Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Grade-In at UC Berkeley Today [Updated]

Today, Sather Gate, noon. (More info here.)

Also, don't forget about the public student conduct show trial that's taking place at more or less the same time (bad timing!). It's at Clark Kerr campus, building 14. It starts officially at 1:30pm, but they're asking folks to get there between 1-1:15pm in order to be let in.

Updated [1:57pm]: picture from the ongoing grade-in...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Student Conduct and Terrorism

Last December, Governor Schwarzenegger invoked a rhetoric of terrorism to describe protests that had taken place on UC Berkeley campus:
California will not tolerate any type of terrorism against any leaders including educators. The attack on Chancellor Birgeneau’s home is a criminal act and those who participated will be prosecuted under the fullest extent of the law. Debate is the foundation of democracy and I encourage protestors to find peaceful and productive ways to express their opinions.
At the time, Schwarzenegger's hyperbolic language, along with that of UC Berkeley administrators, was widely ridiculed. But now the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) is looking to insert specific language about "terrorism" into the guidelines that determine how the Codes of Student Conduct on individual UC campuses are written. The proposal is to incorporate this language into the section on hate crimes.

The following was circulated in an email from Jerlena Griffin-Desta, director of student services at the Student Affairs Office of the President. These changes may be included in the discussion at the November Regents' meeting. The first point is particularly problematic, but note that the third almost as bad:
REVISED: Proposed Policy Changes to Address Hate Crimes

1. Terrorizing Conduct

The following new language would be added to the Policy on Student Conduct and Discipline (section 102.00 Grounds for Discipline):

“[The following is prohibited:] Conduct, where the actor means to communicate a serious expression of intent to terrorize, or acts in reckless disregard of the risk of terrorizing, one or more University students, faculty, or staff. ‘Terrorize’ means to cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm or death, perpetrated by the actor or his/her confederates. ‘Reckless disregard’ means consciously disregarding a substantial risk. This section applies without regard to whether the conduct is motivated by race, ethnicity, personal animosity, or other reasons. This section does not apply to conduct that constitutes the lawful defense of one’s self, of another, or of property.”

2. Sanction Enhancement for Violations Motivated by Hate

The following new language would be added to the Policy on Student Conduct and Discipline (section 104.00 Administration of Student Discipline):

“Sanctions [for any violations of the Grounds for Discipline] may be enhanced where the victim was selected because of the victim’s race, color, national or ethnic origin, citizenship, sex, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, marital status, ancestry, service in the uniformed services, physical or mental disability, medical condition (cancer related or genetic characteristics), or perceived membership in any of these classifications.”

3. Discipline for criminal convictions

The following new language would be added to the Policy on Student Conduct and Discipline (section 102.00 Grounds for Discipline):

“[Students may be subject to discipline, i.e., discipline is possible, not mandatory, on the basis of] A conviction under any California state or federal criminal law, when the conviction constitutes reasonable cause to believe that the student poses a current threat to the health or safety of any person or to the security of any property, on University premises or at official University functions, or poses a current threat to the orderly operation of the campus.”

Public Conduct Hearing, Wed 10/27 [Updated]

Updated [Tuesday 10/26]: The hearing will take place in the Krutch Theater (building 14) of Clark Kerr campus. Get there between 1-1:15 or during a break to minimize disruptions.

If all goes according to plan, updates will be published on the Reclaim UC twitter feed.

Update [Wed 6:06pm]: We've been live tweeting the hearing. Check out @reclaimuc; most of the tweets have a #ucstrike and/or an #occupyca hashtag. Also check out @joshwolf's twitter feed.

Update [Thurs 1:32am]: The hearing panel left to deliberate at about 11:30, returned at about 12:15 to announce that they couldn't come to a decision. Deliberation and sanctioning will be postponed until the week of November 8. Also, for a pretty complete record of the hearing check out this twitter list.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Open Letter to the UC Administration Regarding Student Conduct

Dear Vice Chancellor Harry LeGrande et. al,

I am writing to voice my concerns regarding my interactions with the Office of Student Conduct and to inform you of my experience in dealing with the process as a student journalist accused of participating in the November 20 demonstration in Wheeler Hall last fall. I am one of about 40 students who the university charged with student conduct violations in relationship to the demonstration. As I understand it, the Code of Conduct doesn’t include a provision for an “interlocutory appeal,” but my experience last night calls out for intervention by your Office.

