Thursday, October 2, 2014

After the Freeze: UC Privatization since 2012


Talk delivered by Amanda Armstrong at the Oct. 1 Berkeley Faculty Association panel, "The Operation of the Machine: UC Then and Now."

I’m going to be talking today about the operation of the UC machine then, versus its operation now. But not then as in 1965. More like then as in 2009.

I still have vivid memories from fall 2009—a semester when students, workers, and professors built assemblies, walked out of classes, and took direct actions to challenge austerity measures being imposed by the newly-appointed UC President, Mark Yudof. These austerity measures included a 32% tuition increase, furloughs for faculty and staff, and layoffs of over 2,000 service workers across the UC system.

At one of the first walkout planning meetings I attended that fall, people were talking about something called the “Meister report,” which I later learned was named after its author, UC Santa Cruz Professor Bob Meister. The Report talked about how UC administrators were able to take out low-interest construction bonds because they essentially pledged to Moody’s and other rating agencies that they would raise student tuition if necessary to pay back the bonds.

The Meister Report challenged the official story of the 2009 tuition hikes, which claimed that the hikes were necessary given the state’s defunding of public education. The report suggested that, in hiking tuition so drastically, UC administrators weren’t only making up for state defunding – they were also showing bond rating agencies that they had the political will and capacity to deliver steep fee hikes if necessary. And they were protecting their ability to carry on with construction projects, even if this meant trimming funds for basic instruction and saddling students with more debt.

In this way, the Meister Report opened up questions about how and in whose interests UC administrators were managing the money they did have, and about why so many construction projects were moving forward even at a moment of financial crisis. 2009 was thus defined by the politicization both of UC real estate development and of rising student debt levels; it was also a period of significant political mobilization. Even so, we did not succeed in stopping the fee hikes, or otherwise reversing austerity on a large scale. There were some minor victories though: at Berkeley, some of the demands of those who occupied Wheeler Hall on November 20th were realized. The University renewed its essentially no-cost lease to the Rochdale co-op, and a number of custodial workers who had been laid off were rehired.

The larger political victory came in 2011 and 2012. Facing another round of steep fee hikes, students linked their organizing against privatization to the larger occupy movement. We set up encampments on the campuses, and, after acts of police violence, held massive strikes at Berkeley and Davis. The movement broadened through the spring, with people in all sectors of education marching to the capitol building in Sacramento and occupying it, in order to build support for progressive taxation and for the refunding of public education and social services. Ultimately, a ballot initiative for progressive taxation passed and, with guarantees of more state funding, the regents agreed to freeze in-state tuition for at least four years.

Since the political victory of 2012, some things have changed. In the aftermath of the in-state tuition freeze, the priorities and practices of UC administrators have mutated somewhat, which, I want to suggest, presents an altered political context, and some ambiguities, for those of us interested in challenging University privatization. To begin to get a sense of this new terrain, we can look at recent bond rating reports and UC financial documents.

This year, two rating agencies, Moodys and Fitch, downgraded the UC’s bond rating. In explaining their decision, Moodys noted that, while “The university's debt doubled over the last eight years,…. Political and public scrutiny of the rising cost of higher education will constrain UC's ability to grow net tuition revenue.” They continued: “The university's relatively low cost compared to other market leading universities and expansive geographic draw of students help offset these pressures.” In other words, UC administrators aren’t politically able to raise enough tuition revenue to offset their debts, but at least they can make money on out-of-state tuition, and maybe sometime soon they’ll be able to raise in-state tuition as well.

These bond rating reports, in addition to vindicating Bob Meister’s analysis from 2009, help clarify and explain a couple strategies recently undertaken by UC administrators—strategies that are spelled out fairly explicitly in UC’s financial documents. First: In the absence of a political context conducive to across-the-board tuition hikes, administrators have nevertheless tried to increase tuition and fee revenues by admitting more out of state students and by increasing other costs students have to pay (including for housing and healthcare). And Second: In an attempt to decrease their debt levels, administrators have begun to aggressively promote the privatization of development. Instead of generally taking on debt to construct buildings themselves, they are now often working to rent out university-owned land to developers who are willing to build, and in some cases manage, dorms, labs, and other facilities.

