Monday, February 27, 2012

Why Strike; Why March; Why Occupy?

In less than a week, another round of protest on behalf of public education will commence. This Thursday, March 1st, students and educational workers across California, as well as other states, will hold teach-ins, rallies, and walkouts at their schools and universities; in doing so, they'll begin shaping the latest sequence of what's become a multi-year struggle against rising student fees, layoffs of instructors and service workers, the re-segregation of our campuses, and massive budget cuts to all levels of public education.

At UC Berkeley, the plan for the day is to converge around California Hall at 8am for a kickoff action, which will lead into the Occupy Cal open university, featuring dozens of self-organized workshops and teach-ins. The March 1st planning committee is asking all instructors to either cancel, reschedule, or take outside your classes, in order to allow students to participate in the open university and other strike actions. At noon, the open university will give way to a short rally at Sproul, followed by a march down Telegraph Avenue to Oscar Grant Plaza – the East Bay convergence site for the day.

In Oakland, students from various schools and universities will gather at 2pm in order to take direct action against banks that profit off of student debt, and to hold a send-off event for those planning to march, over the next four days, all the way from Oakland to UC Davis. The “99 Mile March for Education and Social Justice” will then wind through northern California, stopping each night in a different town to discuss with local residents the current crisis of education and to build support for the March 5th occupation of the capitol.

On Monday the 5th, people from across the state will converge on Sacramento in order to occupy the state capitol building. The occupation of the capitol will coincide with, and unsettle, the annual “March in March” – a mass lobbying day organized by student government representatives from the Community Colleges, CSUs, and UCs. Those occupying the capitol hope to shift the dynamics of the day: rather than soliciting legislators, they want to reclaim the state building for a people's assembly and thus to displace the very state representatives who've defunded and privatized our schools.

What follows are some reflections about the timeliness and purpose of this particular sequence of actions. Hopefully, you'll find some of the following arguments worthwhile, and will end up deciding – whether for these reasons or for others – to take part in the campus strike, the long march, and/or the occupation of the capitol.

Why strike?

In recent years, the strike – a core tactic of the labor movement – has been taken up by university students in their struggles against fee hikes, and against the ever-increasing debt burdens that follow from rising tuition rates. In the UC system, for instance, student fees have increased from $4,000 dollars per year in 2004 to nearly $13,000 dollars today. Similar shifts are taking place at public universities across the country; total student debt nationwide now exceeds 1 trillion dollars. (For a graphic depiction of the structural, economic forces driving the growth of tuition and student debt, see here; for a more comprehensive account of how student debt has recently been financialized, see here).

Last fall, UC President Yudof floated a long-term financial plan that, if implemented, could have raised in-state tuition to as much as $22,000 dollars per year. In the face of significant campus protests – including a wave of student strikes from mid-November to early December – the UC Regents decided to table Yudof's proposal, and to hold off on raising fees for the rest of the academic year. They're already considering a fee hike for this summer though, meaning that without further protest actions – up to and including strikes – we'll likely face future rounds of tuition increases, even if Yudof's extreme proposal to raise fees by 81% will almost certainly never be revived.

The student strike is clearly an effective tactic in resisting fee hikes, university privatization, and intensifying student debt burdens. It's worth considering though, whether and how a tactic associated with labor struggles makes sense when employed by university students. How are students, who generally don't earn wages for the time they spend in class, able to strike in any meaningful sense of the term? And doesn't walking out harm the student herself, who is seeking an education, just as much as it affects university administrators, who, after all, don't have any immediate financial stake in courses being held as usual?

Student strikes are best understood, I think, as actions that indirectly disrupt processes of accumulation, or as actions that raise the specter of such disruption, even if they don't immediately block flows of capital or halt production processes. To abandon the classroom – whether through the initiative of students, instructors, or both – is to initiate a rupture with what has become a site of hyper-exploitation in the contemporary university. Undergraduate classes, particularly classes taught by graduate student instructors or adjunct lecturers, generate massive surpluses for university administrators, who often divert these surpluses into construction or research projects that produce profits for particular university Regents. At the University of Michigan, for instance, the typical TA-taught class generates $20,000 dollars in profit for the university. This profit is underwritten not only by under-compensated graduate student and custodial labor, but also by the future labor of undergraduate students (which is available to the university upfront thanks to the existence of student loans).