On Thursday, Oct. 20, Dr. Robert DiMartino led a pre-hearing conference to discuss my charges under the code of student conduct. The previous month I participated in a previous pre-hearing conference under a different chair, Dr. Georjana Barnes of the Department of Molecular Biology. Dr. Barnes aborted that meeting after the lawyer for the University of California Office of the President said he couldn’t stick around to see the meeting to completion.

In all previous meetings involving student conduct, the university officials permitted Thomas Frampton, a law school student and my advisor in this matter, to speak on my behalf. I had no reason to think the situation would be any different coming into my most recent meeting, but my experience yesterday differed dramatically from my previous experience.

Almost immediately after our meeting began, DiMartino ordered my observer Stephen Rosenbaum to leave. Rosenbaum is on the Berkeley Law School faculty and is also a practicing attorney. After returning from a discussion with Frampton about my charges, DiMartino announced that my advisor would not be allowed to speak on my behalf; not only is this inconsistent with my previous experiences, but it is a clear departure from other pre-hearing conferences on campus.

DiMartino’s position is that because an advisor is not explicitly allowed under the code to speak at pre-hearing conferences, there is an implicit prohibition on his doing so, which is the same reason he cited for ejecting Rosenbaum. DeMartino further suggested that I should be aware of this prohibition, despite the fact that his conclusion is based on a nuanced interpretation of the code that runs counter to my own past experience and that of others.

After explaining that I was not fully-prepared to argue all of the issues we planned to bring up at the pre-hearing, DiMartino countered with the option to file a written brief addressing two issues he deemed pertinent to the pre-hearing: Whether the hearing should be open, and what witnesses I planned to call in my defense, a provision which is itself not explicitly allowed under the code. After explaining that I wasn’t prepared to answer whether such a proposal would be acceptable, I asked for a recess and a new pre-hearing date.

DiMartino refused to reschedule the pre-hearing and said that any objection I had to proceeding this way could only be taken up after the panel has delivered its decision in the charges I’m facing. Have I therefore exhausted all of my administrative remedies available to me at this time?

I realize that it is important for the panel chair to retain some discretion over the student conduct process, but it is imperative that the code is clear on exactly what is within his or her discretion. Student conduct is heralded as an educational process, but I’m really fumbling over what I’m supposed to learn from this experience, and I know other students facing conduct charges feel the same way.

A few years ago, a federal judge sent me to jail for refusing to turn over my unpublished materials of a political demonstration I filmed in San Francisco. During the seven months I spent at a federal detention center fighting for the rights of a free press, many described my situation as Kafkaesque. It saddens me to realize that my experience at UC Berkeley has been a far more appropriate use of the term.

Given the clear deficiencies in the code of student conduct, which the university has acknowledged by calling for a task force to address these problems, I ask that you suspend this process for myself and others until there is policy in place that serves an educational function of the world-class caliber this institution offers in academics.

I would be happy to meet with anyone to address my concerns over the code of conduct, and I know that other students facing charges and members of the Campus Rights Project, an advocacy group comprised of law school students who are providing pro-bono representation to students facing conduct charges, would also be willing to make themselves available to discuss this issue as well.

