Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Invention of the "Outside Agitator" in Three Graphs

Methodological note: The three words have to be graphed separately because they appear with significantly different frequencies. "Civil rights," for obvious reasons, appears much more often than "black power" or "outside agitator." When graphed together, the scale of the vertical axis makes it difficult to see the relative increase of the less prevalent terms. Still, what's important and revealing is the almost exact correspondence in the relative rise of each of the three terms over the course of the 1960s, through the civil rights movement and urban rebellions, and the subsequent decline over the course of the 1970s.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Donald Sterling, "Elegant Racism," and the Restructuring of the Public University

You may have seen this advertisement, which ran in the LA Times on Sunday, April 27, two days after the original story broke. The ad was most striking not because of its design (awful) or timing (even worse) but because of what it tells us about the current state of the University of California. Not only, it proclaimed, was $3 million of Donald Sterling’s money being funneled into the UCLA School of Medicine but the school was planning to name a lab after him: “The UCLA Donald T. Sterling Structural Biology Kidney Research Laboratory.”

UCLA scrambled its PR teams to declare that the donation had been refused:
Mr. Sterling’s divisive and hurtful comments demonstrate that he does not share UCLA’s core values as a public university that fosters diversity, inclusion and respect. For those reasons, UCLA has decided to return Mr. Sterling’s initial payment of $425,000 and reject the remainder of a $3-million pledge he recently made to support basic kidney research by the UCLA Division of Nephrology.
The university’s spokesperson made clear that it was Sterling who had taken out the advertisement, and claimed that there had never been an agreement to name the lab after Sterling. Still, the UC’s vigilant protection of its brand (“Pioneering. Curious. Vibrant. Thoughtful. Even beautiful.”) suggests that at the very least the use of the university’s name had been approved.

But UCLA’s press release does more than what it appears to do on the surface—while attempting to perform a rejection of racism, it implicitly reveals how racism continues to shape the public university in an age of austerity and economic restructuring. It constitutes not only a statement about the university's response to the Sterling scandal but also a definition of racism: “divisive and hurtful comments.” That’s it. It’s KKK racism—old school racism, Jim Crow racism, explicit racism, over the top racism, easy to see racism. Ta-Nehisi Coates calls it “oafish racism,” which he contrasts with “elegant racism”:
Like Cliven Bundy, Donald Sterling confirms our comfortable view of racists. Donald Sterling is a "bad person." He's mean to women. He carouses with prostitutes. He uses the word "nigger." He fits our idea of what an actual racist must look like: snarling, villainous, immoral, ignorant, gauche. The actual racism that Sterling long practiced, that this society has long practiced (and is still practicing) must attract significantly less note. That is because to see racism in all its elegance is to implicate not just its active practitioners, but to implicate ourselves.
The point is not so much to contrast “words” with “actions.” After all, speech is an action, and one that can have material consequences. Remember Christian Head? Last July, Dr. Head, a surgeon at UCLA’s medical school, was awarded $4.5 million in a racial discrimination suit that he’d brought against the UC Regents:
The agreement settles the lawsuit, filed in April, that accused the university of failing to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation against Head. The head and neck surgeon alleged that he was retaliated against for filing complaints through normal channels and was denied teaching opportunities.

Head, 51, also alleged that he was routinely publicly humiliated and once was depicted as a gorilla being sodomized in a slide show presentation during a resident graduation event.
So the point is not to dismiss words, but to consider just how easily racist structures can coexist with the language of liberal diversity, inclusivity, and multiculturalism. Back in 2009, Sterling agreed to pay $2.75 million to settle a housing discrimination case brought by the Justice Department which claimed that he discriminated against Black and Latin@ tenants in his Los Angeles apartment buildings. It was the largest monetary settlement on a housing discrimination case ever. But racist business practices are one thing, “divisive” comments another. If only Sterling had kept his mouth shut!

All of these things have already been said. But there’s another question that hasn’t quite been addressed—what does this tell us about UCLA, the UC, and more generally the public university? One thing it might tell us is that the university is not only implicated in but also profits directly off of dirty money. And it's not just Sterling. In 2011, to take one egregious example, Bank of America paid a $335 million settlement concerning the bank’s predatory lending practices against Black and Latin@ borrowers. From 2004-2008, the bank had intentionally charged Blacks and Latin@s higher rates on their mortgages than they did for similarly qualified white borrowers. Much like Sterling’s housing discrimination settlement, this was the largest fair lending settlement in history. And yet, when you go to the quad at UCSF-Mission Bay—yes, right there, just north of Genentech Hall—this is what you find:

That's right, the Bank of America Terrace.