While a day-long student strike may not materially affect these exploitative dynamics, such an action shows the possibility that such dynamics might be more consequentially undone – either through semester- or year-long strikes, or through grading/finals strikes, all of which would interrupt what is a central transaction of contemporary university life: the payment of debt-financed funds for course credits. This possibility is what unsettles university administrators about student strikes.

If student strikes thus rattle university administrators, don't they also negatively affect students' education? A bit, perhaps; though last fall's Occupy Cal open university – where members of the campus community organized autonomous workshops and teach-ins during the afternoon of November 15th – showed that education could continue even after classrooms had been (temporarily) abandoned. On the morning of March 1st, we'll be holding another open university, which will hopefully reinvigorate the open university working group, so that public workshops and classes will continue to be organized, and to meet outside, for the remainder of the semester. The best way to get a sense of how the open university tends to loosen academic hierarchies, and how it points toward an alternative educational practice is to participate directly in the project this coming Thursday – to lead a workshop, you just need to fill out the form here.

Before the open university begins, a group of students and workers will also gather at California Hall to engage in a relatively low-risk action designed to disrupt business as usual for the Chancellors. It's important that we not only craft – at the open university – a positive, prefigurative vision of what education could be like, but also that we concretely challenge the authority of campus administrators, particularly given recent incidents of police violence at Berkeley, Davis, and Riverside. Campus-level administrators, the chancellors in particular, are charged not only with carrying out local austerity measures, but also with containing student and worker protest, including protest against educational privatization. With respect to the former charge, Chancellor Birgeneau has in the past three years hired the Bain consulting firm to advise the university about how to lay off staff members in order to cut costs (rather than cutting upper administrators' salaries and positions), has instituted a series of reforms that have increased undergraduate class sizes, and has altered admissions practices to favor wealthy out of state students over working class California residents.

With respect to the latter charge – to contain protest – Chancellors Birgeneau and Breslauer have consistently, over the past three years, employed severe police force, as well as disciplinary sanctions, to repress student protest. We recently learned through a freedom of information act request that the two chancellors were in communication on November 9th, and that Chancellor Birgeneau reaffirmed that day his support for violent police intervention, including baton strikes, to clear a handful of tents on Sproul. He suggested callously that those involved with Occupy Cal, “obviously … want[ed] exactly such a confrontation.” These revelations directly contradict his subsequent testimony, in front of the Academic Senate, where he claimed not to have authorized the use of baton strikes against student protesters, that he was out of the loop on the ninth, and that he was shocked when he learned of what happened. Taking action to disrupt the Chancellors' work day on March 1st is, in part, a way to refuse to let recent police and administrative violence fade into the vaguely remembered past. It's also a way to reaffirm the view that austerity for students and workers, coupled with relative security for upper administrators, is not an acceptable response to contracting state support for the university.

Following the morning actions, there will be a noon rally at Sproul, and then a march down Telegraph Avenue to Oscar Grant Plaza (14th and Broadway). The walk down Telegraph will echo two marches that took place last fall; the first on November 2, when Berkeley students took the streets to join the Oakland general strike; the second when members of Occupy Oakland marched north to join the mass, Occupy Cal general assembly on November 15th. The cross-regional solidarity manifested through these marches, as well as through dozens of other coordinated acts of protest, was part of what made last fall so massive across the bay area. As the 1969 Third World Liberation Front Strike demonstrates – where solidarity strikes by Oakland municipal workers ultimately compelled UC Berkeley Administrators to concede to students' demands – university struggles are always much stronger when they're articulated with broader social uprisings, as has been the case this past year with the Occupy movement, and particularly with Occupy Oakland.