In what follows, I will discuss these two administrative strategies, as well as some of their possible political implications.  

First, on UC administrators’ recent attempts to salvage tuition and fee income. This really varies by campus, and I’m going to focus mostly on Berkeley. Following the crisis of 2009, Berkeley administrators started actively recruiting out of state and international students, who paid more in tuition. In the last couple years, as the cost of out-of-state tuition has risen to almost three times that of in-state tuition, administrators continued to admit progressively more out-of-state students. Last year, a third of new admits came from outside of California.

Like other public universities, Berkeley has started “leveraging” student aid to compete to enroll higher-income, out-of-state students. The new Middle Class Access Plan, the cutoff for which was just raised to include those from families making up to $150,000, leverages relatively small grants in exchange for the higher return of out-of-state tuition revenues. Berkeley has also selectively increased housing costs since 2012, raising rents dramatically on the most desirable housing options, while keeping other rents relatively flat. This follows a period of dramatic rent hikes; between 2001 and 2011, room and board rates nearly doubled. Finally, as part of the restructuring of SHIP in 2013, Berkeley raised healthcare premiums by thirteen percent for undergraduates and twenty percent for graduate students—a cost increase that mostly falls on grad students in professional schools, whose tuition rates have also continued to increase.    

Thinking politically about this situation, it’s worth saying initially that a politics organized around the principles of racial justice, class equality, and affordable public education remain critical. Since 2009, the admission and enrollment rates of black students have declined even further than in the immediate aftermath of Proposition 209. Over this period, the class composition of the student body has also been shifting; there are relatively fewer low-income students but significantly more from the highest income brackets. Since 2001, the costs borne by all students have continued to rise, even for those receiving the maximum support from Pell Grants and the Blue and Gold plan. For these and other reasons, it’s critical that we continue to target the race and class exclusions that are only becoming more entrenched in the admissions process.

But I think we also should be thoughtful about how politically to address the fact that the bulk of new tuition and fee revenues has been coming from out-of-state and international students, who now make up a greater percentage of the student body and have the potential to take on a greater role—as either protagonists or antagonists—of any student movement against privatization that might reemerge. Perhaps advocating for across the board rent and tuition reductions, including for out-of-state tuition, would be a generally compelling way to address affordability issues, which would push back as well against UC administrators’ post-2012 strategy for increasing tuition and fee revenues.   
         
The second post-2012 administrative strategy concerns the privatization of development. In June 2012, right around the time the Regents announced that they would freeze in-state tuition if Proposition 30 passed, Berkeley housing administrators announced that, in order to limit their construction-related debt, they would begin seeking out private developers to build new dorms. This kind of privatization of dorm construction had been happening for some time at Irvine and Davis. And Berkeley had done something similar with the Blum Center, as well as in partnering with BP to fund the construction of the Energy Biosciences Institute building on Hearst and Oxford.

Just in the last couple of years though, the privatization of construction has significantly intensified across the UC system. The UC Office of the President recently posted on their website documents outlining the various partnerships, or rent agreements, the campuses are looking to make with private developers. At Berkeley, housing administrators announced that the Martinez commons would be the final dorm funded and built in-house, and they recently leased Bowles Hall to a private entity interested in redeveloping the building. They are working now on finding a developer interested in building and managing a new dorm on Ellsworth and Channing. The Berkeley rent stabilization board has expressed concern that such privately developed and managed dorms could further drive up student rents, especially when other privately-run dorms, such as the newly-constructed Metropolitan on Dana and Durant, charge rents higher than the cost of room and board. Construction workers’ unions have also raised concerns about the fact that, unlike building projects on campus, these development projects won’t be bound by state prevailing wage laws, and so could involve more dangerous and exploitative building practices.

