stop or reverse the trend of neoliberalization of the university.

 The fight against the administration will eventually bring students head to head with the Regents, again, and it will take nothing short of a multicampus coordinated campaign to break their power. Long term coordinated campaigns can be difficult on college campuses, as breaks and summers can often destroy momentum, and the revolving door of students makes it harder to keep institutional memory and maintain connections between networks of activists, but in my six years of graduate study in the UC I have seen the strengths of the student movement - its passion, its creativity, and its solidarity- overcome these obstacles.

Tl;dr? There is a chant that can be heard at every protest that reveals that students and campus workers understand that the problem isn’t just the particular issue making the headlines, in this case #FireKatehi, but rather they are engaged in a struggle for control over their education and their work, control over the very university itself. The chant goes like this, “Whose university? Our university!”

11 AFSCME 3299 (lost this link, currently looking for the original source)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Response to “Why Does the Radical Left Feel Threatened by the Bernie Sanders Campaign?”

I stayed up late one night writing an angry rant response to an article that frankly wasn't worth the time, but I felt the need to tear down paragraphy by paragraph because some of my Facebook friends were extolling the article as insightful and offering up a constructive contribution to the discussion of tactics on the Left, whereas I just saw strawman arguments and ad hominem attacks.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

On fighting back: Checklist vs strategic logic

I decided that I needed to write this because I am constantly reading or being asked questions that operate from a framework that completely misses my reasoning behind why I am not supporting the Sanders campaign.


The checklist logic of supporting or not supporting a candidate

The question about whether or not to support a particular candidate and their campaign is a complex one, involving many possible logics. However, the lack of a discussion about goals and strategy and tactics among the populace, and even often on the left, has led to the reduction of this complex set of logics into the easily consumable logic of “I support candidate X because they are the best candidate out there” (ALSO: this logic often ignores other candidates which have better politics because they are not “realistically going to win”.)

This logic is the most common logic I find behind supporters of Bernie Sanders. Bernie is obviously to the left of all other Democratic Party candidates, and I would argue that his candidacy is only possible because of the amazing work done by Occupy and other movements that have made the left more visible and brought issues of inequality into the spotlight.

This rationale is behind the argument that is thrown at me or others on the Left who aren’t supporting Sanders when people caricature and misunderstand our argument and they say that we are “engaging in purity politics”. They argue that we are just standing on the sidelines doing nothing, waiting for the “perfect” candidate to arrive. This way of reframing the discussion and misrepresenting our argument makes us seem like we aren’t doing anything to further our cause and that we are being “impractical” and “immature”.

However, my reason for not supporting Sanders isn’t about having a checklist of qualities or positions on issues and then doing some kind of math to see if his candidacy passes a bar that I have set arbitrarily high. By only allowing the conversation to operate from the framework of “he is the best and most realistic to win” it brushes aside all other logics for why one might support a candidate/campaign.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Eugenics rears its ugly head in DJUSD


Eugenics rears its ugly head in DJUSD

My son is in 6th grade at Birch Lane Elementary and right now they are doing a “parenting” unit. Part of this unit consists of the cutesy activity of carrying around a sack of flour for a week, as if it was a baby they had to take care of. Another part of this unit was for the students to figure out a budget, with the stated intention of showing them the cost of having a baby. However, the implicit lessons being taught were not about being a responsible parent, but rather were subtle ideological messages about the “undeserving” poor, about who should and should not be reproducing, and about the value of life. This is a lesson that seems to be taught across DJUSD for years now and not something isolated to my son’s class or school.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Subverting professionalism to challenge the neoliberalization of higher education

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting the renowned labor sociologist Ruth Milkman at a luncheon in in my department. I got to speak about my research and was told I could ask Professor Milkman a question - it could be about anything I was told, public sociology, her research, whatever.

I thought about what I would ask her for quite some time and kept coming back to one conclusion: I had to ask about the neoliberalization of higher education and the fight to defend public education, and how we could best do that.