Not only is the march to Oakland this Thursday meant to sustain relations of mutual solidarity with Occupy Oakland, but it's also meant to demonstrate the cross-sectoral quality of the current public education movement. The UCs are not the center of organizing this spring; in the Bay Area, Berkeley High, Laney College, and SF State are all centrally shaping the upcoming week of action. Laney and Berkeley students will be meeting in Oakland, just as Berkeley High students will be holding an autonomous action in MLK Park (to be joined briefly by the 99 Mile March), and as students in San Francisco will be meeting up by the Civic Center for a string of actions. Santa Cruz has also emerged as a center of strike organizing this spring. In southern California, meanwhile, an organizing body composed of activists from dozens of schools and universities has been meeting since the winter to plan concerted actions in March, and to begin building for a strike on May 1st. The kind of cross-sectoral and cross-regional coordination that we've seen this spring is significant, not only because it helps prevent the state from pitting one college or university system against the others, but also because the fate of our various schools and universities are tied up together. As Bob Meister has shown, privatizing reforms in one sector of higher education reverberate throughout the system, affecting all students:
As tuition rises, students eligible for UC transfer down to get cheaper credits and degrees in the CSU system, which has turned away in recent years more than 40,000 eligible California students as of two years ago. This affects the California Community Colleges (CCCs), where a recent study shows that an increasing number of degree-seeking students, including 19 percent of blacks and 16 percent of Latinos, will eventually transfer to a for-profit that does not require them to have transferrable credits, or even a high school diploma. After six years, 70 percent of degree-seeking community college students will have dropped out and only 15 percent will have fulfilled the “Master Plan Intent” of completing the first two years of the requirements for a bachelor’s degree at UC or California State University (CSU) .... Higher prices at UC have thus produced enrollment bottlenecks at the CCC level, where according to a new survey one-third of all students could not get into the courses they needed as compared to one-sixth nationally who face the same problem. Jobless, low-income students, no longer well served by community colleges, find places in federally financed for-profit schools that expand to meet demand and allow them to live on credit and student grants for as long as they are willing to borrow for tuition.

In sum, the California Master Plan for Higher Education is now operating in reverse. Higher prices at UC have produced a downward cascade of enrollments within the public system .... The effect of growing debt-aversion at the top is that students with fewer choices at the bottom end up with a large amount of debt and a low likelihood of being able to repay it.

On March 1st, students from schools across the state will continue our coordinated push-back against these systemic processes of privatization, which are contributing to the re-segregation of our universities, to the re-entrenchment of class and race inequalities, and to the indebting of a generation.

Why march to Sacramento?

If the student strike has become a relatively standard tactic in recent years, there are a number of actions being planning for the next week that constitute significant departures for the California public education movement. The first of these actions is the “99 Mile March for Education and Social Justice,” which will involve students and educational workers, mostly from northern California schools, walking on foot over the course of four days, all the way from Oakland to UC Davis. Each night, we'll stop in a town along the way, meet with local students and workers, share dinner, and build relationships that will hopefully form the basis of collaborative organizing in the future. We'll arrive at UC Davis on Sunday the 4th, thus forming a physical connection between two of the centers of student protest in November 2011, and will join the Occupy UC Davis encampment for the night. Then, on the 5th, we'll travel with Davis students to Sacramento, in time for the actions around the Capitol building.

If you want to join the march, you can find out more about what the event will entail and can sign up here. To join at the last minute, you can just bring a sleeping bag, sleeping pad (if you have one), and a bag with a few changes of clothes, toiletries, good shoes and a hat. March organizers will provide tents, food, water, and medical supplies, and will be able to transport your luggage from one base camp to the next.

Part of what's exciting about the long march through northern California is that it both draws upon recent experiences of encampment – where groups of relative strangers worked together to meet each others' basic needs and to sustain and build a collective life – even as it recasts the logic of the outdoor occupation or encampment. In moving from place to place, the long march, with its roving encampment, suggests a particular relation to space and to social power. The roving encampment reveals something that's been generally true about the occupy movement from the beginning, but that can sometimes be forgotten or neglected: namely, that the purpose of the encampment is not to lay claim to a particular, delimited space, but actually to undo state and corporate claims to space, to overcome the emptiness and artificial boundaries these entities would like to impose on public parks and squares. Encampments are constantly changing sites through which our bodies can circulate, can be nourished and supported, can sleep for a spell, and can meet and plan how to build more expansive, autonomous worlds. The long march, with its constantly shifting character – now in the road, now in a park, now on another campus – is one way to overcome the imposed emptiness of public space, and to sustain each other as we move from here to there.

The long march doesn't simply draw on recent experiences with the occupy movement however, it also resonates with more enduring histories of struggle, particularly those connected to movements against racism and colonialism. As a recently-published call for submissions for a pamphlet on long marches notes:
Traversing great distances on foot has long been part of the tradition of popular resistance. Perhaps one thinks of Gandhi’s 241-mile journey across the Indian subcontinent, which he undertook in 1930 in opposition to the British Salt Tax. Or perhaps one thinks back to 1960, when about six hundred Americans participated in the Selma-to-Montgomery March for voting rights. The first time the Montgomery-bound protestors set out, they were met with billy clubs and tear gas. A second attempt was made, and after making their way across highway and mead, they arrived at the Alabama state capitol.

