Monday, May 28, 2012

Infinite Solidarity with the Infinite Social Strike!

The student strike in Quebec has lasted more than 100 days and has faced increasingly intense repression from the state. Following last week's solidarity march in New York, Natasha Lennard wrote that "solidarity is spreading in the US." This week, solidarity marches will take place across the country and in NYC "Infinite Strike" marches will leave Washington Square Park every night at 8pm.

Logistics: Friday June 1st, 7:00 P.M. meet up at: 19th & Telegraph

Over the last few months, we have been enheartened by the revolt taking shape in the streets of Montreal. The students of Quebec have taken a struggle against tuition hikes and mobilized hundreds of thousands against austerity and state repression. What began as a one-week university student strike has precipitated into an anti-capitalist revolt against universities, banks and police in what many are calling a general and indefinite social strike. In the face of intense state repression, including the draconian law 78 more or less banning protest, court injunctions against university picket lines, and mass arrests, the rebels of Montreal return to the streets night after night for over 100 days. They have called for solidarity actions from everyone and everywhere that can connect with the struggle, saying that if the strike “cannot inspire disruptions of its own, then it will die out quick.”

In the Bay Area, we, too, have seen revolt spread from universities into the community through Occupy, and we’ve seen tens of thousands come together against state repression for the November 2nd general strike and December 12th west coast port shutdown. And during those days of intense struggle, we drew strength and joy from the solidarity extended to us from as far as New York to Mexico City to Cairo.

It is now time for us to extend our solidarity to our comrades in Montreal and work to inspire the same solidarity and desire to disrupt business as usual in our friends, families and neighbors.

Keep striking and don’t ever stop!

Infinite solidarity with the infinite social strike!

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Public Refusal of Privatization: On the "Political Content" of the US Bank Blockade (A Refutation of Brownstein and Amar)

On March 21, 2012, the Board of the Davis Faculty Association issued a petition in support of UC Davis students and faculty facing criminal charges due to their alleged participation in a blockade of the US Bank Branch on campus. The cases of the students and faculty charged were forwarded to the District Attorney for prosecution at the request of the UC Davis administration. The DFA petition called upon the UC Davis administration to “recognize the political content of the US Bank blockade rather than treating it as a criminal matter,” and it asked the administration to pressure the District Attorney to excercise his option to drop the charges against student and faculty protesters who had allegedly participated in the blockade.

On April 27, Alan Brownstein and Vikram Amar published a Viewpoints piece in the Sacramento Bee in which they argue that the DFA’s petition misunderstands the “basics of freedom of speech and academic freedom,” and they therefore suggest “the need to use this episode as a ‘teachable moment.’” As law professors, Brownstein and Amar feel they are in a position to offer some instruction about these “basics.” But their lesson fails to address either the content of the DFA’s petition or that of the political action under discussion.

The petition issued by the DFA does not, in fact, appeal to free speech or academic freedom in its treatment of the bank blockade. It does not appeal to the First Amendment. Since Brownstein and Amar consider themselves experts on the First Amendment, it is convenient for them to ignore this fact and focus on what they think they know. Thus they write, “the important starting point in our First Amendment analysis is that a blockade is not constitutionally protected speech.” This “starting point” already misses the point, because “constitutionally protected speech” is not what is at issue in the DFA petition. While Brownstein and Amar may be considered experts on the law, they do not demonstrate their expertise in reading texts and reconstructing arguments. The DFA petition urges the UC Davis administration to “recognize the political content of the US Bank blockade rather than treating it as a criminal matter.” What does this mean?

To recognize the political content of the blockade, one has to understand its context: UC Davis has a special contract with US Bank, which generates funding for the university from US Bank revenue, in exchange for special advertising services and privileged branch and ATM placement. US Bank profits from student loans, and therefore from rising tuition. The administration gathers funds from US Bank profits, and therefore has an incentive to increase tuition, rather than opposing state cuts to UC funding. Moreover, a US Bank logo appears on all UCD student cards, and these can be used as debit cards at US Bank. To recognize the political content of the US Bank blockade is to understand it within this context. Demonstrators argued that, at a public university, this sort of contract with a private corporation constitutes a conflict of interest. That is: they argued that it is contrary to the public character of the UC.

What this argument brings into focus is a serious problem which Brownstein and Amar fail to understand. They write: “the argument that a public university should pick and choose whether obstruction should be permitted or not based on the political content of any particular blockade is also a dubious proposition.” They fear that if a public university did so, the consequence would be that “the university...morphs into a political institution committed to particular perspectives – so much so that it excuses violations of law in support of its own political positions.”

These arguments indicate a curious incapacity to recognize a basic fact, a fact central to the political content of the US Bank blockade: because the University of California is a public university, as Brownstein and Amar note, it must be “committed to a particular perspective”: quite precisely,that of a public university. The “political position” of the US Bank blockade is precisely its insistence that the University commit to this perspective. So then, here we have a political position to which the University of California can, should, and must be committed: that of upholding its character as a public institution.

This is what the DFA petition asks the UC Davis administration to recognize in pointing to the political content of the US Bank blockade. And this is what Brownstein and Amar are unable to recognize. Their arguments are question-begging, because they assume exactly what is compromised by the process of privatization, which the US Bank blockade opposes: the public character of the University of California.

