By Rei Terada
[Audio version here]
The moment we’re in right now is auspicious, fragile, and surprisingly well-defined. The thing that strikes me most about the moment is how much it is a particular moment, with specific characteristics and borders. It appears as the clearest-looking and most pregnant moment since students starting taking action in Fall 2009. It’s the moment we’ve hoped to attain since Fall 2009. And now that it’s here, it won’t last long.
In Fall 2009, UC’s upper administration must have assumed that they could wait out the student movement. This assumption has been proven false by a relatively small core of student activists who weathered a very difficult year in 2010-2011. What resources does the administration have for surviving the student movement, so that it can go ahead with privatization? (1) The frequent and intimidating use of the UCPD; (2) the criminalization of protest, including prosecution in criminal courts; (3) control of the UC bureaucracy; (4) a media strategy of deflecting attention to the Legislature (a strategy whose logical end would be the headline “Regents On Same Page with Angry Mob”); (5) unlimited funds at their disposal to pursue 1-4.
But we have seen the weaknesses in these strategies.
Policing and criminalization have not stopped the protests. In fact, they have got in the way of the UC media strategy, as public attention has turned from the budget shortfall to outrages that UC administrators themselves are ordering. This means that two of the five fronts that UC administration has controlled have shifted, and their media strategy is damaged. They realize this, and they’re not sure what to do about it. The cancelled CSU meeting, semi-cancelled Regents meeting, new rules for protesters issued by UC Riverside, the responses of the Regents to the interruption of their meeting, the response of UC San Diego to students breaking into their library on Monday, and the various appointed commissions are all examples of administrative reaction to the transformation of the police and criminalization arenas. One thing that can be gleaned from the assorted reactions is that it’s likely to be a long time before police do anything incriminating on camera again. I think activists realize that in future, UCPD is not likely to offer up such means for galvanizing campus solidarity as the pepper spray video has been. Of course, I’m not saying that UCPD is going to be non-violent now, but rather that it’s not likely to be the kind of violence that you can photograph. We’ll need to find other ways to photograph privatization, and other ways to continue trying to get through to the media what privatization is.
In order to explain why I think getting through to the press matters, I need to go back to my list of UC administrators’ resources. Of those categories of resources, their strongholds are their ability to fund infinitely their usurpation projects and their control of the bureaucracy. What is a UC administrator? What makes Dean Edley possible? Where is Dean Edley manufactured? I’ve been a department chair, if of a small department, and in my experience the existential substance of an administrator depends on (a) funds and (b) the internal politics of bureaucracy understood in terms of detachable self-interests, otherwise known as: what other administrators think. In my time as a chair, the only way it was possible to get anything to happen was to make or threaten to make one administrator look bad in the eyes of another. It’s to this extent that administrators care about the media: when they look bad in the press, it matters because other administrators are watching.
The Regents have defined their funding as private funding, and given the confluence of their interests and the interests of their private funders—who are often enough one and the same, as in the person of Richard Blum—they’re never going to run out of it. However, attacks on the salaries of the administration are worthwhile. They’re worthwhile not because they solve the budget crisis, as the Regents like to say, but for every other reason: first of all because they speak to justice and the broader Occupy movement and the press understands that; secondly because the funds are real and certainly would be more useful almost anywhere else; but also because we might take the administration at its word and consider the possibility that “talented people,” by which they mean themselves, would flee the UC system if their salaries were lowered at all. If upper administration cares about its salaries so much—enough to keep incurring bad publicity, which they also care about—we should keep attacking their salaries, and most of all, their ability to set their own salaries.
But that’s a minor point: the goal is not merely to pick off Regents but to change social relations.
So now I come to the last resource they have, control of the bureaucracy through control of the support of other administrators. At this point, UC bureaucracy has a complex relationship to faculty governance. Upper administration has avoided and circumvented faculty governance to advance privatization, for example by operating through appointed task forces interpolated into the system of standing Academic Senate committees. Yet they still rely on faculty to staff these task forces and to deliberate on and implement their conclusions. Thus, it remains inescapable to consider the role of the faculty and the question of the relation of representational procedural democracy to the movement to Reclaim UC. My impression is that so far, most UC faculty have considered it their role—our role?—their role—to fight privatization through the given governance and social structures, regardless of what their political beliefs are off campus. In other words, people who aren’t proceduralist liberals off campus or in their writing on campus fight privatization through Senate committees, faculty associations, and social groups committed to a dialectic of recognition with the administrators as antagonists. The idea is that even as direct actions by students are going on, these representational and discursive realms remain worth intervening in and reflect a kind of division of labor between students and faculty. (It’s also not a negligible factor that the Faculty Code of Conduct may be even more repressive than the Student Code of Conduct.)