Why do some expressions of racism appear as shocking and outrageous, while others tend to fade into the background? For the privatizing public university, always seeking to maximize its revenue streams, materially racist practices that shape the lives of real people are not only an insufficient reason to turn down a donation—they do not even appear as a problem. And this is just a single, particularly obvious example. The UC increasingly runs on this kind of money—all universities with endowments do. They profit off dirty money, from fossil fuel extraction and the military occupation of Palestine, as divestment advocates have been pointing out for years, to land grabs in Africa, biotechnology (that's you, Genentech), and racist banks and slumlords. As the UC becomes increasingly dependent on these revenue streams, it will necessarily become more and more reluctant to refuse such donations. This is not because UC administrators are "oafish racists" but because racism is part and parcel of how business is done under capitalist white supremacy. An “elegant racism” increasingly flows through the UC’s books and registers in the changing composition of the student body and the capital projects and research centers that increasingly occupy these campuses. The university is not only complicit with but actively participates in and profits from this racism, and will continue to do so until the structural racism of "business as usual" is made as visible and tangible to the administration as the comments of scumbags like Sterling.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Why we are striking -- an Open Letter to UC Grad Students

Reposted from some strikers


This coming week, our union—United Auto Workers Local 2865—has called a system-wide strike in protest of unfair labor practices (ULPs) by the university. Although particular grievances differ from campus to campus, in aggregate, they concern the university’s unwillingness to bargain over key aspects of our employment, including class size and the length of our workweek. Also at issue is the university’s history of illegal intimidation of student workers. For example, this past November, an administrator at UCLA threatened overseas students with the loss of their visas for participating in a sympathy strike—a claim as insulting as it was untrue.

The reasons for striking are serious, but also banal. By any measure, our labor is appallingly undervalued by the managers of the UC, its remuneration calibrated neither to the ballooning costs of living in present-day California nor to the wages of our peers at equivalent out-of-state universities. Nonetheless, many of us persist in believing that, no matter how untenable or degrading, our working conditions can always be tolerated, since they are only temporary, lasting no longer than our apprenticeships. The ideology of grad school rationalizes this deficit as the price of shelter from the “working world,” of which the academy is surely the opposite. Those who do not support the strike will claim that grad students are not workers at all, but rather professionals in the chrysalis stage of a post-laborious life cycle. Labor is the fate of the unlucky, the futureless, the unspecial—of all who fail admittance to the academy, or who find themselves passed over in the competition for grants, honors, and jobs. Today’s strikers, tomorrow’s adjuncts.

The academy has always warmed to such delusions. To exist, universities depend on the extraction of un- and underpaid labor from students and faculty, exploiting a population convinced of its special intelligence and competitive edge. Fear of imposture, of mere adequacy, is the coin of the academic realm. As minter of this coin, the university holds its subjects in a state of blind dependency: students compete for the attention of a shrinking pool of professionals (part-time instructors currently outnumber tenure-track faculty by a ration of four to one), while the latter scurry to commodify the drippings of a hive-mind on the brink of colony collapse. A population that does not recognize itself as working will not mind working harder, longer, and more obediently, whatever the personal cost. For many grad students, the very idea of a contract governing the limits and conditions of our labor is a source of skepticism, and even derision. This system is not an alternative to the working world; it is the model every employer would eagerly adopt. Far from prefiguring an emancipated society, the university offers a foretaste of the total domination of workers by management.

Perhaps our peers are right: perhaps we strikers are the futureless, the luckless, the unspecial. To which we should reply—Yes, and so are you! Of course, logic dictates that some of us will be retained by the academy as its favored prodigies; that some of us will best our peers on a tightening job market; that odds will always (ever) be in someone’s favor. But this is not a logic, not a system, that we could ever willingly endorse. The university profits by our atomization, our disunity; it encourages our delusions of specialness, our faith in anointment and meritocratic providence; it thrives on our belief, against every shred of evidence, that we are not workers. We are striking because we are workers. We are striking, not to withdraw our labor arbitrarily, but so that we can find each other outside the walls of the academy. We are striking so that we do not to end up like the fortunate ones.

There are no fair labor practices in the academy or anywhere else; there are only the gains we win for ourselves, together, fighting.

Some strikers, some friends

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Blum Center Takeover Manifesto

The Blum Center Take-over group calls for:

1) UC Berkeley Chancellor Dirks to publicly renounce Janet Napolitano.

2) For all those in solidarity to cancel classes tomorrow (Friday, Feb 14), and for people to build a strike in support of Napolitano’s resignation and for the democratization of the University.

3) Full amnesty for all those reclaiming campus space, including those who have taken the Blum Center.