In a longer version of their piece published in the Jurist, Brownstein and Amar close their piece by stating that “the communicative power of civil disobedience gains its force by protestors demonstrating the strength of their convictions by their willingness to be arrested and sanctioned for violating the law.” But the willingness of demonstrators to be arrested and sanctioned for violating the law does not mean they should be arrested and sanctioned, and the point of civil disobedience actions is precisely to make clear this disjunction—a disjunction which depends upon the political content of the action. In fact, the “communicative power” of a civil disobedience action does not fundamentally rely upon a willingness to be arrested, but rather upon the capacity of citizens to recognize the political content of the action, its contextual justification. It is this sort of recognition which the DFA petition demands.

Nathan Brown, on behalf of the Board of the UC Davis Faculty Association

Assistant Professor
Department of English
Program in Critical Theory
University of California at Davis

Thursday, May 24, 2012

For All Who May Be Next

Special guest post by Lauren Riot (@laurenriot)

Somewhere in Oakland right now, the next Alan Blueford is doing something innocuous. Maybe he's getting ready for a date or brushing his teeth or watching TV. He has no idea that one day the Oakland Police will murder him. Let's be real, young black men in Oakland live under threat of death from the police every day. Even though the next Raheim Brown, Gary King, Rashan Hill, Joshua Russell, or Terrance Mearis doesn't know he will die, chances are good that he is well aware of the threat looming.

There is a well established pattern by the police when they kill a young black man: shoot, deny medical treatment, then vilify him in the media. "I thought he was reaching for his waistband," is a common refrain. "He has been linked to a sexual assault," is another, which conjures up a history of false accusations of sexual assault against black men to justify lynchings, as if the police have ever cared about sexual violence. "EMS could not enter the scene to render medical aid until we deemed the area secure," is the common excuse for allowing young men to bleed to death in agony, alone on the concrete. This formula is repeated so often, we can practically mouth these words along with the news the very first time the shooting is reported.

Another formula that we see is a grieving family, thrust into the spotlight, simultaneously processing grief and made de facto (if temporary) leaders of a socio-political movement. The media often provokes them with pointed, manipulative questions to get dramatic emotional outbursts for the evening news. Many times the family feels compelled to talk about what a great person their child was, how they went to church or got good grades or fed the homeless. Of course families want to humanize their loved ones to the world, they are likely all too aware of what happens in the comments section on news websites and can rightly guess what's on the minds of a smug and racist white, suburban America, (though of course being an atheist, 'C' student or even criminal does not make a person deserving of execution). The parents of police murder victims often speak at rallies and small marches and demand justice through the traditional legal system for the cop or cops who killed their child. They may meet with the Mayor or City Council or even police chief and demand an investigation or arrest. Quite often, they admonish those agitating for resistance to remain peaceful, respectful of police, to work within the system. In some cases, they are threatened by the Oakland Police Department; if they encourage uprising or don't speak out against violence and property destruction, measures will be taken against them.

The parents of those killed by police are experiencing this loss for the first time. They have every right to experience it in their own way and organize in their own way. There is no doubt that they can and should make whatever demands they want of the police and criminal justice system. They should be respected by the community at all times and the parameters that they set for the actions they organize should be honored. However, the loss of their child is not the first loss Oakland and the Bay Area have experienced, nor will it be the last. When police murder young men in the streets, these are not isolated incidents. They are aspects of a system of terrorizing the community into submission. It isn't just the murders of young black men we rail against, it's public strip searches, beatings, sexual assaults, constant degrading verbal harassment, trumped up charges, planted evidence, denial of medical treatment in police custody, gang injunctions, inflated sentencing, and the smug satisfaction on the face of the police as they exact their violence with impunity.

Whenever the police murder a person and the community responds by organizing actions, they are met by some with an accusation that they are "capitalizing" on the death of someone. First of all, the use of the concepts of profit and capital are incredibly ironic here, given the fact that capitalism is dependent on the repression of people of color through violence or threat of violence. Organizers, agitators, rabble rousers, shit disturbers, whatever you may call them, do not "profit" or gain political "capital" through the deaths of others. By the logic of "capitalizing" on people's deaths to give steam to uprising, people in the community could never respond to any abuse or injustice and remain ethical. This is why people say these things- to neutralize our resistance. Furthermore, this mentality creates a division between the community and the family. If the prevailing viewpoint is that agitators are just using their tragedy to further political aims, the family is being further victimized and those acting outside their parameters are now negative figures and much easier to speak out against in the press. In turn, this stifles momentum and makes the likelihood of public outrage over police repression of uprisings lower. Accusations of "profiting" on the loss of community members are false and work against both acts of solidarity with the family and any popular social rebellion against police violence.

The community of Oakland and the Bay Area can and will rise up to resist police violence, and when they do, they will organize their own actions which probably won't involve working with the system or eliminating swear words from chants. They may organize direct actions against the police, police headquarters or City Hall; there may be riots and looting in the streets; people may organize citywide graffiti campaigns; community patrols may be set up to defend against the police. The point is, the community response to police murders won't necessarily look like the actions the family of the victim plans, and that's okay.

It is not disrespectful to the families of police murder victims for the community to go against their wishes in resistance to police violence. Their child's death alone is worth setting things ablaze for, but their child's death alone is not the reason people respond with the passion they do. Oakland weeps and rages for Alan Blueford and also for every other police murder victim, everyone living under threat of police brutality, for unnamed victims, and for those who die when EMS doesn't come. When Oscar Grant was murdered, we rose up not just because of the injustice of his death, but because we know that this happens all the time, all over America whether there are cameras recording or not, and we know that cops will continue to kill because they know they'll get away with it-- that is, until there is some compelling societal change that forces them to stop. We know it won't come from our appeals to the courts and we know it won't come from our appeals to the government.