UC Berkeley administrators have also been working to make arrangements with private firms for the development of portions of the Gill Tract, in Albany. So far, the efforts of Occupy the Farm have stalled this development, and have put on the agenda the conversion of the Gill tract into space for community-based farming, research, and education.

Berkeley administrators, including the newly appointed Vice Chancellor of real estate Robert Lalanne, are also working on coordinating a massive development project on 109 acres of land owned by the University in Richmond Bay. They are saying this project will involve private construction and management of some of the research facilities, and recently published an “Infrastructure Master Plan,” outlining ways for private companies to buy space and influence at the Richmond Bay campus. 

A coalition of labor and community groups has issued a number of demands around this development project including the payment of prevailing wages to construction workers, the promise that all service workers employed in the facilities will be represented by AFSCME, the opening up of space for community-based and community-driven research, that those profiting from the project help fund affordable housing in Richmond, and that formerly incarcerated people be hired for some of the construction and other work set to occur. These are demands that students and workers on campus can help amplify. And in general, I think it’s imperative that we respond to UC’s efforts to privatize construction by building relations of solidarity with local communities and making the case for a kind of public knowledge making.

I can imagine some ambiguities and difficulties that might accompany such a project, aside from just the myriad practical challenges of coalition building and of building power sufficient to interrupt administrative agendas. It might also be hard to know when to oppose new development outright and when to try and direct it to less damaging, more accessible and public-oriented ends. And there’s a question as well about federal research money, which is public in one sense but is often linked to military or other state interests. In a power-point presentation last spring, Robert Lalanne, the Vice Chancellor of real estate, noted that drone development and testing is part of the research agenda for Richmond Bay. Given the entailments of much federal research, how can we envision and struggle for a kind of public knowledge making that is resolutely anti-militarist?

Any renewed movement against university privatization will need to work through these ambiguities and difficulties. But if the last six years have shown us anything, it’s that concerted action on the part of students, workers, and instructors can fundamentally shift the operations of the university, and can block the worst effects of university privatization, if not reverse this process outright. So there is reason to try, and to hope.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

UC Irvine Chancellor Gillman gets on the Civility Bandwagon

Free Speech and Civility

To the Anteater community:

As we prepare to start an exciting new academic year I want to share some thoughts on free speech and civility on college campuses. I deeply believe that it is possible to have robust free speech while still being civil to one another and treating each other with mutual respect.

Freedom of speech is a bedrock value of our constitutional system and at the core of this university’s central mission. Courts have recognized that First Amendment principles “acquire a special significance in the university setting, where the free and unfettered interplay of competing views is essential to the institution’s educational mission.” The University of California is also committed to upholding and preserving principles of academic freedom, which for the faculty comprises freedom of inquiry and research, freedom of teaching, and freedom of expression and publication, with related duties of professional care and the requirements of competent scholarship.

It is in the nature of freedom of speech that we will sometimes be exposed to viewpoints, arguments, or forms of expression that make us uncomfortable or even offend us. It is in precisely these circumstances that free speech often plays its most vital function, especially in an educational context. Throughout history speech that challenges conventional wisdom has been a driving force for progress. Speech that makes us uncomfortable may force us to reconsider our own strongly held views – in fact, a willingness to reconsider strongly held views is one of the reasons why people pursue higher education. Hearing offensive views provides opportunities for those sentiments to be engaged and rebutted.

Of course, freedom of speech is not and cannot be absolute. Threats, harassment, “fighting words,” incitement, obscenity, and defamatory speech are categories of speech that are not protected. Freedom of speech does not mean a right to say anything at any place and any time; there can and must be restrictions on the time, place, and manner of speech, but the campus is committed to ensuring the availability of places for speeches and protests.

Beyond the issue of what one has the right to do is the much more interesting and important question of what is the right thing to do.