The idea of asking some clever question about methodology, or some feel good public sociology question felt like a betrayal of everything I stand for. Doing so would be a capitulation to the theater of academic culture - you know, when we pretend that we aren't on a sinking ship, and we talk about the possible futures of graduate students, as if the very future itself isn't sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Response: Katehi's "Economic Impacts" article

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi recently penned an article for the Davis Vanguard praising “The Economic Impact of UC Davis”. It came as no surprise to this working-poor Teaching Assistant, student parent, and activist fighting to defend public education and student and worker rights that much of the economic impacts of UC Davis were ignored, specifically the financial hardships faced by the workers who make the university run, and the students who the university is supposed to be serving.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Education, Incorporated

Just wanted to share this excellent video made by a UCD student.

Also, I'm featured in it, so that's really cool too. ;)

Education, Incorporated from Darin Reyes on Vimeo.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Response to Katehi's anti-divestment e-mail

As the time of publication this statement has not been endorsed by any organization or caucus, the views expressed represent only the views of the author. (Though hopefully the Davis UAW will be signing on to this statement soon.)

On the morning of Friday January 30, Chancellor Katehi sent out an e-mail to the entire UCD community in regards to the previous night’s successful passing of a bill through the ASUCD senate that calls for the UC to divest its funds from companies that profit from human rights abuses in Occupied Palestine. We would like to deeply examine just what is being said in this letter and its implications.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Condemning anti-Semitic hate speech @ UCD

I did not write this, but I did sign it. So I am putting it up on this blog for all to see because I think it is important for people to see that the Divestment movement condemns all forms of hate speech.

Dear UC Davis Community,
As a coalition of students and campus organizations at UC Davis, we condemn the actions taken sometime during the night of January 31st, 2015 by an unknown person(s) who defaced the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house, which is a Jewish interest fraternity, with swastikas.
Just as we condemned the hanging of a noose, the defamation of the Palestinian dove, or calling students ‘terrorists’ based on their physical appearance or beliefs, we equally condemn the display of the swastika. This reminds us that anti-Semitism, along with all other forms of hate, including, but not limited to, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and misogyny, still exist and are rampant trans-nationally and on our university campuses.
We reject any attempts to blame this on any single student community, including the UC Davis Divestment movement. We hope that the university investigates and exercises due diligence in holding those responsible for this hate crime to the fullest extent of the law.
The Undersigned:
Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Davis
Muslim Student Association at UC Davis
Arab Student Union at UC Davis
Pakistani Student Association at UC Davis
Afghan Student Association at UC Davis
M.E.Ch.A. de UC Davis
Black Student Union at UC Davis
Sikh Cultural Association at UC Davis
S.M.A.R.T. (Students Matter: Activism, Retention, Teamwork) Coalition
Officers of the Davis Unit, UAW 2865
Hannah Kagen-Moore, Davis Unit UAW 2865
Duane Wright, Davis Unit UAW 2865
Mai Sartawi, National Lawyer’s Guild
Claire White, Student National Vice President, National Lawyer’s Guild
Gonzalo Cortes Moreno, Lawyer and Constitutional Law Professor (King Law School)
Armando Figueroa, ASUCD President

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right

**The views represented in this post represent solely the views of the author, and not of the UAW 2865, the AWDU caucus, or the BDS caucus.

December 15, 2014 two hit pieces were published against our unions work. One was a Zionist rallying cry against the now coming tide of BDS resolutions in the labor movement that the author predicts our union will initiate (let's hope they're right!!). The other is a laughable rant by the former leadership who lost our union elections by a landslide. I think there's articles speak volumes about the successes of our union in the last year as much as it says about their authors. I want to take a moment to discuss both articles, both in correcting some some of the (many!) (deliberate) errors in the articles, and to talk about what they mean for us.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Student papers on the recent UC fee hikes

In an earlier post, Email to my students about the fee hikes, I shared a communication of mine to my students of Soc 3 Social Problems. In it I asked my students to write:

... a brief reflection (2 paragraphs, less than 1 page) on the event to be passed in to me at our next section meeting, it will count as your grade for this week. This is a class on social problems, and we have been talking quite a bit about understanding how personal troubles relate to a larger social structure. Your reflection should introduce a social problem presented at this event (there will likely be more discussed than just fee hikes) and discuss how it connects to the way in which society is organized.