Part of the purpose of the long march to Sacramento is to take time to recall these particular histories, as well as, among others, the history of the United Farm Workers' march through the central valley, and to consider how these past episodes of struggle might inform current movements against inequality.

It's striking: over the past few years, student organizers have repeatedly been told by our administrators to “go to Sacramento.” This dictate has been one of their most persistent rhetorical moves, designed to divert attention from their own involvement in university privatization, to split us geographically from our campus bases, and to suck our energies into tidy rallies and lobbying days at the capitol building. After three years, organizers from various schools have finally decided collectively to go to Sacramento; and while there is some risk in doing so, we're trying to go there on our own terms, and in our own time. We'll be meandering there, occupying roads and meeting new comrades along the way, thus turning the trip itself into a direct action of its own.

Why occupy the capitol?

If the long walk through northern California shifts what it means to “go to Sacramento,” the plan for the 5th also inverts what our Administrators have had in mind when they've told us to take our cause to the state capitol. (If you are interested in riding a bus to Sacramento on the 5th, you can sign up here).

In recent years, student government representatives have organized demonstrations and lobbying days in early March, designed to appeal to state legislators and to limit the damage these representatives have annually done to our schools and universities. This year, a similar initiative is underway, with representation from the UCs, CSUs, and Community Colleges, which actually are governed, to a certain degree, out of Sacramento. But those calling for the occupation of the capitol are hoping to radicalize the day, in part by inviting those present for the lobbying efforts to join an ongoing peoples' assembly, where discussions about how best to occupy the grounds of the capitol, and about how to turn this event into a galvanizing rupture with Jerry Brown's austerity-based politics, will be ongoing. By the evening, we're hoping to have mass support and participation for what could become a sustained occupation of the capitol building, along the lines of the 2011 capitol occupations in Madison, Wisconsin.

The occupations in Wisconsin were ultimately diverted into a recall campaign (which has not yet borne fruit); but while the capitol remained occupied, it seemed that more transformative, mass actions – up to and including a general strike – could perhaps be on the horizon. Now, with general strike calls for May 1st emerging from assemblies across the country, it seems that a mass strike, or at least its partial, unevenly realized shadow, could actually take shape over the next couple of months. A successful, multi-day occupation of the state capitol just might provide the spark necessary to convert what remains at the moment a relatively abstract strike call into something that holds some force, and that feels real to workers, students, and unemployed people from various sectors and regions of the state.

It's important, especially in this election year, for us to continue building these sorts of mass, extra-parliamentary direct actions. For, while there are some potentially promising ballot initiatives being proposed for November – including a tax on millionaires and an oil extraction tax, both of which would help restore state funding for public education and social services – the ballot box remains a woefully insufficient mechanism of social transformation. Even if we are able to partially restore state funding to our schools and universities, we'll need mass movements to ensure that this money is used to rehire workers, to restore pensions, and to lower student tuition levels. Moreover, without the pressure that strikes and free schools provide, we'll not be able to fundamentally alter the relations of university life, to undo the unaccountable power of the Administration and Regents, the impunity of the police, and the basic dispossession of the student and worker. While this week's actions won't realize such transformations in one fell swoop, they have the potential, with broad participation, to quicken these long, jagged walks we're on toward less damaging and more emancipated worlds.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Quan Land

UC Chancellor Robert Birgeneau: "It is critical that we do not back down on our no encampment policy. Otherwise, we will end up in Quan land."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Another Round of UC Construction Bonds Backed By Tuition Hikes

The Daily Cal reports:
The California State Treasurer’s Office sold $860 million worth of University of California 100-year bonds, which will be used to fund capital projects at the university, to 70 large investors Tuesday.

The money raised from the sale of the bonds — which mature over the course of a century and pay about 4.9 percent semiannual interest rates in May and November — will be used for long-term UC capital projects approved by the UC Board of Regents, according to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein. The bonds will also fund individual capital projects at UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and UCLA, including a portion of the repair of Memorial Stadium, according to Klein.


UC bond sales are part of standard operating procedure and take place a handful of times each year, but this sale was unprecedented because of its 100-year maturation period combined with the large value of the sale, according to Tom Dresslar, director of communications at the treasury.