Thank you for your consideration,

Josh Wolf

UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
2011 Master’s candidate in documentary
Tel: 415.794.2401

Robert Birgeneau

Jonathan Poullard
Dean of Students

Susan Trageser
Director of Student Conduct

Laura Bennett
Student Conduct Officer

Nanette Asimov
San Francisco Chronicle

Gerry Shih
The Bay Citizen

Rebecca Bowe
San Francisco Bay Guardian

Frances Dinkelspiel

Laura Dobler
Student Press Law Center

Call to Action for November 16

From the UC Santa Cruz Strike Committee (via email):
The University of California Administration and the UC Regents in particular have continued to demonstrate their callous disregard for the lives and futures of the Students and Workers who make up the University. The malicious assault which they are now leading against the pensions of employees, the conditions and wages of academic workers, and the future of students with a new proposed fee hike of as much as 20 percent, demonstrates not only the depth of their commitment to privatization but also their amnesiac forgetfulness regarding the events of last year. In the relative calm of the last few months they have forgotten the magnitude of the discontent which exploded in the form of mass occupations and strikes last November and on March 4th. As the regents meet to consider further austerity measures, we must act to demonstrate that if they fail to repeal the fee hikes implemented so far, if they continue to impose intolerable conditions on the Students and Workers of the University of California, we will render the University ungovernable. The UCSC Strike Committee calls upon Students and Workers across the UC system to take action on their campuses November 16th, both to demonstrate the continuing strength of our resistance and build the social power which can make the threat of an ungovernable university a reality.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Home of the Free Speech Movement

Lt. Tejada can't spell

On the morning of October 7, the national day of action, UCPD officers broke into the Rhetoric Department library and confiscated banners.

The note reads:
They did it again this week. This time, they stole the following materials, which had to be "re-recovered" from UCPD: a few boxes of paint, medical supplies, water, plus a couple of signs.

UC Berkeley: Home of the Free Speech Movement.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Call for Disassembly

From anti-capital projects:
No more General Assemblies • No more Statewide Conferences • No more Days of Inaction

The fiasco of the Oct. 7th “sit-in” demonstrates the utter bankruptcy of the General Assembly: a political form more effective than tear-gas or billy-clubs in bringing an action to a close. In our fight against the university administration, we have ceded our power to administrative mechanisms that are little better.

How is it that an institution widely regarded last year as farcical came to assume ownership over the university struggle, to assert yet again its supposed sovereign power to broker all meaningful decisions? How can we assure that the General Assembly never again comes to assume the power to neutralize, silence, and demobilize? How can we finally demystify the GA’s absurd self-presentation as a space of democracy, participation and openness?

It is tempting to think that the failures of the General Assembly are those of personality, ineptitude, and opportunism. As we all know, the GA is run by a small clique of “socialist” organizers and future politicians who follow a political script unchanged, in its unflagging failure, since 1983. These are people who have, at every turn over the last year and a half, opposed proposals for direct action, or deferred them to some never-arriving future moment when they have “built the movement.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Another Tuition Hike? [Updated]

We're getting news of another tuition hike in the UC system: at their next meeting, the Regents will apparently consider an increase of up to 20 percent for next fall. This should not come as a surprise to any of us, since we are well aware that UC's decision to increase student tuition has little if anything to do with budget cuts at the state level and far more to do with risky Wall Street investments, bond rating agencies like Moody's, and collateral for construction projects.

Furthermore, tuition increases form an important part of the recommendations generated by the UC Commission on the Future. In their draft report for October 2010 [pdf], the Regents go far out of their way to leave open the possibility of drastic tuition hikes. They do this in two ways. First, by rejecting Recommendation 8 ("Adopt a Multi-year Tuition Schedule"). This recommendation -- itself problematic, since it does nothing to reverse the shift toward privatization -- would have systematized tuition increases in four- or five-year blocks in order to prevent the shock of students' tuition being raised in the middle of their university career. In rejecting the proposal, however, the Regents declared
Adopting a multi-year tuition schedule would, however, reduce flexibility in tuition revenue and require the University to make contingency plans. Since continuing students would be assured a fixed tuition increase rate, any revenue required beyond that amount -- due to a sudden decline in state funding, for example -- would have to be generated by the 30 percent of students who would be subject to the “new” student rate. In addition, application of the multi-year tuition schedule should be contingent on a maintenance of effort by the State. In the case of significant and abrupt state budget cuts, the University might need to adopt an emergency tuition increase outside of the scheduled amount. (p. 15)
They rejected the proposal, in other words, in order to maintain what they call "flexibility": the ability to raise tuition at will, for any reason they deem appropriate (that "for example" is extremely telling).