We live during a period of increased division and incivility in our politics and public discourse. It is of value to society if there is a place where people decide that they will come together in the spirit of inquiry and discovery, and will work together to embrace the virtues of a scholarly community: rigorous inquiry, evidence-based reasoning, logical argumentation, experimentation, fair-minded assessments of competing perspectives, balanced judgment, ongoing skepticism, and a willingness to reassess one’s perspective in light of new evidence and arguments.

These beliefs and practices – these scholarly norms – are inextricably linked to other values, including a genuine desire to engage competing perspectives and learn from those who have had different experiences or who hold different views, and a commitment to resolving (or at least better understanding) disagreement through reasoned and sustained conversation, debate, and the acquisition of new knowledge.

If our commitment to freedom and democracy leads us to defend the rights of free speech, our commitment to scholarly inquiry and education leads us to create norms of civility. We as an academic community cannot do our distinctive work in the world without establishing norms and practices that enable us to learn from each other in an atmosphere of positive engagement and mutual respect. When we work through our differences we should do so in a way that sheds more light than heat.

My hope and goal is that this year, and every year, all of us will remain civil to one another, especially when we passionately disagree. We strive for this because such an environment is conducive to sharing and critically examining knowledge and values, and to furthering the search for wisdom – the very purposes we sought to pursue when we decided to join this remarkable community.

I wish you all an enlightening year.

Sent by Howard Gillman, UC Irvine Chancellor
On Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Please stop by the Campus Organizations Poster Room for a Free Speech Brochure brought to you by Office of Campus Organizations, Office of Student Conduct, and Student Affairs.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Dirks Just Won't Shut Up About Civility, Seems Surprised We Care

From: Nicholas Dirks Chancellor
Date: Fri, Sep 12, 2014 at 12:08 PM
Subject: Civility and Free Speech
To: "Faculty; Staff; Students"


Every fall for the last many years, we have issued statements concerning the virtue of civility on campus. This principle is one of several that Berkeley staff, students, faculty, and alumni themselves developed and today regard as “fundamental to our mission of teaching, research and public service.”  To quote further from our “principles of community”: “We are committed to ensuring freedom of expression and dialogue that elicits the full spectrum of views held by our varied communities. We respect the differences as well as the commonalities that bring us together and call for civility and respect in our personal interactions.” For a full list of these stated principles, please see http://berkeley.edu/about/principles.shtml.
 
In this year’s email, I extended this notion of civility to another crucial element of Berkeley’s identity, namely our unflinching commitment to free speech — a principle this campus will spend much of this fall celebrating in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement.
 
My message was intended to re-affirm values that have for years been understood as foundational to this campus community. As I also noted in my message, these values can exist in tension with each other, and there are continuing and serious debates about fundamental issues related to them. In invoking my hope that commitments to civility and to freedom of speech can complement each other, I did not mean to suggest any constraint on freedom of speech, nor did I mean to compromise in any way our commitment to academic freedom, as defined both by this campus and the American Association of University Professors. (For the AAUP’s Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, please see http://www.aaup.org/issues/academic-freedom.)
 
I did, however, express my conviction that in the ongoing debates on campus about these and other issues we might collectively see the value of real engagement on divisive issues across different perspectives and opinions. By “real engagement” I mean openness to, and respect for, the different viewpoints that make up our campus community. I remain hopeful that our debates will be both productive and robust not only to further mutual understanding but also for the sake of our overriding intellectual mission.
 
Sincerely,
 
Nicholas B. Dirks
Chancellor
 
If you are a manager who supervises Cal employees without email access, please circulate this information to all.

Please do not reply to this message

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The End of Free Speech: On the Civility of Nicholas Dirks

Nick Dirks took the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Free Speech Movement to maneuver for control of the campus as political space. His “civility letter,” as incoherent and historically inept a document as one could imagine, has already been well-diagnosed by various sources including Remaking the University, Counterpunch, and here at ReclaimUC. That lattermost assessment was particularly clear-minded in showing that free speech has been not an ideal but a site of political struggle. While paying it lip-service in the abstract, university administrations (and not these alone) have as a matter of custom and practice sought to curtail the concrete use of free speech, and further concrete struggles have been required to preserve it.