The 100-year bonds were designed to appeal to institutional investors, including insurance companies, hedge funds, banks and pension funds, whose interests span multiple generations, according to Klein.
The university is the real world. One positive effect of these bond sales is that they reveal -- if there were still any doubt -- the many and intimate ways in which the UC is tied to the world of Wall Street finance. These ties are the result of a series of conscious decisions made by UC administrators and the Regents to transform the university into a profit-oriented, revenue-generating institution. State funding has decreased, but the shift toward this privatized model, in which the university increasingly generates unrestricted revenues through student tuition hikes (themselves backed by student loans) on one hand and the exploitation of workers on the other, is not, or not only the result -- it is also a cause.

The Daily Cal article unexpectedly pulls a Meister and does a good job of outlining the economics of UC bonds by going back to a 2009 sale of $1.05 billion in construction bonds:
In August 2009, the UC announced that proceeds from approximately $1.05 billion in federal stimulus “Build America Bonds” sold to the public would help fund about 70 capital projects on all ten UC campuses.

In a press release following the 2009 bond sale, Moody’s, a ratings agency, explained the appeal of UC bonds in a shaky economy, since the university has the ability to raise its revenue by increasing student tuition despite state budget cuts.

“In-state tuition has increased dramatically,” the press release stated. “And the out-of-state market remains a comparatively untapped resource that could provide additional growth in tuition revenue should State funding be cut further.”
But they don't look as carefully at the bond report for the current sale, rated AA+ by Fitch. The first thing that becomes apparent is just how happy the bond raters are with the UC's financial managers:
WEAKENED STATE FUNDING: Recent reductions in state appropriations, and the potential for additional cuts through the intermediate term, are mitigated by UC's limited reliance on state operating support. Timely measures consistently taken by UC's 26-member regents and highly experienced management team during times of state fiscal stress provides further rating stability.
As Bob Samuels has been arguing for years, the UC gets its "marching orders" from the bond raters. Fitch is down with the UC's "highly experienced management team" because they've done exactly what Fitch wanted them to do. As students and workers at the UC, however, we aren't so happy with their tenure because we viscerally understand that we're the ones getting screwed. The university is being run for them, not for us.

The other thing that's useful about these bond reports is their honesty. They tell us what the UC administration is really thinking about doing, without funneling it first through an (admittedly flawed) public relations machine. Again, Fitch is happy with the UC's plans for dealing with the likelihood of future budget cuts from the state. In fact, Fitch thinks these budget cuts are a good thing because they increase the university's "operating autonomy." What this means essentially is less restrictions on what the UC can do with its revenue -- while state funds are restricted, meant to cover the university's instructional costs, private funds are not, and can be used for anything from capital projects to paying debt service on previous construction bonds. Fitch tells it like it is:
Appropriations declined a total of $750 million to about $2.27 billion for fiscal 2012, including a mid-year $100 million cut resulting from the state's ongoing revenue shortfall. UC took numerous steps over the past few years to offset the loss in state funds, including significant student fee increases, staff reductions and other cost savings initiatives. On a combined basis, these measures have enabled UC to close about 26% of the total fiscal 2012 budget gap (approximately $1.1 billion).

While the governor's fiscal 2013 budget proposal, currently under review by the state legislature, recommends no further cuts to UC, Fitch believes that state funding for higher education will face continued pressure going forward. The budget proposal is dependent upon various revenue generating ballot measures subject to voter approval. Should these measures fail to gain approval in November, the proposal calls for a $200 million appropriation cut to UC effective Jan. 1, 2013.

The university's management team continues to explore various options to offset reduced state aid, including working with the state on a potential multi-year funding agreement which would provide UC longer term stability in state support in exchange for increased operating autonomy. Options being considered under this agreement include specified general fund increases through fiscal 2016; an increase in the state's share of employee retirement plan contributions, both subject to voter approval of the above-mentioned ballot measures; and more regular, less dramatic increases in tuition.

UC continues to benefit from one of the most diverse revenue streams in higher education, and Fitch notes positively its low and declining reliance on state aid as a revenue source (12.1% in fiscal 2011). The university's other significant funding sources include revenue derived from the operation of its five medical centers (27.1%), grants and contracts generated by its substantial sponsored research activities (24.5%), and student-generated revenues, including tuition, fees, and auxiliary receipts (16.6%).
Straight from Wall Street to the UC: another round of construction bonds, another set of marching orders.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reaching Out to the Faculty

Yesterday we posted some of the administration's emails regarding UCPD's brutal attack on the #occupycal encampment on November 9. In these emails, Chancellor Birgeneau, who was out of the country at the time, is notified of what happened, and responds that the violence is "unfortunate" but necessary. "Obviously," he wrote to Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer, "this group want [sic] exactly such a confrontation." Later, Birgeneau wrote again to Breslauer, declaring that upholding the university's encampment policies at any cost was essential: "Otherwise, we will end up in Quan land."