Here are anonymous selections from a couple of the response papers that I felt were really powerful, especially when read together:

"I myself pay for most of my tuition through financial aid and loans, and every now and then these loan companies send an email letting you know how much you have borrowed and if I have a plan for paying it back when I graduate. The amount of anxiety associated with knowing I'm going to have to find a full time job, (that probably doesn't apply to my major), straight out of college just to start paying these companies back is damaging to my overall performance in school. Why I feel this is such a big issue is because every student put in a massive amount of their own time in order to better themselves. Getting out of bed early for 8am labs, staying in the 24hr room all Saturday just to get a passing grade; and with this planned increase, all that effort could have been for nothing. It still bewilders me that they can take students that have struggled to this point to pay all their fees, and then tell, "I'm sorry, now you have to pay more. Oh, you paid for 3 years but you can't pay for your fourth and final year? Sorry you can't attend our school anymore."
-Student paper on the fee hikes

"According to my girlfriend, who works as a caterer for the campus and who has catered for the chancellor, tells me about overhearing the chancellor talk about spending and spending, and how they are the only ones who understand. All that talk, and while spending countless money on parties and gatherings, things that underprivileged and people who live in poverty cannot do. I find it impossible, and frankly ridiculous, to be understanding of the increase, knowing that it will severely affect myself and others in ways unimaginable, and even generations to come."
- student paper on the fee hikes

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why Divestment is an Anti-Tuition Hikes Issue

This post will attempt to explain what divestment -- from Fossil Fuel companies, private prisons, and companies that profit off of the occupation of Palestine -- has to do with tuition hikes. I think there are numerous reasons for divestment (for example), and these aren't even the strongest. But I just wanted to illustrate how these issues are directly tied to tuition.

Briefly, the situation in the UC can be described like this: The state has significantly defunded higher education, and education more broadly. However, the UC administration has not prioritized education and research with its budget. Instead we have seen a massive explosion of full time administrators and skyrocketing executive pay. Yes the state needs to drastically increase funding, but the university needs to be restructured and spending on education needs to be a priority.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Just a couple weeks ago I sat in a large auditorium with UC adminstrators engaging in a "dialog" about the proposed tuition hikes. A university lobbyist told us that it was unfortunate that the tax on gasoline was beaten, but that the big oil companies had just out lobbied and out-funded the university.

The sentiment and conclusion that they were hoping naive students would take away was that the well meaning university was fighting a battle with a big mean bully and it got beat, but it tried its hardest. 

The situation is actually much less heroic than that, and much more absurd. Because the university is run like a corporation, and growth is the main driving force of the UC it invests its endowment money in companies that make lots of money. Among these companies are fossil fuel companies. So the corporate model that is now our university has locked it into a situation where it is funding the very same companies that it is supposedly politically opposing. So the UC was spending money to lobby against a cause that was spending UC money to lobby. It was UC money vs. UC money. 

Big oil doesn't want to help pay for education, and so we are. 

Divestment from the Occupation

Companies are profiting from the illegal occupation of Palestine, and from human rights violations occurring because of this occupation. The state of Israel continually violates international law, yet is able to get away with it because it has the US backing it up -- and not just with moral support, but with billions of dollars every year in military aid. Israel is the biggest receiver of US foreign aid. 

UC money goes to companies that make bulldozers that demolish Palestinian homes to make land for illegal settlements, to security companies that help run prisons where human rights are violated, and more. So our money is coming into this situation in two ways, through our federal tax dollars, and through UC endowment money. All of this money could instead be used to fund education, but is instead being used to displace people from their land and their homes, to violate their rights, and take their natural resources.

So long as companies are making big bucks off of the occupation than they will continue to lobby the federal government to support the state of Israel, and as long as the state of Israel has the backing of the US the occupation will continue. By funding these companies UC money is going into a cycle which reproduces the occupation -- which means less federal funding for education.

More money for occupation means less federal grants, and more student loans instead. 

Divestment from Private Prisons

source: (if the graph doesn't appear then click this link)

This one is probably the easiest to understand. California has poured almost the same amount of money into prisons as it has taken out of public universities. 

In California about 10% of inmates are in private prisons. It is a booming industry, and it is one that lobbies for tough on crime laws to make sure that there is a demand for the "services" it provides.