Why we are taking the Blum Center:

Richard Blum, the primary funder and namesake of the Blum Center, represents and acts as a driving force of privatization and reorganization of the University of California system. As an investment banker, Blum profits from the fact that the UC is no longer funded primarily through the federal government. As a central figure in pushing away from federal subsidization of education, and therefore a completely affordable or free public education, Blum and other bankers and financiers on the board of regents--including Monica Lozano--have compelled the University to take out massive bonds from private banks to compensate for this lack of funding. Public funding is legally allowed to go to only educational resources bonds, and the tuition system that allow this process to happen can be used for whatever the regents want. In many cases, this money is tied to companies that these regents own. For example, Blum owns the equity management firm Blum Capital, which has massive investments in the companies that do all of the construction at the UC. To those who believe in a public and democratic education, this is seen as legalized fraud and corruption.

Blum and Janet Napolitano’s Special Relationship:

UC regent Richard Blum was central in proposing Janet Napolitano. Richard Blum’s record includes firing Robert Dynes in 2007, leading the search for Mark Yudof, and encouraging Yudof's resignation before overseeing the "search" for a new UC president. Although the Regents state that this was done through a headhunting agency, Blum was instrumental in making the final decision. We conclude that central decisions for filling the highest-ranking positions in the UC system continue to be made by those who stand to profit from privatization. Blum’s interest in keeping a business-as-usual that allows for massive profits for companies to which he has ties indicates Napolitano’s appointment as a means to continue this process of implementing policies of social control during her time in DHS.

Blum’s 12 year term as a UC regent ended in January. His reappointment by Jerry Brown for a second 12 year term this past January shows that the regents, like him, will continue to retain power unless there is a social response to this injustice.

The appointment of Napolitano exposes the undemocratic process by which the UC system makes decisions. In order to address this structural problem, we demand a restructuring of this process which includes: a) a campuses-wide election for all future UC regents and presidents; this includes having the ability to nominate, endorse, and campaign for candidates b) the power to impeach both UC presidents and regents c) a general democratization of the regents to include actual participation of students, faculty, and UC workers in the central decision making processes of the University.

We call on all students, faculty, and staff to join us, to take action in the coming days and weeks, and to demand the restructuring of the decision making process in our university system, so that we can make the promise of a public education a reality.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Zombie MOOCs: UC Online's "Pilot Project Cross-Campus Courses"

If you've been paying attention to the MOOC debate over the last year or so, you may have seen that for all intents and purposes the debate is pretty much over. MOOCs are dead. Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Udacity, recently acknowledged that his company makes a "lousy product." Soon after, Daphne Koller admitted that her company Coursera could in no way compete with the traditional, brick-and-mortar university which teaches through face-to-face interaction: "The best place to acquire [much deeper cognitive skills] is by coming and getting an education at the best universities."

But UC Online has always been, well, a ways behind everybody else. From the beginning, the project was unable to raise the private capital needed to get off the ground. The head of the project, former UC Berkeley Law School Dean Chris Edley, infamously claimed that he "should be shot" if he wasn't able to raise that money himself -- he was only able to put together the paltry sum of $748,000 -- but in the end he had to crawl back to the administration begging for an interest-free, $6.9 million loan.

If the program had been successful, that might not matter so much. But after a $4.3 million marketing campaign, only one student signed up for a UC Online course. A single student. Literally just one person. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported last February, while hundreds of thousands of students have signed up for MOOCs offered by other companies, "UC's approach snagged one high school girl who paid $1,400 for an online precalculus course at UC Irvine and four units of UC credit."

But the UC administration refuses to acknowledge its failure and continues to push UC Online. Below we publish an email written by Michael P. Clark, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Planning at UC Irvine, which forwards an email from Aimée Dorr, UC Provost and Executive Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. The email describes a pilot project in which faculty are asked to identify and approve UC Online courses at other campuses that meet the major requirements of their own programs. This move, of course, would serve to integrate UC Online, parasitically, into already legitimate UC programs. UC Online, in other words, would become a zombie, feeding off the legitimacy of those programs in order to bring itself back from the dead. But there is a possible response. Here's a counterproposal: units ought to be urged to ignore, if not declare outright that online courses do not fulfill their requirements in their opinion. Faculty are being asked by the administration, so in that sense it's actually an opportunity.