There is nothing wrong with families framing their struggle solely in terms of their child who was killed; similarly, there is nothing wrong with the community framing their uprising within the context of police murder after police murder with nothing but an increasingly armed and hostile police force killing more young black men on the horizon. It is possible to honor and support family survivors of police murder without losing sight of the war that is being waged by the police against the community. Families can and should seek justice for the incident of violence against their loved one, and in the way they see fit. However, while they are unlikely to experience another act of violence like this, it is only a matter of time before another young man is bleeding to death on the streets of Oakland at the hands of the police.

There are two distinct and valid struggles here: the family's cry for justice and recompense (such as it may be) and the screams from the community to demand OPD stop killing people. The family's work towards justice as they define it belongs solely to them. The fight against police murders and brutality belongs to all who may be next and all who love them.

Monday, May 14, 2012

UCPD Raids Occupy the Farm

From Occupy the Farm:
Albany, CA - Well over 100 UCPD and Alameda County Sheriffs officers, armed with less-than-lethal impact-force projectiles, 36" batons, and pepper-ball guns, arrested nine people at the Gill Tract Farm near 7 AM on Monday morning. Of the nine that were arrested, two were watering plants on the agricultural land and seven were watching the police from San Pablo Avenue.

The Gill Tract Farmers Collective has called for a reconvergence at the Albany Community Center, 1249 Marin Ave., at 5 PM tomorrow.
More info and updates over at Hyphenated Republic. Journalist Susie Cagle (who took the photos below) confirms that as of a couple hours ago there have been 9 arrests. Arrestees are being taken to Santa Rita jail. The UC Berkeley administration has released a statement about the raid, declaring that "the involvement of law enforcement is required to secure our fundamental property rights and protect a core value that is an indivisible part of who we are: academic freedom." In other words, UCPD is the condition of possibility for academic freedom.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

UCR Symposium: Policing and Protest

From a comrade down south: "We've been holding a series of symposiums over the past month here at UCR on policing and state violence. We are holding the third and final event of the series. Angela Davis, Gina Dent, Dylan Rodriguez, Randall Williams and a bunch of other really really good speakers are going to talk about the police, getting cops off campuses, alternative models of community safety, etc."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Protest, Policing, and the UC Regents' Committee on Finance

The UC Regents are having another meeting on May 16, and tuition hikes are once again on the table. According to the budget report [pdf] to the Committee on Finance, the Regents will discuss the possibility of raising tuition and fees by 6 percent for the fall 2012 semester as well as an additional, mid-year tuition hike "in the range of double digits" for spring 2013 if Governor Brown's tax proposal doesn't pass in November. Chris Newfield's analysis of the budget scenarios is a must read here.

But there's something on the Committee on Finance's agenda that appears at first glance to be strangely out of place. Nestled between discussions of expenditure rates for the general endowment pool and plans for the formation of a captive insurance agency, we find Discussion Item F7, titled "Update regarding Report to the President on Response to Protest on University of California Campuses."

This is a reference, of course, to the Robinson-Edley Report [pdf], which was released in draft form last week to great media fanfare. The text of the discussion item [pdf] for the Regents' meeting is more or less the Executive Summary of the report. Writing at the request of UC President Mark Yudof in the wake of the November 9 police riot at UC Berkeley, General Counsel Charles Robinson and Dean Christopher Edley were charged with generating a set of best policing practices for UC campuses to use in dealing with future protests. The infamous pepper-spraying incident at UC Davis the following week only intensified the report's urgency. Over the course of 50 recommendations (although the version for the Regents' meeting appears to contain only 48 -- it's not clear which two recommendations have been removed), it suggests that the issue at hand is essentially one of free speech. As the Executive Summary states,
This Report is premised on the belief that free expression, robust discourse, and vigorous debate over ideas and principles are essential to the mission of our University. The goal of this Report is to identify practices that will facilitate such expression — while also protecting the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, police, and the general public. (1)
Joshua Clover has recently shown how the frame of rights and free speech represents a fundamental misrecognition about what is happening on UC campuses and around the world. According to this understanding, the sequence of events goes something like this: students protest, then police respond. Perhaps the police respond a little too hard, arresting a few too many protesters, using a little too much pepper spray. So the administration steps in and formulates a new set of policing practices to ensure that in the future this kind of excessive force isn't deployed. Here, the issue at hand is one of demarcating the limits of protest as speech, of regulating the proper relations between protesters and police.

In fact, as Clover points out, the sequence of events is very different. It begins not with students arbitrarily protesting, but with the administration developing and implementing austerity policies across the UC system -- raising tuition, cutting classes, firing workers, increasing out-of-state admissions, and so on, austerity's myriad manifestations within the particular context of the post-crisis university. These struggles are not rhetorical but material; they are about how the university is run, about what, under the technocratic directives of the UC administration, the university is coming to be. By displacing these struggles onto the terrain of speech, we unwittingly let the administration off the hook: "One suspects there will be some payouts to injured students, and that a cop or two will be pastured. And the matter will be tentatively resolved, despite the economic content remaining entirely unaddressed; thus, the administration wins by 'losing.'"

