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”.