 ---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: FW: ILTI Pilot Project Courses and Credit for the Major/GE
Date:    Mon, November 18, 2013 1:52 pm

Deans, Academic Senate Chair, CEP Chair, Chairs,

I am forwarding my October 17th email again as a reminder that ILTI
courses offered via UC Online and listed in the PDF attached are due to be
open for registration mid-November.  Departments are requested to decide
which online courses offered at other UC campuses through this pilot can
count toward major and GE requirements at UCI.  A following email will
list all of the syllabi for these courses.  Please send your decisions
about the courses in your area to Rob Ameele (
Your academic advisors may soon be fielding questions from students
about using these course offerings to complete their major or GE


Thank you,

Mike Clark
Vice Provost for Academic Planning


From: Deborah Chennault
Sent: Thursday, October 17, 2013 4:07 PM

Subject: ILTI Pilot Project Courses and Credit for the Major/GE

To:  Deans and UCI Academic Senate Chair
CC:  Chairs and CEP Chair

Starting Winter 2014, the UC Innovative Learning Technology Initiative
will launch a pilot project offering selected courses by UC faculty to all
UC students.  This pilot uses existing courses and is not directly
connected to the RFP for new course development that is currently under
way.  You can learn more about ILTI at

As part of this pilot project, ILTI has asked campuses to decide which
online courses offered at other UC campuses through this pilot can count
toward major and GE requirements at UCI.  A list of the courses to be
offered in this pilot is attached as "Pilot Project Cross-Campus Courses."
 Additional information about the courses is attached at "Online
Cross-campus Course Info."

At UCI, authority to make that decision usually lies in the academic units
(for major requirements) and the Senate (for GE requirements).   Please
ask the Chairs and other people who will make that determination in your
unit to review the list of courses to be offered in the pilot program.

Enrollment in these courses is scheduled to open in mid-November.  It
would be helpful if you could make your determination about credit by Oct.
31 and let me know what you decide about the courses in your area(s).

We will publicize this opportunity to all faculty and students soon.  That
notice will include advice for students to check with their advisors and
counselors before enrolling in a course at another campus to make sure
that course has been approved at UCI for use as the student intends (GE or
major requirement).  If the enrollment process works as planned, we should
be notified as UCI students enroll in courses offered by faculty at other
campuses, so departments can contact students for additional advising as

Please let me know if you have any questions about your role in this pilot

Mike Clark

Michael P. Clark
Senior Vice Provost for Academic Planning
Professor of English
535 Aldrich Hall
University of California, Irvine
Irvine, CA  92697-1000
(949) 824-4501

From: Aimee Dorr
Date: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 2:38 PM

Subject: Online Cross-Campus Course Offerings


October 8, 2013


Dear Colleagues:

At our last COVC meeting, I provided an update on the status of Online
Education at UC and asked for your support and assistance in moving
forward with cross-campus online course offerings for Winter and Spring
2014.  This letter presents the help we are requesting now, assuming your
campus is willing to participate at all.

As you already know, we are undertaking a 2013-14 pilot project that will
jump start cross-campus offerings during the academic year, help identify
what is needed to make cross-campus academic year offerings work for
students, faculty, and campuses, and help guide development of the hub
that will be created to provide technological underpinnings for
cross-campus courses in the long run.  We plan to build on lessons learned
from this pilot as we continue our work to offer during the academic year
high-quality online courses to undergraduate students across the UC
system.  The project will involve the following:

1.     A limited number of courses for which ILTI will cover the
additional costs incurred when UC undergraduates from other campuses
enroll in the course (see two attachments, one a current preliminary list
and the other a PDF with basic information about each course on the list),

2.     Efforts to publicize the courses at every campus willing to have
its students participate,

3.     Efforts we will help organize to obtain approval on participating
campuses so that each course will count not only for units toward
graduation but also toward satisfaction of GE, pre-major, or major
requirements, and

4.     Use, to the extent possible, of a technological "mini-hub" system
to handle the cross-campus processes (see attachment with technical
information) and use of the current paper-based system otherwise.



Aimée Dorr
Provost and Executive Vice President

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Frederick Wiseman’s “At Berkeley,” or, Seeing Like an Administration

Frederick Wiseman’s films often document the insipid, noxious operations of bureaucracies. This is certainly the case with High School, released in the auspicious year 1968. If At Berkeley can be read as a sequel to that earlier film, what becomes clear is that it is not only the character of educational institutions that has changed over the past fifty years—like the Fordist factory in the era of globalization, the factory-like public school has faded as well (although many schools have at the same time become increasingly prison-like)—but also the character of the director, who has become, notes one reviewer, “something of an institution himself.”

Another way of putting this comes from Wiseman’s reflections on the documentary form itself. The following comes from a Q&A panel after a screening at the New York Film Festival (above), but it’s an argument Wiseman repeats in nearly every discussion of the film:

People don’t want to believe that other people can act the way they sometimes do. Both good and bad—not necessarily just because it shows people doing difficult, uncomfortable or occasionally sadistic or cruel, but it’s equally true that some people don’t want to admit that other people can do nice, kind, helpful things. And in part that’s related to the idea that documentary film should always be an expose, should reveal something bad about government or people’s behavior. . . . I think it’s equally important when people are doing a good job and care and are kind and sensitive to other people, that’s an equally good subject for a documentary.