Money that could be going to making education more affordable and accessible is going to prisons instead, and private prison companies are going to fight to keep it that way, their bottom-line depends on it.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Historical Moment at UC Davis - Strategies for Davis Activists

EDIT: updated to include two occupations I had forgot to mention in my late night tired as fuck rush to get this out after a hella busy week.

A brief history of the statewide UC student occupation and anti-fee hikes movements from 2009- present, with a focus on UC Davis

I wasn't here before Fall of 2011, that history is just what I have pieced together from comrades involved at that time during my years of activism at Davis, both in the Occupy UCD movement and as part of AWDU and an officer in UAW 2865.

In 2009, as part of a long trend of austerity in California and the US and the privatization of the UCs and higher education nationally, state funding to the UCs was cut by 12% and the UC Regents proposed to raise tuition 32%. Students responded with rallies, direct actions, and occupations of lawns and buildings. The fee hikes were approved by the Regents and in response the occupations and actions increased.

At UC Davis Mrak Hall is Occupied and 52 people are arrested - 51 students and 1 professor. In response to the arrests Mrak is occupied a second time and students negotiate with university administration for a letter to the district attorney asking that the D.A. consider dropping the charges. In March of 2010, students stage a walkout, shut down Unitrans buses, and around 500 students march to the I-80 to take the freeway but are blocked by the police and met with force. One student is taken by the police, beaten, tased, dragged and arrested. The police, and admin like Sheri Atkinson who continues to be part of the admin's Orwellian-named "Freedom of Expression Support Team", which watches and documents all student protest activity,  then use the student as a hostage and force the students to leave the area in return for the student-hostage to be released with no charges.

On November 17th, 2010, "Students rally and attempt to block a vote at UCSF, where Regents are voting to raise tuition eight percent and cut campus worker pensions. UCI’s police officer Kemper pulls a gun on student protesters."

In November of 2011, Occupy Davis is formed. On the ninth, UCBPD beat students and faculty with batons in the now nationally infamous instance of UC police burtality. Students at Davis responded days later with a rally and an occupation of Mrak Hall. The next day most of the Mrak occupiers and other protesters went to San Francisco, for what was originally going to be a protest of the UC Regents meeting, but the Regents canceled their meeting due to a supposed discovered "threat of violence", and joined with Occupy SF and marched around the financial district and eventually hundreds of people flooded Bank of America and temporarily occupied it, eventually around 100 people were arrested. Then on November 18th Chancellor Katehi told her staff to remove the protesters and the Occupy tents that had been erected on the quad and the now globally infamous pepper spray event took place, where Officer Pike attacked peacefully seated student protesters with pepper spray that UCDPD wasn't supposed to have and in a much closer distance than the spray is supposed to be used. Some students were arrested, and one of the arrestees was an art student whose hands were zip tied so tight that he received radial nerve damage. But the most important thing to remember from that day is that after Pike pepper sprayed the seated students that the entire crowd banned together and told the cops to leave the quad. The cops came, took down tents, arrested people, and attacked students with chemical weapons, but they left the situation having been beaten because we took control over our quad. The next day Chancellor Katehi was surrounded while giving a press conference and refused to come out to address the student who demanded answers from her. After hours of waiting and negotiations an agreement was reached where the Chancellor would be allowed to exit the building if she walked past students sitting next to each other. Students sat in total silence and her walk was a powerfully symbolic moment of the administration's and UCPD's guilt and reckless force juxtaposed by the students unbelievable self control. Two days in a row the admin or the UCPD walked away from a moment of confrontation on the losing end, we of course celebrated. Two days later, on a Monday, the biggest UCD General Assembly in history gathered (pic 1, pic 2), with an estimated 5,000 people. We then Occupied Dutton Hall for a week, as well as the quad which was now full of dozens of tents, and renamed it Paulo Freire Open university, where teach-ins were given.

Between the bad press from the police brutality at Berkeley, Davis, and UCLA, and the constant occupations and shutting down of the Regents meetings the proposed 81% tuition hike was withdrawn and a tuition freeze was enacted that has lasted up until now (Nov 20, 2014).

