Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Student Protest

Our compañeros over at thosewhouseit mentioned this interview the other day, but we hadn't seen the video. For some reason, the whole interview didn't make it into the transcript. Anyway, we've been meaning to write something about it for awhile, but today there's an op-ed by English postdoc Brendan Prawdzik in the Daily Cal that beat us to it. The piece does a good job of taking down the language used both by Newsom and by Chancellor Bobby Birgeneau on the day of the protest, which, if you'll remember, was coded in typical administrative bureaucracy-speak. Anyway, here's a chunk of the piece:
When on the afternoon of March 3 student protesters took to the roof of Wheeler Hall to challenge repeated cuts to their education coupled with repeated "fee" increases (in "Truespeak," don't we really mean "tuition"?) Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who, in my experience, has never appeared afraid of email prolixity, issued to students and faculty the following two-sentence pronouncement: "The campus is dealing with a health and safety issue in Wheeler Hall and the building is closed. All classes and events scheduled in Wheeler Hall for this afternoon/evening are cancelled until further notice."

The email is both deceptive and insulting. It is a clear sign of the disconnect between the university's privileged administrators, answerable to no democratic process, and the university's students, upon whose backs our bloody budgets continue to be carved.

The email is inaccurate because administrators and police, and not students, made the choice to close down Wheeler Hall. When there was a real threat to public safety, this came from the police themselves, who (we all know) have upon several recent occasions beaten students taking action against the administration. We are all familiar with their barricades and batons: ironic symbols of "free speech" at Berkeley these days. (I say nothing about the UCPD officer who pointed a loaded gun at protesters in November.) I must assume that Birgeneau is an intelligent man with a strong command of the English language. As such, I must also assume that he was intent on deceiving the Berkeley community by sparsely referring to a "health and safety issue." For those unaware of the protests, the email works against awareness. For those aware, it implies that the protesters were solely responsible for the "health and safety" issue, for classes being cancelled and office hours cut short (as were mine, by a bevy of officers).

Regent Gavin Newsom certainly comprehends the situation this way, as evidenced by an interview published March 31, in The Daily Californian. Therein, Newsom declares that he "completely understand(s)" student frustration but that "when people start locking themselves in and denying other people access that are innocent in terms of the debate and when people start to incite behavior that can actually start tipping and losing support, that's when I just want to pause and say, 'Hey guys, you don't need to go this far.'"

Thanks for the fatherly advice, Regent Newsom. But you see, it was the police who locked everybody out, not the protesters. It was the police who "den(ied) other ('innocent') people access." Moreover, it was certainly the police who "start(ed) to incite behavior ... tipping" students not against the protesters but rather against the police and the administration. From widespread local and national news reports, it was clear to me that the administration embarrassed itself that day: the protesters held the high ground at night, and were celebrated by their fellow students. The victory proudly adorned the front page of the next morning's Daily Californian. With such extensive coverage, I expected more words from our Chancellor. I guess that he was content with his two-line, absurdly euphemistic dismissal.
Read the rest here. As for the "health and safety issue," we'd like to once again recommend our piece "Health and Safety on the Wheeler Ledge."

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