Dirks sets up a series of oppositions the boundaries of which we must attend with vigor and zeal, including — in the most bizarre moment — that “between free speech and political advocacy.” It’s one of the great spit-take moments of administrative palaver, splitting the difference between non sequitur and nonsense. It makes your brain freeze. My anonymous colleague here offers a pretty sensible explication of a pretty crazy sentence: to understand it as a rhetorical strategy, not a truth claim.
I don’t think he’s stupid. I think he wants to create a campus climate where we accept that “free speech and political advocacy” are two different things, and where we fight over the difference. I think he’s smart enough to understand that political advocacy is explicitly protected speech—that it’s very specifically the form of protected speech which both the Free Speech Movement and the First Amendment specifically defend—and that this rhetorical gesture nudges his audience towards accepting indefensible trade-offs…to make it seem natural that free speech means the freedom to say things that are not prohibited.
I think this is largely correct. If I take any distance from it herein, it is only because I wish to take some distance from free speech itself — or, rather, from free speech as such. The extant rebukes to Dirks’ absurdity are quite effective at setting forth how the civility standard serves to undermine the very free speech it purports to buttress. The risk of these accounts is that, taking up an immanent critique of the letter’s logic (and by extension the logic of the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and all the other mongers of repressive civility), the critiques leave free speech as the ultimate horizon of debate and struggle. I worry that this plays into what is for Dirks et al. a broader and more pernicious strategy, both rhetorical and practical — regarding not only what counts as free speech, but what free speech itself is, both within and without the university.

The strategy is to treat free speech as an absolute end. In this understanding, free speech is itself both fruit and proof of freedom tout court. Consequently, we must at all times contemplate what might be necessary as means to preserve free speech as end. It turns out, via the peculiar pseudologic of power, that the means to this end include prohibiting certain speech. And this turns out to be a doubly desirable role for the university administration: not only is it authorized to curtail expression, but it gets to do so in the name of an abstract principle, a general ideal of social existence, divorced from any particular antagonism. In this vision the defense of free speech is a neutral and noble pursuit; it is the very opposite of taking a side, and thus of any sort of advocacy. Even if they are doing it wrong, Dirks et al. are still endeavoring to do the right thing.

This is the world stood on its head. Free speech is side-taking. The very reason we value free speech is because it is a means: an instrument and a condition of possibility for political struggle. Free speech is not a virtue in and of itself any more than is an umbrella. Or perhaps we might come to enjoy umbrellas for themselves, as an aesthetic or sensuous matter, were there to be no more inclement weather. Alas, it continues to rain, and worse.

Which is to say that there is an underlying fantasy to the position fomented by Nick Dirks. The only situation in which one would treat free speech as an end would be one in which there were no fundamental problems: no iniquities, immiseration, exploitation. No need for free speech as means. So we might say Dirks is speaking from the position of campus-as-utopia, a campus of nothing but speech, where the sun always shines and all other issues have been resolved happily for all. A campus wherein there was no privatized public education, no massive debt- and labor-loads for students, no shitty working conditions for campus workers, no cops being called in to beat or pepper-spray students and faculty into the hospital. No struggle over BDS, no systematic racism, no burying of rape statistics and accompanying leniency for perpetrators — struggles in which the administration is an aggressive antagonist, a side.

In this Panglossian vision, the absolute deference to civility makes perfect sense. Except, in one of those funny turns, there would be no need for such deference. There would be nothing about which to be uncivil.

This paradox is an expression of, among other things, the character of our moment. For most of history, it has been perfectly well understood that “free speech” and “political advocacy” offer not an opposition but an identity: they are names for side-taking in real antagonisms. In what situation, then, do they seem to stand apart from each other? Necessarily in a situation where there is something at stake, something that power needs urgently to dissimulate. It is when side-taking lurches toward political crisis that power will endeavor to sequester free speech from that taking of sides.