Ambiguity is certainly important, but in his critique of the exposé Wiseman may have moved too far in the opposite direction. He explicitly glosses At Berkeley as a kind of reverse-exposé, a study of “people [who are] doing a good job and care and are kind and sensitive to other people.” And it’s not just any “people” he's talking about. In an early interview with Daniel Kasman, Wiseman fleshes out the same argument by identifying the person he’s talking about:

From what I saw, he [then-chancellor Robert Birgeneau] commanded the situation. What impressed me most about him, aside from his obvious intelligence, is he cared, and that’s really nice. He cared about low-income students, and middle class students, and he was in a position to do something about it and he did. There are a lot of people who think the only true subject of documentary films are unpleasant things and nasty people, but it’s just as important to show people who are intelligent, sensitive, and responsible.

Wiseman’s documentary technique is well known—long takes, no voice over narration, no interviews, no identifying information for any of the figures who appear, and so on. To some, these techniques give the impression of objectivity, that the scenes were filmed essentially at random, that no story or argument is being presented. Of course, this is a mistaken impression. Wiseman explains how he constructs a story through the editing process during the Q&A:

I’ve got this great glob of material, 250 hours, which has no form except insofar as I impose a form on it as a consequence of editing. So it’s a question of watching the material a lot and trying to think my way through the experience, so that in one sense the final film is a report on what I’ve learned as a consequence of studying the material, and the experience of being at the place.

The question, then, is what kind of story is crafted, what kind of narrative woven, what kind of form imposed. Wiseman explains to Kasman that he is “concerned about avoiding didacticism.” When Kasman asks whether this meant that the documentary was something like an open text, Wiseman responds: “Not open in the sense that it doesn’t have a point-of-view or well defined points-of-view. Whenever you deal with reality as a subject, it should be complicated and ambiguous.” The form of the film, then, is one of apprehending, making sense of, and in the final instance managing the complexity and ambiguity that define and traverse the institution.

One way of approaching that question is to see how other reviewers have seen and talked about it. What you find is strikingly consistent. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise—although the film appears to do away with many formal elements of narration, Wiseman is, as he acknowledges, imposing a form. The fact that so many reviewers read the film in similar ways reveals his skill at doing so.

What most reviewers see is this: a public university in crisis, balancing budget cuts with a public mission, costs with affordability—and a caring, capable chancellor working to hold it all together. The brutish principal of High School has matured into the sensitive, capable chancellor of At Berkeley. And he is everywhere, the only figure in the film who escapes anonymity: “Birgeneau, who is easily picked out by his bright white hair, distinctive Canadian accent, and near-constant presence.” He is not only in organizational terms the one responsible for holding all the disparate parts of the university together, but also in formal terms the common element tying together the otherwise fragmented scenes that make up the film. “[The film’s] star is the university's chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, a Canadian-born physicist with white-blond hair and a flashing smile, whose placid, diplomatic manner makes him the perfect academic administrator.” He is the administrator’s administrator. “The then-chancellor of the school seems to be everywhere . . . like he’s this omniscient presence. He seems so calm and in control, he’s a very strong character.”

Contrast this with Wiseman’s view of the student protesters (which differs significantly from his view of both the rest of the student body and of workers on campus). We will look a little more at the context below, but for now what’s important is that there’s a protest toward the end of the film. Wiseman discusses it with Kasman:

KASMAN: It was very moving when he [Birgeneau] was genuinely incensed that students who were protesting fees didn’t even know the statistics, which had changed positively. What was your impression of the protest?

WISEMAN: My impression is what you see in the movie, what did you see?

KASMAN: It seemed like it was going OK until the students started talking!

WISEMAN: [laughs] That’s the problem!

KASMAN: It reminded me so much of Occupy Wall Street, which happened just about a year later. The confusion that the students feel as a unified body is not something you sense in the classrooms, it’s in their group protest. When they’re in the classrooms they’re different people with different opinions but the moment they’re together and given a microphone…

WISEMAN: They’re intelligent, but…

Respect for authority, insults for protesters. Here Wiseman goes out of his way to elicit a reading from his interviewer, and the response seems to resonate with the director's own feelings. It is also more or less consistent across the reviews. Serena Golden’s piece at Inside Higher Ed is representative:

But the film’s climax, insofar as there is one, is anticlimactic. When the day comes, students march chanting through campus and take over a library reading room, sending Birgeneau a list of their demands. But the protest is fragmented, disorganized, the demands many and divergent. A variety of speakers agree that the protesters must formulate a goal, but each offers a very different vision of what that goal might be.