This is precisely what the Robinson-Edley report does. Without going into too much detail, it's worth looking at an example. One thing that jumps out in the report is the extent to which the authors see the problem as rooted at least in part in students' ignorance: "We also were struck by a more fundamental information gap," write the authors. "[M]ost members of our community know very little about our campus police departments" (23). Apparently, this is not for lack of opportunity. "At UC Santa Cruz, for example, the police department offers a quarter-long course titled 'Citizen Police Academy,' for up to twenty-five students, faculty, and staff. Class members gain a deep familiarity with the campus police department. In addition, on some of our campuses, the police make presentations at new student orientations. But these existing opportunities for students and other members of the University community to educate themselves about their campus police departments apparently have not satisfied the community’s desire for information" (24). Predictably, the report goes on to recommend more such classes, more opportunities for students to "become acquainted with the campus police agency" as well as "with the applicable rules for campus protest -- including rights and responsibilities, triggers for an administration or police response, the response option framework, and alternate modes for engaging with authorities" (26).

The objective is to transform struggles over privatization into a sort of choreographed dance between students and police, to minimize or obscure the work of the administration, and to avoid at all cost any disturbance of the material operations of the university. Despite the much-hyped statement in the Executive Summary that administrators and police will have to stop thinking primarily in terms of "the maintenance of order and adherence to rules and regulations," this order is ultimately upheld as fundamental. In response to concerns that arose from the UC Davis pepper-spraying incident, the report recommends not that pepper-spray should be eliminated but that "event response team’s guidelines, should specify that administrators will not authorize any physical police response against protesters non-aggressively linking arms unless the protesters were significantly interfering with the academic mission of the campus" (37). In the end, order must be maintained, the restructuring of the university must continue unabated.

* * *

Why, then, are protest and policing a concern of the UC Regents' Committee on Finance? No doubt some of the recommendations in the Robinson-Edley report will require some appropriation of funds to implement -- mainly the hiring and training of police officers (Recommendation Group 4) and the surveillance and monitoring of protest actions (Recommendation Group 7). But these will be minor expenses and anyway have little to do with UC finances at large. This apparently unlikely arrangement must be read as an acknowledgment, on the part of the UC's top managers, of what campus protests are really about. They know that the only thing standing in the way of their austerity policies, of their ever accelerating and increasingly desperate attempts to tie the university to the financial markets, student tuition, and debt, are the students and workers -- and occasionally faculty -- standing in their way, literally using their bodies to keep the machine from operating.

It could not be otherwise. At the UC today, protest and policing are inextricably a question of finance.

Friday, May 11, 2012

How to support Jasper, the final member of the Sproul 13 still facing charges

On Wednesday, May 9, we literally packed the courtroom for Jasper’s hearing. It was amazing to see so much support for the last of the Sproul 13 to face charges—especially during finals week!

Jasper’s attorney decided to invoke Jasper’s right to a speedy trial, and the judge set a trial date of June 4. The District Attorney responded by issuing an amended complaint against Jasper which, if accepted by the judge, would consolidate this case with other charges he has stemming from an unrelated (and just as flimsy) incident. Next week, Jasper will be back in court to fight this motion to consolidate. By not allowing the DA to lump two unrelated cases together, the DA will be forced to make a case against Jasper for November 9 alone which would be very tough for the DA. Hopefully the move for a speedy trial will lead the DA to promptly reevaluate their case against Jasper and drop it. This is, of course, only reasonable given the fact that 12 of 13 cases against the Sproul 13 have already been dismissed and that the UC administration does not support the charges.

This is why we continue to need your help. Please keep calling the Alameda County District Attorney to urge them to drop the charges against Jasper (contact info for the DA is below). Some of you have received word that the DA has stopped taking messages on this case. Given that the DA is an elected position, this is intolerable. Please continue calling, and please also consider writing emails and sending letters. If they refuse to take your message, consider calling your district supervisor on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, to whom DA O’Malley is responsible: Berkeley is district 5.

Also, please plan on coming out to Jasper’s trial which is set to begin on June 4. We will send out full details when they become available.

And finally, for all of you who know Jasper, please consider writing a letter attesting to his upstanding character as a student, friend, father, scholar, etc.

Thank you for all of your support and we will see you in court in the coming weeks.





-Mailing Address:
Alameda County District Attorney’s Office
1225 Fallon Street, Suite 900
Oakland, CA 94612


-Come out to Wiley Manuel Court for Jasper’s trial which begins on June 4. More information TBA.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Asian American Studies Faculty Support the Davis Dozen

8 May 2012

Dear Chancellor Katehi and Provost Hexter,

The faculty of the Department of Asian American Studies is deeply troubled by the criminal charges filed against the Davis Dozen, who include eleven students and one faculty member, for their sit-in at US Bank. This action, taken at great risk by the students and our colleague, was not only a fight for the rights of students, but serves as an effective protest against the intensified privatization of public higher education.

The Davis Dozen are not guilty of the excessive charges placed against them. We ask you to request District Attorney Jeff W. Reisig to drop all charges against the Davis Dozen. The charges and plea bargain offered by the District Attorney are unjust. By alerting us to the terms of the contract with US Bank, the Davis Dozen has exposed the Administration’s complicity in going against the public mission of our university and all that it stands for. Having student ID cards serve simultaneously as US Bank debit cards highlights not only a conflict of interest, but also a collusion, in which UC Davis serves as both marketing tool and profit-making machine that does not serve the students’ best interests.