In this regard, the Dirks letter is not a historian’s betrayal of history, but a sign of the present as one of political possibility — and, in particular, a sign of the significance of the confrontation over Palestine, Israel, and the fissure on campuses and elsewhere between fundraising practices and liberation struggles. In this and accompanying fights, free speech will be only one of the means we will need at our disposal.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Policing Civility

This guest post is an uncivil retort which demeans a viewpoint, written by an academic whose desire to remain anonymous is a function of the free speech climate that people like Nicholas Dirks and Phyllis Wise have created.

“Until 1959 Telegraph Avenue extended through the campus up to Sather Gate. Tables were stationed there, rallies assembled, and all types of literature sold and distributed. With the construction of the Student Union building, however, Telegraph Avenue ended at Bancroft Way. At this new gate to the campus, the traditional activities continued. The Bancroft and Telegraph sidewalk was generally regarded as being city property. Groups received table permits from the city of Berkeley authorities. In fact, the Dean's Office referred questions on the use of the area to the city police department. On September 14, Dean Towle informed the heads of all student organizations that the Bancroft and Telegraph sidewalk was in fact University property and that all University rules would henceforth be applied. No tables or speeches would be allowed. Only informational literature could be distributed; no advocacy was allowed”

From the beginning, an interpellation, a hail:

Dear Campus Community,

Of course, addressing the “campus community” is simply what he is doing, just a very formulaic opening, but that formula reflects the framework through which everything that comes after it is implied. For there to be a “campus community,” there also has to be a not-campus community, people who are outside the campus. But how a public university comes to have an outside to itself is an interesting question; how does a Californian become a outsider to a public Californian university? As the university becomes less and less “Californian,” in fact—turning to out-of-state students as cash cows—the terms on which the university is construed a community also changes: you have to buy your way in. Instead of getting a free education as a function of being a Californian (as it was, in the 1960s), you become a member of the community by purchasing your place. And one can be expelled from a community; if it’s a body of people, it’s also a place.

This Fall marks the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, which made the right to free expression of ideas a signature issue for our campus, and indeed for universities around the world. Free speech is the cornerstone of our nation and society – which is precisely why the founders of the country made it the First Amendment to the Constitution. For a half century now, our University has been a symbol and embodiment of that ideal.

Between the beginning and end of this paragraph, Dirks transforms a bitter, festering sore of an unresolved conflict into a unifying principle, using the power of intellectual dishonesty and bad faith. To be blunt: fifty years ago, the university administration censored its students, unreservedly and without hesitation. Student groups had begun to take part in civil rights agitation, and when the campus threatened to become a site where students and the community at large would do politics together—and when segregated businesses told the university to keep its students in line—the university told its students to sit down and shut up. Students who disobeyed were “suspended indefinitely”—a punishment which the university had to invent on the spot—and people like Jack Weinberg, who had recently graduated, were turned over to the police.

“At about 11:45 a.m., Dean Van Houten and a campus policeman approach one of the tables (CORE) at which about a dozen persons are sitting. Jack Weinberg, a recent Cal graduate, is told he is violating University rules and is placed under arrest when he refuses to leave the table. Students spontaneously sit down around the police car which has arrived on the plaza and block the car from removing Mr. Weinberg. Mario Savio, head of Friends of SNCC, removes his shoes and begins to address a crowd of over a thousand, from atop the police car. He discusses the position of the united front and the injustice of the Administration's response to their free speech demands. Many others also make speeches. The protest is extended by sitting-in in Sproul Hall.”

The founding event of the Free Speech Movement, the reason we remember it, and the reason Nicholas Dirks’ predecessors were prevented from censoring their students—as they had wanted to—is that students said no. They prevented the cops from expelling the “outside agitators” by putting their bodies on the machine, etc. They refused to allow the police to patrol the borders of their “campus community”; they made clear that the cops were the outsiders, and that Jack Weinberg—and other civil rights organizers—were part of the campus community. They won. Their disobedience prevented Nicholas Dirks’ predecessors from stifling the kinds of political activism that the local business community objected to: anti-segregation activism.