“It’s actually helpful that the list [of demands] is so crazy,” we hear Birgeneau tell another administrator via speakerphone. “If they had a list of three things that we could conceivably be able to address, that would be much more effective.”

His administration responds with a deliberately vague statement in support of accessible public education, which the protesters boo – but the rally dies down quickly, with no evident impact. A shot of the same reading room later that evening shows it to be neat, empty, silent. A worker begins taking down the protest banner tacked above the library door.

In an administrative meeting afterward, Birgeneau dismisses the protest as “classic oppositional politics; there was no underlying philosophy.”

What stands out most in this analysis is not so much that Golden seems to have been asleep during the Occupy movement but rather that she has projected the film’s formal characteristics onto the character of the protest itself. The film has no clear plotlines to develop or narrator to explain the gaps to the viewer; its “disparate elements” are juxtaposed and spliced together and as a result “[t]he effect is at times disorienting.” Similarly, she describes the protest as “fragmented” and “disorganized,” with demands that are “many and divergent.” Like Birgeneau (and many a political pundit in the era of Occupy), Golden would prefer for the protesters to make their demands more focused, more reasonable. The implication is not so much that the film is doing the PR work of the administration—though this may be the case as well—but that it ends up reproducing the administration’s way of seeing the world. What Golden has read in the film is the form that Wiseman has imposed, and that form resembles in important ways the lens of the UC Berkeley administration.

In spite (or more accurately because) of the fact that he had dismissed the protesters in the film, Birgeneau, who along with his second-in-command George Breslauer participated in the Q&A in New York, attempts to moderate his scorn:

Actually one thing I wanted to say in defense of our students, since I was quite harsh on them in terms of the incoherence of the protest, there were many very coherent protests which were quite effective, actually. But they focused on undocumented students, black students, the Black Student Union organized really terrific protests in terms of the challenges that African-Americans face on our campus and every other campus, the Multicultural Center. So you know protests are part of the Berkeley culture, but somehow during the time period that Fred [Wiseman] was there it happened to have deteriorated. [interviewer chuckles]

There’s a lot we could say about those comments—it’s interesting, for example, that the neoliberal language of diversity seems to be the one that the administration best understands—but the point we want to insist on here is simply that the logic of the film, as articulated by Wiseman himself, parroted by reviewers, and stated by the film’s main protagonist, mirrors the logic of the administration. Whatever its intention, At Berkeley creates the conditions, at the level of both form and content, for the viewer to see like the administration.

One last consequence of Wiseman’s documentary technique, at least for our purposes here, has to do with what we could call a structural asymmetry of context. Nearly every reviewer remarks on a scene in a meeting among top-level university executives in which Chancellor Birgeneau details ongoing budget cuts, to the point that the state, which once provided 40-50 percent of the UC budget, now provides just 16 percent. These data act as a sort of mini-history of the institution, usefully framing the film as a study of the public university in crisis and locating it at the end of a long trajectory of what Birgeneau calls a “progressive disinvestment in higher education in the state of California.” It is a true, though partial story, one that students and workers have spent a lot of time and energy trying to correct. But what we want to highlight here is the differential between the administration on one hand and the protesters on the other. Because Wiseman spends so much time with administrators and especially with the chancellor, he affords them the chance to frame their own story. In this way, their actions are not only contextualized but through that context rendered reasonable.

In contrast, the protest—dismissed by administrators, ridiculed by director and reviewers alike—has no context. It appears out of nowhere, disconnected from everything that preceded it, further compounding the reviewers’ view of its “fragmented” and “disorganized” character. Although Wiseman appears to treat administrators and protesters on more or less the same formal plane, here the asymmetry is revealed. The chancellor constructs the administration’s present through a narration of its past. The protesters, on the other hand, lack the same position from which to narrate their own history. In part this is due to the difference between the univocal and stabile character of the administration, an institution defined by (and for that matter funded on the basis of) its continuity, and the polyphonic character of a protest movement, defined by multiplicity and change over time. But it also has to do with the film’s attachment to the chancellor and by extension to the administration. It leaves no place from which to tell the recent history of struggle at UC.