These emails, along with a number of other documents, were uncovered by the ACLU of Northern California by means of a Public Records Act request. One of the other emails, not discussed by the ACLU or in the Chronicle article ("UC chancellor raised no objection to baton report"), caught our eye, especially because of some of the ongoing conversations about faculty and solidarity. Yesterday, for example, our comrades over at the Bicycle Barricade posted an important analysis of the situation at UC Davis in the context of the recent vote on a motion of no-confidence in Chancellor Katehi which was not approved. The piece should be read in full, but for now we just want to quote a small part:
Many professors, believing themselves to be the beneficiaries of privatization (in the form of grants, donations, endowed positions, etc.), support Katehi’s agenda. Now we know that at least 343 of them support enforcing privatization by violent means. This is useful knowledge.
We also know that “only 37% of UC Davis faculty vote on measures regarding campus events that received worldwide attention.” And professors complain about student apathy.

Those professors who brought forward the motions of no confidence and against police violence should be applauded. It’s risky to speak out when promotion and tenure depend on toeing the line. It’s encouraging to note that 312 professors support their students.

But these motions highlight the limits of institutional struggle (petitions, motions, declarations), where the administrators will always have the upper hand. They write the rules, and circumvent them when necessary. For years, faculty have fought a losing battle to defend shared governance, tenure-line positions, and academic freedom from a rapacious administrative logic. It’s time to abandon institutional forms of defense and turn the tables on the admins. Solidarity means attack.
With this in mind, take a look at the following email, sent by Vice Provost Janet Broughton on November 16:

We don't know what the results of this fishing expedition were. What seems important here is the fact that the administration sees the faculty as (at least potentially) an ally instead of an adversary. Not only that, but it is clear that if professors were to show up to the encampment, and were to try to talk the students into leaving -- in the administration's words, if they were to "help to facilitate a voluntary end to the encampment" -- they would be doing the work of the administration. This is not to say that these professors would literally have conspired with the administration but rather that they would be furthering the administration's goals -- the constant de-escalation, displacement, bureaucratization, channeling organizing energy away from the antagonistic administration and into vague efforts to "further build[] support for public higher education."

If de-escalation is the administration's goal, direct action is the only alternative. We join with our comrades from Davis in calling for the faculty to reject institutional forms of struggle -- which are inevitably coopted and recuperated -- and join with students and workers in shutting down this university.

(more info here)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"obviously this group want[s] exactly such a confrontation"

Nanette Asimov just broke a story about emails exchanged by Chancellors Birgeneau and Breslauer on November 9, which show Birgeneau encouraging the continued use of baton strikes against those assembled on Sproul. The emails were obtained through a public records request initiated by the ACLU of Northern California.

Here they are, along with a letter the ACLU sent to Dean Edley and Chief Council Robinson, who are chairing a system-wide review of UC policing:

Chancellor Emails

Monday, February 20, 2012

Posters for March 1-5 public education actions

The first poster is for UC Berkeley's March 1st strike, in conjunction with the M1 national day of action; the others are for regional and statewide actions that begin on the 1st and run into the following week. Please share widely!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Statement to the UCB Police Review Board

I read the text below at tonight's Police Review Board (PRB) townhall. The PRB has decided that their charge is to determine merely whether police violated 'campus norms' on November 9, and who was responsible for giving them the orders they received. The statement is an attempt to address some of the flawed assumptions underlying this charge.

I'm here to talk a little bit about my experiences on November 9th, but before doing so I wanted to share a few reflections – hopefully not too tedious -- about the role of the police on campus, and about the task of the Police Review Board. I think these reflections will allow my anecdotes about the 9th to be put into a kind of context, and to appear as something other than discrete stories about how campus norms happened to be breached on a particular day last fall.

First, I think it's important to say that the police are not like other groups on campus; they shouldn't be thought of as just another constituent element of some abstract 'campus community', with its contested norms and values. The actions of the police are determined by different protocols than other campus actors (students, workers, instructors, or administrators); they have different means and ends than the rest of us.