The bank sit-in occurs in light of years of protests against the increase in tuition fees and the neoliberalization of the public university. While the Administration turns a deaf ear to these appeals, the budget cuts and increased tuition fees have greatly impacted all students who attend UC Davis, including many of our students who major in Asian American studies. A number of our own students have had to drop out of school due to their inability to pay the increased tuition and some are forced to take two or three low-wage jobs or take on exorbitant student debt.

As an ethnic studies department inspired by student protest movements and built on the legacy of civil disobedience, we are disturbed that the Administration is not only regulating student dissent through policy and force, but also criminalizing protesters in ways that are contrary to what you call part of the “learning process” (Letter to UC Davis Community dated April 27, 2012). In our classes, civil disobedience is seen as a continuum in which students from an earlier era who challenged racial segregation, were, in fact, breaking the law. The Administration’s actions are having a chilling effect on our students in which many are increasingly anxious about the consequences of participating in any kind of political protest activity on campus and fear that they, too, will face criminal charges, or eleven years in prison, if they were to engage in public protest. Our students are not criminals; they are simply demanding the right to an affordable and accessible higher education, one not segregated by class or race.

Part of the public mission of the university is to create and maintain a space for freedom of expression and spirited debate. However, the Administration’s actions speak louder than the words expressed in recent letters and memos to the Davis community. Last November, campus police used brutal force against peaceful student protesters, provoking national and international outrage. Now, the Administration is using the equivalent of legal pepper spray to repress and contain student and faculty protestors: a retroactive move that is neither transparent nor public. The Administration’s attempts at claiming to protect freedom of expression while in actuality repressing freedom of political speech and protest is a form of doublespeak; analogous to the policies and task force reports regarding multiculturalism and racism. The student protesters are not fooled by this and, we would like to note, neither are we.

As scholars working in a field that offers students critical skills to challenge the status quo, in which civil disobedience is one strategic mode of action in the struggle for racial, economic, and social justice, we declare our solidarity with the Davis Dozen. We will continue to encourage our students to not only support the Davis Dozen, but also to engage in critical analysis, public discussion, and agitation until access to higher public education can be an equal opportunity for everyone. We are also planning to establish a legal defense fund to assist and support student protestors with their legal expenses in defense of their civil rights. We hope that the Administration will join us in these pursuits, beginning with a public demand that the DA office drop all charges against the Davis Dozen.


Nolan Zane, Chair


Professor Darrell Hamamoto,

Professor Wendy Ho,

Associate Professor Richard Kim,

Associate Professor Sunaina Maira,

Professor Susette Min,

Associate Professor Robyn Rodriguez,

Associate Professor Sarita Echavez See,

Associate Professor Caroline Kieu Linh Valverde,

Assistant Professor Isao Fujimoto, Emeritus

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

UC Considering Another Round of Tuition Hikes [Updated]

More tuition hikes are on the horizon:
University of California students could face significantly higher tuition if the state doesn't increase funding and voters don't approve the governor's tax initiative.

University officials are considering a plan to raise tuition by 6 percent this fall if the state doesn't increase funding by $125 million for 2012-13.

Administrators say the 10-campus system would need to consider a mid-year tuition increase in the "range of double digits" or make drastic campus cuts if voters don't pass Gov. Jerry Brown's tax plan in November.

The tuition plans were outlined in an agenda for a UC Board of Regents meeting that was posted online Monday.

Board members are scheduled to discuss various tuition scenarios when they meet in Sacramento on May 16. No action is expected until July.
[Update Wednesday 6/9 4:43pm]: Chris Newfield analyzes some of the possible tuition scenarios here:
The document identifies a current year shortfall of $847M, and a $1 billion shortfall next year -- even assuming the Governor's small January revenue increases and further efficiency savings. Existing budget parameters build in further cuts in what we cannot cut without irreparable harm. Cutting the uncuttable is what we do at UC -- now on an annual basis. This document shows that we will be doing it again next year, even though we can't.

The Governor's May Revise may buy out the tuition increase that you haven't heard about, defined here as 6% for next year.

In Scenario A, in which good revenue numbers come in, the state provides an additional $125.4 M to avoid this increase. As the UCLA FA blog has pointed out, receipts are actually behind projections. This increases the likelihood of Scenario B, which is the 6% increase. Looming in the background is the unidentified Scenario C, in which revenues are behind, the November tax increases fail, UC is subject to a further $200 M cut, and that tuition increase is doubled to at least the low double digits. 12% would bring the base tuition to about $13,700 next year, plus the "Student Services Fee" of $972, and campus fees -- check out the many fees! -- that would bring tuition to about $17,000 for in state students.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Occupy the Farm and the Conditions of Academic Freedom

For two weeks now, a group of food justice activists, UC students, Albany residents, and occupy movement stalwarts have been farming and living continuously on a couple acres of UC-owned land, known as the Gill Tract. Those farming didn't ask the University permission before tilling and sewing the plot, setting up tents and a food station, or holding daily educational events for children. Instead, upon learning that much of the Gill Tract was slated for development – including for a Whole Foods – organizers simply made a plan for where and how to plant some vegetables on the tract, invited supportive people to join them, and started digging lines in the ground.