Whether or not Wiseman himself knew about the occupation movement that swept across the UC campuses in the fall of 2009, this history is entirely absent in reviews. The administration situates itself within a concrete historical trajectory, while the protest has no history. This temporal isolation is in part why so many reviewers specifically indict its efficacy—Golden, for example, asserts that “the rally dies down quickly, with no evident impact.” In this context, the only history of protest that can be traced is one that has been fully mythologized and commodified by the UC Berkeley administration itself. That is, of course, the “free speech movement” of the 1960s. So we find critics dismissing the protesters’ “ill-considered list of demands” next to Bob Dylan references. The only critic who at all perceives a connection to a contemporary political movement is Kasman, who declares that the “misguided student protest . . . shockingly predates by a year the inspiring but confused muddle of the Occupy Wall Street movement.” The genealogical connection to the Occupy movement is perceptive and important, but it is incomplete and one-directional. It is in the sequence of student occupations in 2009-2010 (which actually began in New York in late 2008) that this history is rooted. Locked into the structure of At Berkeley, however, this counter-history cannot be told.

The “Day of Action” that took place on October 7, 2010, in which a central reading room of the main library on the UC Berkeley campus was briefly occupied by 600-800 protesters, was part not only of a longer historical trajectory but also of a geographically dispersed movement of struggle against austerity and the privatization of higher education, one that resonates at both a national and a global level. It was a system-wide day of action across both UCs and CSUs. There were rallies, sit-ins, and banner drops at every UC campus. There was a virtual sit-in that temporarily shut down the website of the UC Office of the President. Around the country, from Louisiana to Wisconsin, October 7 saw 76 coordinated actions take place. The point, then, is not that the protest at UC Berkeley was in reality highly effective or even particularly well executed. In fact it was highly criticized from within the student movement at the time. Rather, what’s missing from the film is any sense that the protest was part of something bigger, a wedge of antagonism both distributed across and situated in time and space. The lack of context thus intensifies the illegibility of the action.

“I didn’t want the protest to be the subject of the film, because I thought that would be completely unfair to the university,” says Wiseman at the end of the panel discussion. As a result, what we have is a film that is eminently fair to the “university”—whose representation is inevitably channeled through and controlled by the administration—and completely unfair to everyone else. Whether intentionally or not, At Berkeley not only toes the administration’s line but faithfully brings to life the administration’s way of seeing. Students and workers are rendered (if, that is, they appear at all) as anonymous data points, the personification of tasks (e.g. mowing the lawns) and economic flows (e.g. scientific research), and occasionally inconvenient, illegible, and irrational obstructions. It will take both a different director and a different technique to tell these stories.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Problems Always Come From Outside, or, UC Administrators Defend Their Little Fiefdom from the Barbarian Hordes


Generator explosion on campus, September 2013:
[UC spokesperson Dan] Mogulof said the cause of the explosion, which followed a widespread power outage at 4:30 p.m., “appears to be related to an incident of vandalism on our electrical system.” He said vandals had been digging up copper grounding wires on campus, “which caused extensive damage to the electrical system.” The vandalism was discovered late last week, but “it appears it had been going on for quite a while.” Mogulof said the visible damage had been repaired on the weekend. “What happened today is an indication that the vandals caused far more damage than we could originally see or assess,” he said just before 8 p.m. Monday.
Occupy UC Davis, November 2011:
In planning its response to Occupy-related activism, the Leadership Team discussed the presence of “non-affiliates” in the Occupy group. According to Chancellor Katehi, “We had noticed that this group, this year specifically, has people -- even when they came to Mrak -- who were not students.” “We were worried at the time about that because the issues from Oakland were in the news and the use of drugs and sex and other things, and you know here we have very young students . . . we worried especially about having very young girls and other students with older people who come from the outside without any knowledge of their record . . . if anything happens to any student while we’re in violation of policy, it’s a very tough thing to overcome.”

According to Vice Chancellor Meyer, “our context at the time was seeing what's happening in the City of Oakland, seeing what's happening in other municipalities across the country, and not being able to see a scenario where [a UC Davis Occupation] ends well . . . Do we lose control and have non-affiliates become part of an encampment? So my fear is a long-term occupation with a number of tents where we have an undergraduate student and a non- affiliate and there's an incident. And then I'm reporting to a parent that a non-affiliate has done this unthinkable act with your daughter, and how could we let that happen?”
Occupation of Durant Hall, February 2010:
We are writing to condemn in the strongest terms the overnight criminal vandalism in Durant Hall that spilled over onto Bancroft and Telegraph avenues. Initial investigation indicates that about 100 people came onto campus with clear intent to break into at Durant Hall which is currently a construction site. At this time we believe that the majority of those involved in the vandalism were not Berkeley students. We call on any of our students or other campus members who may have observed last night's criminal vandalism and violence to come forward and help police identify those responsible for these reprehensible actions.
Protest at the Chancellor's house, December 2009:
The incidents have ignited a debate over how best to protest the budget cuts — and who should be involved. Several of those arrested at the chancellor's house and at Wheeler Hall last week were not students at UC Berkeley or other universities.
Outsiders have damaged dialogue with the administration, said UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof. Birgeneau declined to answer questions Monday, and Mogulof would not say whether additional security was in place. "We will not be talking with people who come from outside our community," Mogulof said. "But we will be stepping up our efforts to discuss (the issues) with a diverse range of groups."
It's always someone else's fault, isn't it? Yesterday's explosion -- notably on the first day of Janet Napolitano's presidency -- certainly couldn't have anything to do with the $700 million maintenance backlog, a problem that the UC administrators themselves caused by putting all their money into fancy and exciting new capital projects instead of just repairing the boring old buildings that are already built. That's not how you build a legacy! Yeah, it must have been vandals...