Second, at the end of the report, the Regents deliberated on a series of what they called "contingency recommendations," that were neither approved nor rejected at the time but could be brought up in the future if, as they put it, "the fiscal crisis [should] deepen and state and other funding sources continue to decline" (p. 26). One of these recommendations reads as follows:
Substantially increase tuition and fees, including charging differential tuition by campus (see Recommendation 17), as part of a broad based program to sustain the University.
Given the UCOF recommendations, it should come as no surprise that the Regents would consider another large tuition increase. Some people, like reporter Matt Krupnick of the Contra Costa Times and the Oakland Tribune, are skeptical of these claims, stating that "UC is not considering a 20% tuition hike for next fall." But instead of just discounting these rumors, the Bay Citizen actually followed up on them:
[UC Budget Director Patrick] Lenz told The Bay Citizen that students asked him about whether the UC Regents would consider fee hikes at their November meeting and how large the fee hikes could be.

Lenz told the students fee hikes would be considered that could "range anywhere from 0 to 20 percent."

"I was trying to give a very broad picture to students," he said. "I don't believe for a minute that 20 percent is going to be considered."

Last November, the UC Regents passed a 32 percent fee hike that was implemented over the spring and fall 2010 semesters.

Information about student fee considerations will be available early next month when the agenda for the upcoming regents meeting is released.
The increase could be anywhere from 0 to 20 percent. In other words, the original rumor was exactly right: UC is in fact considering another tuition hike of up to 20 percent. This is one of the issues that will be decided on at the next Regents' meeting at UCSF Mission Bay campus, on November 16-18.

Update [Friday 10/15]: It should be pointed out that an alternative interpretation of these rumors is that the UCOP and the UC Regents want to raise tuition by, say, 10 percent, and are intentionally floating the possibility of a 20 percent hike in an attempt to preemptively minimize the outrage in November.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

October 7 [Updated]

Sit-in at North Reading Room of main library.
Updates and photos at Occupy CA.

Update [Friday]: Student Activism wonders:
The sit-in broke up around seven o’clock or a little earlier. Neither the Occupy CA liveblog, the Daily Cal liveblog, nor the Daily Cal morning story say exactly why . . .

Update [several days later]: On a related note, check out "A Call for Disassembly" from Anti-Capital Projects.

Update [even later]: See also.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

An Open Letter to UC Berkeley Students

From Mobilize Berkeley:
Over the last school year, we’ve seen tuition increase by 32% and massive cuts to every sector of our campus from academic departments, to maintenance staffing. This is old news.

Just this semester, the Chancellor announced his intention to eliminate 200 campus faculty and staff positions, Chicano Studies and Asian American Studies as majors may disappear, and there’s been a 12% drop in Latino admissions.

Meanwhile, investigative reporter Peter Byrne has uncovered some disturbing facts about the UC Regent’s use of the UC’s investment fund. In 2003, three Regents restructured the UC’s investment fund, investing in risky financial instruments, making students and workers poorer, and making themselves richer in the process. To put it shortly:

many of these deals, while potentially lucrative, have lost significant amounts of money for UC’s retirement and endowment funds, which were worth $63 billion at the end of 2009. (These losses ultimately reduce the amount spent on education, since the endowment supports teaching activities.) And the non-transparency of these private deals enabled multiple conflicts of interest to arise without challenge.

You can rest assured knowing that every time your fees go up UC Regent Richard Blum, with his investments in for-profit private colleges, gets a little bit richer. As if to add insult to injury, at the last Regents meeting the Regents voted unanimously to cut pensions for the UC’s lowest paid workers and to increase the pensions of the UC’s 250 highest paid employees. This news comes only a few short weeks after the New York Times and other major news agencies reported that, before moving to his new mansion in Lafayette, UC President Mark Yudof racked up $70,000 worth of damages to his previous UC mansion.

