Monday, December 9, 2013

On the "Dialogue with the Chancellor"

On December 8, 2013 Chancellor Katehi and other top administrators held a "Dialog with the Chancellor" about issues of diversity and social justice. These are the remarks I wanted to make, but wasn't able to because we ran out of time.

I find it hard to be optimistic right now. I’m sure many people in this room, student leaders from many different underrepresented groups, see this dialog as progress – that the university is beginning to recognize their concerns and for some even begin to acknowledge that their community exists. However I am much more skeptical. I think that at best this forum is window dressing, and at my most cynical I see it as a demobilization tactic and a divide and conquer strategy.

Why do I feel this way? Because at the same time the university is holding dialogs about diversity and community with one hand, with the other hand the university has just announced new more restrictive free speech policies. The message I see in that is that our own agency is a threat to the university – always has and always will be – and so in order to demobilize an angry and organized student population, administration is brining a small group of leaders into institutional channels – into this suggestion box format. By doing so the university has shown that it is committed do denying our agency, that we are not subjects, that it sees us objects of policy, and that the current problematic power structure will remain.

If it was true that this forum was a sign of a commitment to empowerment then tell me why has the university so strongly opposed collective bargaining rights for Research Assistants. Surely collective bargaining is a way to not just have a voice, but to have a SAY. BECAUSE the university doesn't care if we have a voice, but it certainly doesn’t want us to have a SAY – a say in what our education will look like, what our work will look like, and how the university will run.

If this forum was a sign of a newly found commitment to diversity then tell me why has the UC been repressing the speech and peaceful activities of Students for Justice in Palestine on some campuses? Accusing them of hate speech and threatening them with discipline for engaging in free speech.

If you are really concerned about fostering a welcoming environment and you are opposed to discrimination and micro-aggressions, then why has the university chosen Janet Napolitano – the person who has deported the most people in US history – as its top leader? What I see here is that the university is willing to point the finger at other students and professors who say disgusting hateful things like “go back to your own country” (as many in this room reported hearing in their time here) yet the university is also going to reward the person who HAS ACTUALLY forcibly done so with the most prestigious leadership position. Talk about a mixed message – on one hand you are going to look into workshops about diversity and community and accountability yet on the other the public face of this university is a huge offender of human rights.

Also while we sit in this very room talking about diversity and community the UC is invested in companies that profit off of private prisons. Let me say that again, the university is making money off of private prisons while it talks about diversity and community. You don’t need to be a sociologist or a African American Studies or Latina/o studies major to know that the US prison system is the largest in the world and that men of color are disproportionately imprisoned. Now add to this the perverse incentive to make profit off of that system, that means the incentive to have more POC in prison and to keep them there longer. And that is where the UC’s money is. For every additional victim of the racist injustice system, every family and community torn apart, the UC receives a bigger payback on their dollar. And yet administration sits here talking about diversity and community and respect. As if the students of color on this campus have no history, they have no background in a community of color, they have no family or friends there, as if once you come to UC Davis all ties are cut, history erased, and a new identity is given to you.

I find it very revealing that while this forum is going on the administration is also attacking AFSCME 3299, the campus service workers, who are disproportionately people of color and are among the lowest paid workers on campus.  Over 90% of them are eligible for public assistance. The university has chosen to disrespect the collective bargaining process and to implement a contract on service workers  -a contract is supposed to be about consent, not imposition. The administration is forcing a pay cut on these workers while top administrators are getting HUGE raises. Chancellor Katehi got a 7% raise last year, meanwhile janitors are taking a 1.5% pay cut.

And when these workers use their last resort tactic, i.e. go on strike, you threaten and intimidate them. And when Grad student workers go on strike in sympathy with them, we are also threatened and intimidated.  At UCLA international students had their visas threatened if they went on strike. And when undergrads walk the picket line with them they are also threatened. At UCSD undergrad student leaders are facing disciplinary charges for organizing undergrad support for the strike.

I am the UC Davis Unit Chair of the UC Student Workers Union UAW 2865, the union that represents over 12,000 TAs, Tutors, and Readers across the UC. In our own contract negotiations the university has repeatedly declined our non-discrimination proposals, our demands for more gender neutral bathrooms, and rights for undocumented students for example. Administration went so far as to say that it was “disappointed that the union has chosen to focus on social justice issues” in an email sent out to grad students at many campuses. Yet in THIS room, you somehow want me to believe that it is YOU who has the commitment to social justice.

What I see here then is not a commitment to progressive change, but a calculated political maneuver. It is divide and conquer.

Attack the service workers but welcome in the students.

 Attack the protesters and limit our ability to protest but welcome us in to work in the narrow institutional framework of the bureaucratic maze of committees, all of which of course have no real power and accountability mechanisms.