Let me underscore this with bulletpoints:
  • The Free Speech Movement began with students organizing to oppose segregation, being aggressively blocked by the administration, rejecting its authority to censor them, and winning.
  • The university administration was on the wrong side of history, and got taught a lesson by its students.
  • That lesson is this: when power tells you to sit down and shut up, the best answer is to tell power to go fuck itself.

The problem with Dirks’ letter, up to this point, is that the university has been a consistent site of politicized repression. To the extent that the victories of the Free Speech Movement have been maintained, it has always been by students pushing back against administration efforts to police and control.

This letter is also an effort to police and control.

As we honor this turning point in our history, it is important that we recognize the broader social context required in order for free speech to thrive. For free speech to have meaning it must not just be tolerated, it must also be heard, listened to, engaged and debated.

“Free Speech” is not a delicate flower that needs compost and sunlight and watering; “free speech” needs the absence of repression. That’s it. For “free speech to thrive,” you need the administrators not to call the police on its students. You need people to know that having an opinion about an unpopular social issue—say, opposing the Israeli occupation, or opposing racial segregation in Mississippi, or for that matter the privatization of public universities—will not result in their being punished for their wrong-think. And if “free speech” can only thrive when it is “heard, listened to, engaged and debated,” Dirks and his administration have some soul-searching to do about how they will hear, listen, engage, and debate their students.

“Representatives of the Free Speech Movement have requested time to speak before the Regents Friday to present their side of the controversy. The Regents will decide today whether the "quite crowded" agenda will permit time for such a presentation, according to a University spokesman. The Free Speech Movement announced yesterday it has sent a telegram to Governor Edmund Brown requesting an appointment with the Board of Regents at their meeting tomorrow. "If this request is denied we must consider alternate action," the telegram states.”

The next passage is where Dirks transitions from bad-faith concern trolling towards his ultimate destination, incoherence masking a threat:

Yet this is easier said than done, for the boundaries between protected and unprotected speech, between free speech and political advocacy, between the campus and the classroom, between debate and demagoguery, between freedom and responsibility, have never been fully settled. As a consequence, when issues are inherently divisive, controversial and capable of arousing strong feelings, the commitment to free speech and expression can lead to division and divisiveness that undermine a community’s foundation.

In this passage, Dirks asserts that “division and divisiveness” are threats to “a community’s foundation,” a rhetorical snake-pit that we will need to backtrack to understand. In the first paragraph he described how

“Free speech is the cornerstone of our nation and society – which is precisely why the founders of the country made it the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

At best, he’s constructed a tautology: free speech can lead to divisiveness which can undermine the cornerstone of our society, a society whose founders founded on free speech. Which, er, so wait: free speech is the foundation but free speech can put free speech in peril, so that’s why free speech can’t be free. Some kinds of free speech are more free than others and freedom isn’t free, I guess.

At best, then, this is just tautological nonsense. At worst, it’s an effort to define what kinds of speech are allowed to be free, and which kinds of speech have to be suppressed, in the name of free speech. Which one it is depends on how stupid you think Nicholas Dirks is.

I don’t think he’s stupid. I think he wants to create a campus climate where we accept that “free speech and political advocacy” are two different things, and where we fight over the difference. I think he’s smart enough to understand that political advocacy is explicitly protected speech—that it’s very specifically the form of protected speech which both the Free Speech Movement and the First Amendment specifically defend—and that this rhetorical gesture nudges his audience towards accepting indefensible trade-offs, to make it seem natural that you free speech means the freedom to say things that are not prohibited (because they’re political advocacy, demagoguery, irresponsible, or something else). It’s the same slight of hand as when National Security hawks tell us that there is a trade-off between freedom and security: what they mean is that we have to have less freedom, because security. Don’t you know there’s a war on?