As students, we are asked to take out more loans that force us into jobs we don’t like to pay off debt we can’t afford for the privilege of getting a lower quality education. We are then told to kindly shut up and move along when we voice our reasonable conclusions: that the crisis of our university is not just a lack of state funding, that UC administrators give the public little reason to believe that new funds will be used in a reasonable or just manner, and that the governance structure of the UC is fundamentally flawed.

Over the last year, tens of thousands of UC students, workers, and faculty stood up, walked out, sat-in, occupied, and disrupted business as usual, forcing the governor to restore funding to public higher education. His chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, stated “those protests on the U.C. campuses were the tipping point. Our university system is going to get the support it deserves.”

And while we await the materialization of those hollow words (the California budget is over 80 days late, the restorations are not enough, and they will come from cuts to essential social services), we again look to ourselves, the students of the U.C., as well as the workers, faculty, and community members with whom we’ve built solidarity over the last year, for the strength to change the status quo.

UC Berkeley Student Conduct Makes Up the Rules as They Go

Good reporting from the Daily Cal:
Months after students were charged with misconduct for their involvement in demonstrations last November, conduct hearings commenced last Thursday, but questions about UC Berkeley officials' handling of the cases have clouded the proceedings in controversy.

The proceedings, since their inception, have been fraught with multiple allegations of procedural violations on the part of the Office of Student Conduct. In response to these allegations, officials from both the campus and the office said they could not comment on specific cases but said they follow procedure as laid out by the campus code of conduct.

"The code is just a tool for (the office) -- they use it when it's to their own advantage and ignore it when it isn't," said Daniela Urban, a student at the UC Berkeley School of Law and member of the Campus Rights Project who has been advising students charged with conduct violations. "They don't see the code as a written text they have to adhere to."


The Timeline

According to students, the delays in proceedings may be attributed primarily to the suspension of the timeline for conduct hearings as well as to the multiple iterations of the code, both of which complicated the proceedings.

Campus officials and students worked on changes to the code over spring and summer 2009 but did not institute the new code until the beginning of spring 2010.

Provisions in the code have always maintained that students be charged within 30 days of misconduct and tried 45 days after being charged. But the old code reserved the right to suspend the timeline expressly to the Dean of Students, currently Jonathan Poullard. The new code allows either the dean, or his or her designee, to suspend the code.

Poullard could not be reached for comment as of press time.

But Christina Gonzales, associate dean of students, suspended the code in August 2009, before the new code was instituted, in response to budget-induced campus-wide furloughs. She said given the days that staff would be able to work, the timeline was no longer "feasible."

Students charged for conduct violations during the protests in November 2009 argued that the timeline's suspension was invalid because the language of the code at the time of the suspension precluded Gonzales from suspending the timeline.

"Suspending the timeline has had the most significant impact," Urban said. "Every time something doesn't happen, (the office says) the timeline has been suspended. It's absurd, stringing these people along for 10 months."

Gonzales has maintained that she had the authority to suspend the code because Poullard was "out of the office," and in his absence, she is the acting dean of students.

Civil Action

If the delays continue, bringing the issue to court is an option that is on the table, according to Dan Siegel, a civil rights lawyer with Oakland-based law firm Siegel & Yee, which has been supervising the law students who are advising the students facing misconduct charges.

In April, the firm issued a letter to campus officials demanding unrestricted legal representation for students and the dismissal of charges against students charged with misconduct during fall 2009's protests. Later that month, the campus responded to the firm, dismissing its demands.

The group is considering asking a judge to issue an injunction either forbidding the university from proceeding with the charges or at least ordering the campus to resolve the hearings quickly, Siegel said.

"We're kind of at the end of our rope here," he said. "We thought that the university would move promptly to get these cases solved when school started, but we've been involved in what seems like endless conversations and prehearings and hearings that are rescheduled, postponed and cancelled at the last minute."

According to Gonzales, students should be able to resolve the issues without having to turn to outside mediation.

"The students on this campus are some of the smartest in the world along with our staff and faculty," Gonzales said. "We should be able to resolve this."