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. 

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