I’d like to suggest that given the significance of bureaucracy as an administrative stronghold, the arena of bureaucracy is worth intervening in if and only if the legitimacy of governance by upper administration is negated by the intervention. A professor who agrees to be on a committee thinking that from that position she’ll be able to limit damage and fearing that if she is not on it things will be even worse is not negating the legitimacy of the administration, so that should not be done.
But a resolution introduced in the Academic Senate, or issued by an individual department, stating that the Regents should not be allowed to set the salaries of upper administrators would reject their legitimacy and would be worth doing, not least because it would be news. A resolution by the Riverside Academic Senate, or individual departments, rejecting the brutish rules for protest that UCR’s Dean of Students has just invented would negate their legitimacy and would be worth doing. One of the remarkable things that happened quietly a couple of weeks ago which shouldn’t be lost amid the spectacular things that also happened is that the departments of Asian-American Studies, English, and Physics, as well as a group of historians, at Davis released statements expressing no confidence in their chancellor autonomously, without going through a given bureaucratic structure for resolutions or comment. Nor did they speak as atomized individuals gathered temporarily on a petition. Rather, they identified themselves as un-Chancellor-friendly ongoing spaces and created a new form of relation to Davis administration. Further, they pulled the Law faculty into responding to them in kind.
The faculty response at Davis was the first instance that I know of that the Administration’s hold on the bureaucracy itself—its structure and its hegemonic representative capacity for faculty—could be weakening. If they lose their grip on the bureaucracy, the upper administration will be exposed to the contempt of their national peers; and being administrators, they would experience that as an existential threat.
So I’m brought around to something I never thought I would recommend: faculty reinforcements—faculty participation of a targeted sort—in the movement to Reclaim UC, so that we can follow these departments at Davis into a new area of contestation. Public response to the acts of Berkeley professors Celeste Langan, Robert Hass and Geoffrey O’Brien, who were beaten alongside student protesters by Berkeley police on November 9, show that professorial participation in anything that delegitimates the Administration is disproportionately effective. The disproportion is disturbing because a faculty body seems to be worth more than a student body. That’s a problem. But only their participation could bring that problem to light where it otherwise would have remained hidden. In order to keep and increase pressure on the administration at this moment when the police front may be disappearing from visibility, one thing we should do—faculty and students (and here I have just used a version of the first person plural that I thought no longer existed)—is negate the legitimacy of the police-related commissions, especially the ones farcically composed by Yudof. Their egregiousness is legible, even to the uninitiated, even to the press; and for that reason they are an excellent introduction to privatization and anti-privatization.
The People’s Police Review Board deploys a principle we all need to support. If faculty show up at a stop of Dean Edley’s listening tour among protesters making it clear that it’s outrageous that the event is happening at all, that will be disproportionately useful. Boycotting the events, making it clear why not to show up, would also be useful. Instituting an actual alternative review board on whatever collective level is possible would be excellent. Why wait for Yudof to withdraw his appointments? Why shouldn’t faculty and students form an alternative body and demand that the witnesses responding to Yudof’s review respond, while they’re at it, to our own?
What matters here is form and principle. The outcome would not be merely the propositional conclusion of the investigation, nor UCPD’s refusal to comply with one, and the corresponding demands these events would generate. Rather, what’s important is the capacity of self-respecting communal forms to dramatize the administration’s illegitimacy using Yudof’s commission as an illustration. Given that faculty bodies are worth more to the University and media than student bodies, students are going to have a much harder time delegitimating the administration without this particular kind of faculty support: the kind that involves professors’ asking themselves, What are we doing to legitimate and delegitimate privatization?, ceasing to do the former and making sure to do the latter. The grievable faculty body reaps advantage every time faculty appear in the service of delegitimation, and only then.
To sum up, then: many areas of the struggle are changing rapidly and some may be vanishing as we have known them. These sudden shifts in terrain reflect the pain the movement is inflicting on the Administration and the unevenness of its reactions. Things are moving so rapidly that we could easily fail to adjust. If that happened, it could be difficult to get into a similar place again. So winter quarter is the time to expand into the very areas into which the Regents have retreated by undermining the conditions that support administrators as administrators, and which are their main refuge, and making this effort literally visible (everything now should be photographed and filmed as artfully as we can manage it). Funding they will always have; but with their contacts, they can just as well have it somewhere else, and I suspect that thought has flitted through the mind of every UC administrator. Contesting administrators’ control of bureaucracy matters because they experience that control as the anchor of their identity, and this is one of their limitations, a soft spot in their mental and material organization. My philosophical emphasis is on non-instrumental and negative thought and non-teleological self-constitution, so it may seem to go against the grain to have offered reflections that are so prosaic. But this is a matter of historical and perceptual scale. There is a degree of magnification, a middle distance, that is always prosaic even as it is surrounded by an infinite and unsystemizable complexity. Needless to say, all of this is worth doing regardless of what happens after.