Dirks seems to think there is a war on:

This fall, like every fall, there will be no shortage of issues to animate and engage us all. Our capacity to maintain that delicate balance between communal interests and free expression, between openness of thought and the requirements and disciplines of academic knowledge, will be tested anew.

The community needs you to express yourself less freely. The disciplines of academic knowledge require you to be less open in your thought.

Issues will arise to engage and animate you; remember, your ability to dis-engage and dis-animate will be on the test, so study hard.

Specifically, we can only exercise our right to free speech insofar as we feel safe and respected in doing so, and this in turn requires that people treat each other with civility. Simply put, courteousness and respect in words and deeds are basic preconditions to any meaningful exchange of ideas. In this sense, free speech and civility are two sides of a single coin – the coin of open, democratic society.

Is there anything more disrespectful than a letter from the chancellor expressing such a raft of poorly thought-through, nakedly dishonest, and intellectually bankrupt ideas? Does this make you feel respected?

A few years ago, students gathered on the Mario Savio Steps of Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley, and were told to disperse, and then beaten by police when they did not. At UC Davis, of course, they were pepper sprayed. At UC Riverside, they were shot with rubber bullets. Does this make you feel safe?

Insofar as we wish to honor the ideal of Free Speech, therefore, we should do so by exercising it graciously. This is true not just of political speech on Sproul Plaza, but also in our everyday interactions with each other – in the classroom, in the office, and in the lab.

On its own, this letter is just an obnoxiously whiggish mis-telling of campus history. One would have expected that a historian would be reluctant to put his name on this garbage, but of course he’s not really a historian anymore—he’s a university chancellor. His job is not to say things that make a damned bit of sense; his job is to keep the people who matter happy.

This letter also does not happen in a vacuum. When he talks about the importance of civility, we recall that Steven Salaita has been fired for failing to be civil, gracious, and respectful. Nicholas Dirks’ predecessor defended police violence against student protesters by saying they were “not non-violent” and Dirks still hasn’t quite reached that level of dishonest ingenuity. But this letter demonstrates that he’s working on it.

Friday, September 5, 2014

From the Free Speech Movement to the Reign of Civility

From: Nicholas Dirks Chancellor
Date: Fri, Sep 5, 2014 at 5:11 PM
Subject: Civility and Free Speech
To: "Faculty; Staff; Students"

Dear Campus Community,

This Fall marks the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, which made the right to free expression of ideas a signature issue for our campus, and indeed for universities around the world. Free speech is the cornerstone of our nation and society – which is precisely why the founders of the country made it the First Amendment to the Constitution. For a half century now, our University has been a symbol and embodiment of that ideal

As we honor this turning point in our history, it is important that we recognize the broader social context required in order for free speech to thrive. For free speech to have meaning it must not just be tolerated, it must also be heard, listened to, engaged and debated.  Yet this is easier said than done, for the boundaries between protected and unprotected speech, between free speech and political advocacy, between the campus and the classroom, between debate and demagoguery, between freedom and responsibility, have never been fully settled.  As a consequence, when issues are inherently divisive, controversial and capable of arousing strong feelings, the commitment to free speech and expression can lead to division and divisiveness that undermine a community’s foundation. This fall, like every fall, there will be no shortage of issues to animate and engage us all. Our capacity to maintain that delicate balance between communal interests and free expression, between openness of thought and the requirements and disciplines of academic knowledge, will be tested anew.

Specifically, we can only exercise our right to free speech insofar as we feel safe and respected in doing so, and this in turn requires that people treat each other with civility. Simply put, courteousness and respect in words and deeds are basic preconditions to any meaningful exchange of ideas. In this sense, free speech and civility are two sides of a single coin – the coin of open, democratic society.

Insofar as we wish to honor the ideal of Free Speech, therefore, we should do so by exercising it graciously. This is true not just of political speech on Sproul Plaza, but also in our everyday interactions with each other – in the classroom, in the office, and in the lab.

Sincerely,

Nicholas Dirks
Chancellor

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.