The police use various means of compulsion to enforce the law. This is what the police do, whether they work for the UCPD, for OPD, or for any other jurisdiction. On campus, they are also charged with enforcing the student code of conduct.

If a police officer issues a command, whether it be to stop riding your bike through Sproul, to open a door in Wheeler Hall that's been barricaded, to remove your hand from a police barricade, to disperse from a given area, or to take a banner down from the side of Dwinelle Hall, this command carries the force of law. If I don't follow the command, I am potentially subject to arrest or to escalating physical violence.

While the police exist to enforce the law, through violence if necessary, other groups on campus have different aims, and different ways of realizing these aims. Campus administrators see their role as articulating and carrying out campus policies, and as maintaining the conditions under which the educational mission of the university can be fulfilled. Students, workers, and teachers are involved, in various ways, in carrying out aspects of this educational project.

In recent years, different sectors of the university, and different fractions within each sector, have taken contrary views about how best to sustain the educational project of the university in the face of state austerity measures, and these various groups have taken different actions in line with their views. On the one hand, administrators have reacted to declining budgets by hiring the Bain consulting firm to help them implement campus-level austerity measures (esp. OE), by shifting the class and geographic composition of admitted students (to get more money from student fees), by advocating that the campus community lobby state legislators, and by deploying the police whenever protesters have breached the student code of conduct, and sometimes even when they haven't (justifying these deployments with reference to their role as protectors of the educational mission of the university).

Many students, workers, and instructors have responded to cutbacks simply by trying their best to do their jobs, or to study and get a degree, despite worsening conditions of labor and learning. But many within these sectors have also engaged in protest actions of different sorts, in order to reshape campus life and to call for a more egalitarian university. Recent protest actions have offered alternative models of how we might maintain and defend the educational project of the university – models that run counter to those preferred by campus administrators, but that nevertheless operate according to some of the same principles, or with some of the same stated aims.

When campus administrators deploy the police against protesters, however, a third force enters the picture, and this force operates according to very different principles and aims than the other two. Initially, perhaps, the police appear as an arm of the administration, present to enforce the student code of conduct, and thus purportedly to maintain the integrity of campus rules and regulations. The police are ordered by the administration to try and re-open a barricaded classroom building, for instance, or to prevent students from camping on campus. But once they arrive at the site of a protest action, the police can't help but go beyond their initial charge. Because once the police issue a command to protesters, they fundamentally shift the ground of the interaction. What had initially appeared to be an issue of the student code of conduct and its violation, or a manifestation of a dispute about how to maintain the educational project of the university, has suddenly become an issue of legality and illegality, crime and policing. The terms and dynamics of the event have shifted radically.

On November 9th, we set up tents in conscious violation of the student code of conduct, in order to try and establish an occupy encampment on campus and to counter growing inequalities on and beyond campus. Because this violated the code, the administration sent in the police to take down the tents. When we linked arms around the encampment, the police treated us as people who were violating the law, and who were refusing to disperse.

While it might have seemed that the police were simply trying to enforce the student code of conduct, the violence I experienced on the 9th cannot be squared with this view. Almost every time I was struck with a police baton that day – and there were at least a dozen times – the police had already confiscated the tents. They weren't striking me, and many others, because I was preventing them from clearing the tents; they were striking us because we were there, where they didn't want us to be any more. To them, we were remaining at the scene of a crime, or a riot, or were refusing to disperse when ordered, meaning that we were exposed to arrest or escalating physical violence. It wasn't about the tents anymore. It wasn't about the student conduct code, about campus policy or community norms... It was just about policing, with its everyday violence.

The trouble with the Police Review Board is that it is charged with determining whether the UCPD violated community norms on the 9th, and implicitly, whether this violation was justified given protesters' violation of campus policy. But the police don't operate according to community norms or campus policy – they operate according to a fundamentally different logic. That's their job, and that's how they are trained. The PRB is supposed to forget this reality, just as the Chancellor asked us to forget this reality when he sent an email saying that the police used force simply in order to clear the tents and thus maintain the student code of conduct.

The police don't operate according to campus norms or policies, they're not here to maintain the educational project of the university, and for this reason, I think, they don't belong on campus. We should say to the police, and with some courage this Board could say to the UC Police Department: “You can go.”

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Police and Administrative "Accountability" and the UCB Police Review Board

For more information on the workings of the Police Review Board.