In response to this bold – if also understated – gesture, the University initially responded in a manner reminiscent of the Quan administration in Oakland: they claimed to the press that the encampment's facilities were unsanitary, fixating particularly on the activists' composting toilet. But this line of attack never really caught on, and was soon replaced with a colder, eminently reasonable tale – namely, that the unsanctioned farm was impeding scientific research, and would ultimately have to be dismantled in order that the ideal of free inquiry might be upheld. An added advantage of this updated administrative rationale for police intervention was that a number of professors and university researchers were willing to express similar views to the press, meaning that, in forcing a confrontation with those farming on the Gill Tract, University administrators could claim to be acting in support of researchers. This Friday, Vice Chancellor Breslauer issued an ultimatum to the farmers that cast their continued presence on the land as a stark threat to academic freedom:
On Thursday evening representatives from UC Berkeley and the group engaged in the occupation of agricultural research fields on the Gill Tract met to discuss the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the protest.... During the discussion Keith Gilless, Dean of the College of Natural Resources, emphasized that by the middle of May college staff need to begin work on the tract in support of faculty and student research, and that this requires that full control of the property revert to the university. He also emphasized that these complicated projects require meticulous supervision and cannot be carried out in the midst of an encampment. At the same time, we reiterated that if the encampment is voluntarily disbanded, we will commit to include occupation participants in a broad-based discussion about the continuation of urban farming under university supervision on a portion of the tract, as well as any future discussions about the long-term future of the property. Also discussed was the value and principle of academic freedom that allows faculty members at UC Berkeley to pursue their educational and research interests without interference. During Wednesday's Spring Divisional meeting of UC Berkeley's Academic Senate, the chairperson, Prof. Bob Jacobsen, noted that faculty research had been "usurped" by the protesters' unilateral actions and stated that, "If there is no way to reach a win-win resolution, then I believe that the faculty's freedom to do their planned research must be supported as a key principle. As a faculty, I think we must stand by this." We are now waiting for the occupiers' response to our offer to participate in a broadbased community dialogue if they agree to end their encampment. Today, in a letter to their attorney, campus counsel outlined the process for the proposed community dialogue that would be led by the College of Natural Resources, and requested a response no later than Saturday night, May 5th. If they decide not to peacefully end their illegal occupation of the agricultural research field and refuse the offer to subsequently participate in the formulation of a plan for continued urban farming under university supervision and control, we have every intention of honoring our commitment to ensure the research activities are not impeded, and the rule of law is maintained.
What's interesting about this ultimatum is the degree to which it turns on the recognition that particular material conditions are necessary in order to uphold the ideal of academic freedom. In this case, Breslauer and Jacobsen want to argue that planned agricultural research projects have as their precondition an undisturbed and uninhabited tract of land. Moreover, we're told, this land must be “under university supervision and control,” meaning that a particular configuration of ownership and governance are being presented as conditions of free academic research. Breslauer's concluding line makes this linkage of property laws and academic freedom abundantly clear: “[W]e have every intention of honoring our commitment to ensure the research activities are not impeded, and the rule of law is maintained.”

 While it would certainly be possible to read Breslauer's concluding line as revealing the pretextual quality of his purported concern with academic freedom, I want instead to ask after some of what would follow from his conflation of university ownership and academic freedom, particularly in this moment of educational privatization. If Breslauer presents one view of what underlies academic freedom, what are the implications of this view? And what are some possible counter-views as to how material conditions might enable the realization of freedom, academic and otherwise?

The University's ultimatum to those farming on the Gill Tract implies that academic inquiry, in order to be free, should occur entirely within the bounds of the university, and that it should be carried out using university property, undisturbed by any thing or person not bound contractually to the UC Regents. This is a conception of the proper 'location' of academic research that is also reiterated every time a University employee is forced to sign a form declaring that the fruits of their academic labors – their discoveries, curricula, and lectures – are property of the UC Regents. It's a narrow (not to mention fantastical) conception of free inquiry, which assumes that knowledge can be cordoned off from broader publics and can be wholly contained within the parameters of private ownership. According to this view of academic inquiry, the greatest threat to academic freedom is the possibility that research might be contaminated by the bodies and minds of those not affiliated with the university, whether they be squatters on university farmland, those who would freely disseminate inventions or other effects of research, or publics that would seek to give direction to professors' research. For someone like George Breslauer, university police and administrators exist to keep such unruly elements at bay, and thus to allow academic research to be carried on in isolation.

 Of course, research is never, in fact, quite so enclosed or self-contained. Breslauer's view, while materially consequential, rests upon a fantasy of autonomy that occludes the degree to which universities remain dependent upon worlds beyond their gates. Social scientific research, for instance, generally involves the transcription of words spoken and gestures made by those not associated with universities. And natural scientific research, while often occurring on land controlled by universities, also takes place within state-controlled parks, on the open seas, or on someone else's property. University researchers are trained to treat populations and places pretty much anywhere as sites from which knowledge may be extracted. Moreover, researchers themselves are socialized and educated outside the universities (by parents, public school teachers, self-publishing bloggers, etc.), meaning that their work is enabled by the labors of those not enclosed within the bounds of the university. Universities thus feed, in an exploitative mode, on worlds to which they give little back, at least not directly.