(photo from the daily cal)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Call for Submissions: Pamphlet on Securitization and the University

Reposted from Reclamations Journal:

On July 18, 2013, the UC Regents appointed Janet Napolitano, former head of the US Department of Homeland Security, as the next President of the University of California.  Napolitano’s nomination has already been met with protest and criticism: for the secretive process by which it was made, for her her lack of academic experience, for the possibility that she will intensify campus surveillance and remold university research and instruction according to the interests of the security apparatus, and for her involvement at DHS in an historically unprecedented deportation regime.  Her ascension has also prompted a number of brief genealogical essays that have considered her nomination in relation to previous UC administrators’ complicities with state power.  Should Napolitano’s appointment be seen as marking a rupture with past models of University management, or should her appointment be understood as relatively continuous with previous administrative entanglements in the business of security and surveillance?  What does her appointment signal in terms of the securitization of life on and beyond campus? What does her appointment tell us about the relationship between and trajectories of austerity politics, privatization, and securitization?
The editorial collective of Reclamations Journal plans to publish a pamphlet on histories and futures of securitization at the University and on struggles against emergent forms of state repression.  We hope to have the pamphlet ready by the end of the summer, so that it can be passed out during campus orientations and potentially folded into the organization of protest movements over the course of the coming year.
The Reclamations collective is seeking essays, narratives, photo montages, poems, and other sorts of contributions on any of the topics outlined below.  Please submit full-length contributions or abstracts to by August 15th.  [Just to be safe, if you know one of their email addresses, please also send submissions to one of the Reclamations Journal editors.] 
Online Surveillance /  Online Education
§ The technological crossovers that link online education projects, weapons manufacturing, and state and corporate surveillance techniques.  How are online education projects potentially generative of the bodily capacities and forms of knowledge upon which surveillance and military apparatuses increasingly depend?
§ Recent revelations about online surveillance by the NSA and other state and corporate institutions in relation to online education projects and university web services.  The EdEx code has recently been shared publicly; are there any details of the code that would make possible the surveillance of online learning environments?
§ The Department of Homeland Security’s recently established “National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies” (NICCS), which involves work “with partners in academia … to develop the next generation of cyber professionals to protect against evolving cyber threats.”  Napolitano’s involvement in this program, and her possible role in expanding UC’s participation in NICCS.
Anticolonial and Immigrant Rights Activism

§ The imbrications of US border enforcement with the surveillance and policing of university students and workers. New opportunities and challenges for immigrant rights activism on UC campuses.
§ Recent antagonisms around the surveillance and prosecution of Arab and Muslim students.
§ Genealogies of anti-imperialist struggle on university campuses.
The Military / Academic Complex
§ The involvement of universities in the training of soldiers and mercenaries, through ROTC and other programs.  Conflicts over the presence of military recruiters, including after the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
§ How academic research has historically been molded to state interests, war economies, and regimes of surveillance.
§ Histories and ramifications of university contracts to oversee weapons laboratories.
§ Genealogies of the military / academic complex.  Crossovers between university and state bureaucracies, weapons manufacturing and research initiatives, the regulation of academic research critical of state institutions and practices, etc.
Debt and Risk Management
§ The emergence of new discourses of management at the university, including the framework of “Enterprise Risk Management,” which is drawn from the logistics industry and entails techniques—including new forms of surveillance—designed to shield just-in-time production processes from disruption.
§ Technologies of debt enforcement.
§ “Health and safety” as a category of administrative power; possibilities for critical biopolitics on and beyond campuses.
Policing and Surveillance
§ The regulation of campus space and time through policing and surveillance techniques; genealogies of resistance to such regulation.
§ Universities and the policing and/or gentrification of urban space.
§ Campus police training practices, including participation in Urban Shield and other martial training initiatives.
§ Homeland Security grants for the militarization of local and campus police forces.
§ Assessments of existing and possible sites of resistance to securitization both on and beyond the university.