After years of UCPD violence, secrecy, and sexual harassment, we at Reclaim UC thought UCB students might be interested in the process of filing a police misconduct complaint with the UCB Police Review Board. You might also have a few questions and concerns about how members of the Board are actually selected.

Here are some highlights:

1. All complaints are forwarded to the Chief of UCPD.

2. Complaints against the Chief of Police (Chief), Assistant Chiefs of Police (Assistant Chiefs), or Captains are excepted from the Board's jurisdiction (except in rare exceptional circumstances).

3. The Chair is "an individual of judicial temperament and background," often a currently serving law professor. In most misconduct complaints since 2009, the Chair has historically sided with UCPD and with the administration. The Vice Chancellor shall consult with the members of the Police Review Board before making a final selection of the Chair.

4. The Board has one sworn police officer who has retired or resigned in good standing from active service as a police officer. This member of the Board may be a member of UCPD 5 years after retirement.

5. All members of the Board are appointed for a year by the Vice Chancellor.

6. The two student appointees are part of the ASUC, an organization which has historically sided with UCPD and with the administration.

The entire complaints system must be submitted to the Chief of UCPD before the complainant is even able to meet with the Review Board. This includes an interview with the Chief or a designated representative of the Chief. Of course this structure severely discourages complaints because complainants must first be vetted by the very system they are lodging a complaint against.

The outcome of the entire process is dependent upon the personal judgment of the Vice Chancellor, based on a reading of the report provided by the Review Board.

Though UCPD conducts police operations, it does not have to meet the minimal standards of legal accountability applied to actual police departments.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How UC Privatization Intensifies Class & Race Inequalities

This two-sided flier was designed for the UC Berkeley 'Teach the Budget' presentations. It attempts to give an overview of some of the ways in which privatization has made the UC system into an engine of inequality.

Feel free to print and share...

Privatization Inequality

Monday, February 6, 2012

Trial Against UCPD Begins Today [Update 1, 2]

[Update 2, Friday 2/10]: Closing statements were made this morning; as of about 5:30pm the jury has returned a verdict: not guilty. There will be no accountability through the courts.

[Update 1, Tuesday 2/7]: Today the UCB grad student whose hand was smashed by UCPD Officer Brendan Tinney on November 20, 2009 gave her testimony and was cross-examined by the university's lawyer.

The trial continues tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 8:30am, same time same place as before [scroll down]. Tomorrow's testimony will be worth checking out: first, Officer Tinney himself, who makes over $97,000 to assault Berkeley students, will take the stand. He will be followed at about noon by star Berkeley Law student Thomas Frampton, who we last saw successfully defending two students from UCB's incompetently nefarious Office of Student Conduct. Finally, the prosecution will call police expert Roger Clark.

Thursday won't be that important for folks to attend (the defense will call their medical expert and their own police expert). But Friday will be the most important day of the trial. That's when both lawyers, John Burris for the prosecution and Claudia Leed for the university's police-impunity machine, will make their closing statements and the jury will start making their decision. Pack the courtroom on Friday morning in solidarity! 8:30am, same time same place.

On November 20, 2009, outside of Wheeler Hall, UCPD officer Brendan Tinney used his baton to smash the hand of a UC Berkeley graduate student who was standing behind a metal barricade. Her hand was smashed to pieces, and she had to be rushed to the hospital for reconstructive surgery -- even so, the attack left her disabled for life. (The above picture was taken just before the brutal attack.) UCPD's internal investigation, not surprisingly, completely exonerated Officer Tinney from any wrongdoing, finding that his actions were "proper, lawful, and appropriate":
The Board’s goal was to look at the actions of the officer and determine if they fit within the parameter of reasonableness. The officer clearly communicated several warnings to you with instructions for you to keep your hands off the barricades. In fact, you initially complied with those warnings and temporarily removed your hands from the barricade. It was only after your failure to heed the repeated warnings that the officer increased his level of force from a verbal admonishment to a strike against the rungs of the barricade. When you again returned your hand to the barricade, the officer applied the next level of force by striking you. The Board determined that the officer used a continuum of force that was within reason and within his authority during these circumstances. The Board’s finding of your allegation is exonerated.
Today, over two years later, a trial against Tinney is finally set to begin. Jury selection will start at 8:30 am in Courtroom 15 (15th floor) of US District Court, Northern District of California, located in the Federal Building, 450 Golden Gate Ave, San Francisco (near Civic Center Bart). We will be bringing you updates from the trial as frequently as we can and posting them here.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

UCB Banner Drop