The process of university privatization we're currently facing casts these exploitative dynamics in particularly sharp relief. Higher tuition rates, for instance, create a situation in which enrolled students fund university research by taking out massive debt burdens, and in which working class communities, particularly communities of color, are increasingly excluded from participation (first as students, and ultimately as researchers) in university life. Of course, even as they are excluded from direct participation in university life, working class communities will continue to be studied, to have knowledge extracted from them, to be objects of the academic gaze...

University privatization – which, let's not forget, is being enforced by campus administrators – reshapes not only the composition of the student body and the conditions of academic life and research, but also the content of this research. Public and private foundations, corporations, and wealthy donors are increasingly shaping the direction of academic research, ensuring that the work academics do is more directly generative of knowledge useful for managers and technicians at private firms and state institutions. Which is to say: university privatization is a threat to academic freedom, among other things we might value.

But it's not enough simply to call for the restoration of unrestricted state funding as a way to defend unfettered free inquiry. Such funding would merely ensure that research was a little less determined by instrumental ends; it wouldn't alter the exploitative relations underlying what we've come to know as university research – relations that are being put into question by the reclamation of Gill Tract. Open, self-governing formations, such as the Gill Tract farm – where, everyday, workshops are allowing those interested to learn how to grow food, and where experiments in autonomous social reproduction are continuously being carried out – provide bits and pieces, glimpses, of the material conditions necessary for free, and freeing, educational life.

For the sake of free inquiry and autonomous life and learning, we should defend the Gill Tract farm from those who would prevent, through force if necessary, the cultivation of such freedoms. One simple way to do so is to attend and speak up at this Tuesday's open forum on Occupy the Farm, which is being held at 6:30pm in Morgan Hall, on the UC Berkeley Campus.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Reflections from UC Davis: On Academic Freedom and Campus Militarization


The following article by Joshua Clover was just published in College Literature: A Journal of Critical Literary Studies. A PDF of the article is available here. We recommend reading it next to the latest piece from Nathan Brown, "Administrative Totalitarianism at the UC and the Necessity of Direct Action by Faculty."

The autumn of 2011 offered extraordinary images of police brutality against students (and not students alone) on University of California campuses. Two stand out, both seemingly following on from the national Occupy movement. On November 9, students attempting to ‘occupy’ a grassy area at the edge of Berkeley’s famed Sproul Plaza, next to the Mario Savio Steps, were batoned by riot police summoned to campus by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, first during the day, and then again that night when Occupy Cal returned. In no small part because a couple of professors were among the beaten, the event became a national news story. This would pale in comparison to events on the Davis campus nine days later, when a low-key tent occupation on the quad — Occupy UC Davis — was broken up by riot police summoned by Chancellor Linda Katehi from three jurisdictions. The images of one corpulent and distressingly nonchalant officer disbursing military-grade pepper spray to the faces of a couple dozen seated students would swiftly become one of the iconic images of the year, not just for the campus or the university but globally.

In train, there has been considerable discussion of removing the Chancellors who either authorized such actions or were too incapable to command the situation adequately. There has also been a perhaps more consequential debate around the presence of police on college campuses, regarding either their presence per se (for those familiar with the internationally and historically common situation of police-free universities), or in terms of their increasingly militarized form. And these changes in campus dynamics — toward the heavy hand bearing advanced weaponry — have prompted concerns about the implications for the intellectual and academic pursuits of the university, and what we might expect to develop from here.

I want to argue as directly as possible that grasping this new security regime as primarily pertinent to campus intellectual climate is misguided. While this line of inquiry is no trivial matter, it confuses and obscures core issues.

The confusion comes from two entangled commonplaces regarding these dramatic events (and others like them in kind, if not in media saturation). The first is the assumption that we can identify in each case a two-part sequence of cause and effect, in which students protest and police overreact disastrously. The second (with evident implications for the question of academic freedom tout court), is that this to-and-fro is to be conceived exclusively as a freedom of speech issue.

These assumptions form a unity. In this understanding, students first protest, as students are wont to do. The question arises as to the limits of protest, and to what extent certain actions — in this case, politicized camping — count as protected speech. ‘Time, place, and manner’ provisions are invoked; the police are summoned, heavy with tools. Orders to disperse are given, no dispersal is forthcoming, and then the intolerable thing happens, and everyone scrambles to understand and manage the aftermath.

There can be no doubt that these ‘overreactions’ are judiciously calculated to produce a chilling effect on student struggle. As with the endless nuisance charges levied against student (and other) organizers, they are designed to exhaust resources, both inner and material. And further there can be no doubt that this chilling effect spills over to the entire campus. In this sense it is certainly reasonable to consider the implications of these actions for free thought and intellectual exploration.

But there are also good reasons — better reasons, I believe — not to shift the debate onto the terrain of thought, ideas, expression, and so forth. It has suited all sides to allow that this drama revolves around First Amendment issues. Under considerable internal and external pressure, both Chancellors conceded that in these cases, the riot police may indeed have curtailed what really should be protected rights of speech and assembly. Katehi insisted (twice; she is in the habit of using the same formulaic language in multiple press releases) that: “Our campus is committed to providing a safe environment for all to learn freely and practice their civil rights of freedom of speech and expression” (2011a, 2011b); her counterpart at Berkeley, Chancellor Birgeneau, extolled the same virtues. Meanwhile, students did not hesitate to pillory both administrations for having failed the Bill of Rights, while dismayed if still-timorous faculty demanded that Birgeneau “respect freedom of speech and assembly on the Berkeley campus” (UC Berkeley Academic Senate 2011).