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reflections on the UCD 11-18-14 Take Back Your Tuition Action

I want to start off this post by saying that while it will focus on a critique of the actions that have happened at Davis since the start of the Take Back Your Tuition movement, it is in no way a personal attack on anyone, and that leadership I am critiquing are my comrades and they have put in lots of hours and hard work into making Tuesday's rally one of the largest that happened statewide this week. I hope that they and others who are participating in this movement will read this and think critically about how to move forward in a way that makes our movement stronger and makes it grow. This is comradely criticism, I write because I see them as comrades. Notice that I never wrote comradely criticism to the reactionaries in the union, I merely wrote them off. I hope that the spirit of debate in the movement can be furthered by this discussion. Love and solidarity. -Duane

Strengths of the current leadership - ASUCD Office of Student Advocacy

The newly formed ASUCD Office of Student Advocacy has done an amazing job in using the resources and legitimacy of ASUCD to engage in grassroots organizing. The last time there was a student movement at Davis ASUCD was no where involved in this level of organizing and support. The night before the pepper spraying ASUCD passed a resolution, brought to them by Occupy UCDers, to support the occupation. That's as far as I think their involvement ever was, other than maybe some ASUCD people supporting it as individuals. This alone is a fantastic step in the right direction. Historically student governments tend to act more like company unions, but they are a contested terrain with potential to be part of the struggle. I think the Davis GSA is much closer to the company union type than ASUCD is currently acting as. The GSA board won't even come out with a statement against the tuition hikes. They sent out the following message in an email:

The GSA represents a wide variety of students who have diverging view points on the proposed tuition fee increases. I'd like to state for the record GSA supports grad and professional students' individual decisions regarding action on this issue. 

They go on to say that they will be bringing a resolution to the GSA assembly in their December 3rd meeting. It is a shame that they can't even show the leadership to oppose the tuition hikes even if the GSA then overturns the boards statement. As students affected by the hikes, and as instructors of undergrads facing these hikes the GSA should be standing up for accessible public education. So ASUCD, mainly through the Office of Student Advocacy has managed to not make itself politically irrelevant to the students it represents, unlike the GSA.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Email to my students about fee hikes

Dear Students,

We will not be meeting for section at noon this week. Instead you all should go to the anti-fee hikes rally on the quad at the same time. You will write up a brief reflection (2 paragraphs, less than 1 page) on the event to be passed in to me at our next section meeting, it will count as your grade for this week. This is a class on social problems, and we have been talking quite a bit about understanding how personal troubles relate to a larger social structure. Your reflection should introduce a social problem presented at this event (there will likely be more discussed than just fee hikes) and discuss how it connects to the way in which society is organized.

(Facebook page for the event:

I cannot in good conscience as your teacher and as a fellow student hold section this week at the same time the anti-fee hikes rally is happening. Many of you may already be planning on attending and I don’t think a student should have to choose between fighting for accessible public education and getting an education. I don’t know any of you personally or your background or life story, but I have to consider that there may be some among you whose continued enrollment in the university is already tenuous due to the already high cost of a UC education, and the proposed fee hikes may be causing you stress as you may not be sure if you will be able to afford to finish your education, or if you will even be able to afford to be here next year. It is not good pedagogical practice on my part to not only ignore the possibility that you or one of your peers may find themselves unable to focus on their studies if they feel that it doesn’t matter anyway because they will not be able to afford to complete their degree, but to put up an obstacle by penalizing you for not coming to class because you chose to go to the rally. I also think that as a teacher at this university it is my obligation to be there to support you all, and to fight for accessible public education. I am also a parent and I hope that one day when my son grows up that he will be able to go to college, but that prospect is already looking dim. As it is right now, even though I am TAing the university doesn’t pay me enough for me and my kid to live in Davis so over 3 years of grad school I have had to take out $15,000 in loans just to pay rent-- and this is after being told when I was accepted to this program that I would be “fully funded”.

The Department of Education reports that public higher education tuition in California is the fastest rising in the country (US D. of E. report 6/12/12) and the cost of the UC has more than doubled since 2002 (Sacramento Bee, 1/24/2011). The cost of education has become so unbearable that students rely on huge loans to afford school, making student loan debt exceed credit card debt, now over a trillion dollars (Bloomberg, 3/22/12).

I encourage you all to read up on the particulars of the situation and discover where your tuition dollars are going. I have included some resources that I think provide a more nuanced understanding of the situation than the overly-simple and deceptive narrative of “we need to increase tuition because state funding has decreased”.