Tuesday, March 8, 2011

On the Edge

Photo: Marika Iyer and Alex Barnett, two of the nine protesters on the Wheeler ledge, take to the Daily Cal:
On March 2, a national day of action to defend public education, 17 people were arrested for refusing to leave Wheeler Hall. Less than 24 hours later, nine students locked themselves to a ledge atop the building, four stories above ground, with four demands:
  1. Stop the $1.4 billion in cuts to California public education.
  2. Allow democratic decision making in the budgetary process.
  3. An end to student repression through a politically motivated student conduct process.
  4. An immediate end to Operational Excellence (OE), the campus's budget cut program.
UC Berkeley sophomore Jessica Astillero recounts her experience: "I was sitting in one of the doorways studying, when all of a sudden riot police rushed up the steps and told us to move. As we did, they started shoving us and the next thing I know, I get hit with a baton in the face and then another officer maced me right in the eyes ... it was a ridiculously excessive use of force for such a peaceful demonstration."
Several questions have been raised about last Thursday's action:
What was accomplished? What does this demonstrate? This action witnessed the first concrete victories since protests began in fall 2009; specifically: one, a decisive end to past and present conduct charges which the campus has used to intimidate students from engaging in political action, and two, a meeting between Chancellor Birgeneau, the chair of Operational Excellence, and the students and workers on campus who are directly affected by its proposed implementation. The events of March 3 also clearly demonstrated the value and necessity of direct action. The administration has proven that they will not respond to anything but the most spectacular expressions of student dissent. Once again, this has exposed the administration's complete disregard for the collective will and well-being of students and workers and has brought to attention the authoritarian logic governing the campus.
Why is there so much scrutiny on UC Berkeley administrative decision-making, when all energy could be directed towards the cuts coming out of Sacramento? The concrete situation we are experiencing on our campus and systemwide has as much to do with the administration's prioritization of funds as it does with cuts at the state level. Operational Excellence - our university's internal restructuring program - comes out of last year's $3 million contract with consulting firm Bain & Company. Not only is it irresponsible for our administration to pay out that much in contracting costs in these conditions but also the move emphasizes their utter inability to "administer" the campus (the job they claim requires a six-figure salary) as well as their exclusion of those most affected by the restructuring from important decision-making processes.
Additionally, OE is branded as eliminating excessive bureaucratic and managerial layers, yet staff have already buckled under the added strain resulting from last year's layoffs. Rather than eliminating unneeded positions, OE is eliminating vital positions and reallocating that work to the remaining staff members; this is nothing short of exploitation. Top administrative ranks, however, remain untouched. We also shouldn't be quick to forget the university administration's use of promised fee increases as construction collateral as well as their opting for riskier investments which cost the university $23 billion in the 2008 recession. The administration does not have its hands tied as it would like us all to think - it very much has control over the allocation of what funds are at its disposal.
What's next? Chancellor Birgeneau should be meeting regularly with concerned students, not least the departments and programs that are being affected by such unilateral decision-making. He must be accessible. He cannot hide in an office or a house - we must have these conversations, and they must be public. The administration's attitude echoes that of President of the University of California Mark Yudof - "being president of the University of California is like being manager of a cemetery: There are many people under you, but no one is listening ... "
We are here to tell the administration: We are not corpses. The chancellor, provost, vice chancellor, dean of students and any other unilateral decision-maker on our campus must realize: This action was a response to their consistent refusal to make themselves accountable to those who work and study on campus. As students, we will not tolerate this any longer.
For more information, check out reclaimuc.blogspot.com and thosewhouseit.wordpress.com.

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