As Professor Haynes from the sociology department said earlier in this forum, these issues get brought up again and again, and there are always new initiatives and committees, and still the same problems keep arising. 

UCD Pepper Spray: State of the UC Two Years Later

This is a (version of a) speech I gave at the 2nd anniversary of the UC Davis Pepper Spray incident on November 18th 2013 on the UC Davis quad.

I'd like to give a brief background on what happened on Nov 18th and why and then talk about what has changed (or not changed as it happens to be) since then.

In fall of 2011 the UC Regents were considering a tuition hike of over 80%. The occupy movement reinvigorated campus activism and students were organizing to oppose tuition hikes and other forms of inequality. At UCB on Nov 9 UC police beat students and workers with batons for standing peacefully arms linked around tents on their campus lawn. What happened at Davis was a response to both the proposed tuition hike and the police brutality at Berkeley. We occupied Mrak Hall overnight and a couple days later put tents on our own quad to start Occupy UCD. In an effort to remove then tents and discipline protesters the UC Davis police pepper sprayed peacefully sitting students.

Videos and images went around the world and there was a huge political fall out for the UC because of this disgusting police brutality.

Since then the administration has payed a lot of lip service to making our campus a safer space for free speech for students and workers. However things have only gotten worse. This is the direction our university is going:

  • Tuition continues to rise, keeping our university inaccessible to many. The rise in UCSHIP (Student Health Insurance Plan) fees are do to gross mismanagement by UCOP (Office of the President) to the tune of about $57 million in debt over just 3 years. It was their mismanagement but they wanted students to pay for it!
  • From 1993 to 2007 here at UC Davis, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students jumped 318%, while the university actually reduced its full-time instructional, research, and service staff by 4.5%. 
  • Between 2007-2012, the number of UC employees making more than a quarter million dollars a year grew from 1,538 to 3,094.
  • Class size is on the rise. TAs are teaching and grading for more students for less pay. Quality education is declining. Undergrads are paying more for a worse education.
  • Campus workers (AFSCME 3299, UPTE, and CNA) are facing pension and wage cuts. UC has forced these cuts on workers without consent, making a mockery of their right to collective bargaining. most of these workers make very little money and are eligible for some kind of public assistance.
  • We have a brand new "welcome center" on campus. This interactive touch screen wall cost $311,000 and the cost of installation and related work was $125,000. But I have to ask, who are they welcoming? I have read numerous reports in the media lately about who the UC is welcoming and who it isn't. 
    • For instance nearly 60% of African-American students accepted at UCB are choosing to attend other colleges - often because they don't feel welcome.
    • And it was just announced that UCLA has more NCAA championships than black male freshmen
  • The University has a $78 Billion endowment and other funds that it invests. Does it choose to invest in helping students and workers here and off campus? No. the only affordable family housing on campus, Orchard and Solano Park, are facing demolition in the next couple of years, to be replaced by privatized housing with much higher rent.
  • But it does invest in:
    • Private prisons: The UC is financially supporting these corporations by investing in companies that invest in them, such as Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Lazard, Blackrock Inc, and Morgan Stanley, all of which own over 2/3 of the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group.
    • The occupation of Palestine: The UC is financially supporting the occupation and colonization of Palestine by investing in companies that profit off of the occupation, such as Caterpiller, Cement Roadstone Holdings, and Hewlett Packard. These companies have assisted the Israeli military in the illegal demolition of Palestinian homes and the creation of an illegal separation wall.
    • Fossil Fuels: The UC is invested in coal, oil, and natural gas and is effectively subsidizing the destruction of the environment.
  • The new "free speech rules" officially codify our lack of free speech and assembly. the Davis Faculty Association has raised numerous concerns with its focus on restrictions of supposedly free speech then on its commitment to maintaining this right.
  • The Regents chose top cop Janet Napolitano, who set records for overseeing most deportations in US history, as the new UC president. This also signifies the continuing militarization of the campus.

These aren't all just mistakes or bad choices. The university is being run this way because the people running it benefit from selling off pieces of our university to their own companies or their buddies companies. They aren't interested in free public education because they won't get rich off of that.

The University is run by a board of Regents, who are members of the business class - 
Monica Lozano sits on the board of Bank of America, so she benefits from increased student loans when she hikes our tuition.
Richard Blum owns a private education company, and construction companies that are building student housing in Irvine.

We see their vision, and it isn't working for us. Its time to fight for our vision of an accessible and welcoming university that takes care of the community instead of investing in oppression and destruction.

But the only way to do that is to exercise control over both the budget and the daily running of the university. A democratic UC is our only hope for turning this into a place of justice.