The fantasy at play here is that what has gone wrong somehow concerns the excessive assertion of First Amendment rights by students, or conversely, the excessive limiting of same by the administration. The logical remedy is inevitably discovered to be a rebalancing of these matters, extending adequate protections to ‘protest’ and ‘expression’ as abstract ends in and of themselves.

The underlying reality is radically different. What must first be recognized is that in neither case did we see the abstract two-part motion, protest/repression. The unity of each event is considerably more concrete: administrations must deploy force to implement austerity policies. The initiating acts were not student protests but university policies designed to assure that the costs of running an educational system increasingly devolve to students, who are at once ever more compelled to pursue higher education for competitive advantage in a forbidding employment landscape, and concomitantly less able to afford the same without increased debt and workloads.

This misrecognition of the sequence of substantive events is compounded by another, whereby the campus protests are presented as arising from the charisma of Occupy Wall Street and the ensuing national movement over the course of the preceding months. As the Occupy movement has not made a significant issue of education, and as students (especially at purportedly elite or top-tier universities) are often thought to be cushioned at least temporarily from the buffets of the economy (especially the employment market), the inference is frequently drawn that the campus variants of Occupy are lacking real content of their own, and are thus reducible to protest for the sake of protest.

What is forgotten is that the Occupy movement, doubtless inspired by 2010’s ‘Arab Spring’ and Europe’s ‘Movement of the Squares,’ has its local roots in recent US campus organizing, specifically the anti-privatization campaigns of 2009-2010 on UC campuses. They have been ongoing if uneven, and characterized throughout by police violence. The shock over recent events at Berkeley and Davis this November must be taken with a grain of salt. After all, only two Novembers before, both Chancellors called riot police from multiple jurisdictions onto the same campuses to break up anti-privatization occupations. Both times, the police attacked non-violent protestors, and lawsuits are still pending. In short, we are looking at a clearly defined confrontation that has been in progress for some time, on the concrete terrain of economic crisis — not a timeless confrontation between academic freedom and policing, on the abstract terrain of rights.

So we might say that a mistaken assessment of the sequence of events, both this November and over the last few years, allows for a misrecognition of the fundamental issue.This seems perhaps a neutral slippage; aren’t rights good for everyone? However, this reflexive motion — in which future political organizing and action turns on itself to address the formal conditions of previous actions rather than the preceding causes — in actuality serves the university administration admirably by displacing the debate into the arena of form rather than content. The administration can offer a remedy, with tonalities of magnanimous self-correction: they can promise to be more thoughtful and diligent about respecting the right to protest, and thus seem to slip out of their position in the struggle, that is, as enthusiastic co-authors of the privatization process. They themselves turn to become a context, not a class antagonist.

This is indeed precisely what has happened. One suspects there will be some payouts to injured students, and that a cop or two will be pastured. And the matter will be tentatively resolved, despite the economic content remaining entirely unaddressed; thus, the administration wins by ‘losing.’

One can see that this movement has become a substantial quagmire for the professoriat within this political cycle: what is sometimes called ‘the articulation trap.’ It is a double truism of the faculty member’s position, especially the professor’s, that she is not identified clearly with either side of the current struggle between the economic interests of students and administrators; at the same time, her job’s basic supposition (especially in the humanities) is that position-taking is itself an action. These two factors supply a powerful if implicit determination toward intervening not by entering into the content of this struggle, but by offering, at a remove, often-eloquent assessments that tend toward seemingly neutral ethical (or pseudo-ethical) categories like rights and freedoms. I fear we professors are quite often guilty of looking for our car-keys under the streetlight — that is, participating in this particular antagonism in the ways we are best equipped for, rather than in the ways that the conditions and goals demand.

In thinking about campus militarization, UCSC professor Bob Meister provides an extraordinarily useful account of the relation between campus securitization and securitization of university economies, as they have recently developed. In his talk on “Debt, Democracy, and the Public University,” he sets forth the cruel historical developments through which William Bratton was retained to lead the investigation into the pepper spray incident, and what it reveals about “the link between the privatization of public universities, the financial services industry and the national security industry” (Meister 2011). Meister observes that:
Since 9/11 the US defense industry of the Cold War has morphed from being mainly in the military hardware business into a new role as global provider of security services that enables government and corporations throughout the world to outsource intelligence, policing, background checks, construction of secure sites and various operations that may need to be deniable — as well as the public relations efforts necessary to support such deniability.

Most Americans do not know that there is a huge domestic market for services provided by the defense industry....The fastest growing market for the defense and security services industry is in the area of local government and public agencies that feel threatened by political protests, such as the Occupy movement, and that have reporting and other obligations under the Patriot Act. Former LA Police Chief William Bratton was hired to build this market for Kroll Security by its parent company, Altegrity, a defense contractor that is itself now owned by a private equity firm that also invests in both for-profit higher education and financial services (Meister 2011).
While the specifics of such connections inevitably vary from place to place and situation to situation, the systemic logic is plain enough. Heightened campus security is inextricably linked to heightened campus securitization in its two main forms: the decision of universities to pursue a certain line of investment strategies which move money away from educational services and into capital projects; and the corresponding decision to cover those educational costs by shifting burdens to students at a rate which can only be financed though student loans, concomitantly providing profitable investment for banks laden with otherwise fallow capital. The rise in tuition and indebtedness within the context of economic crisis simply is the militarization of campus; they are one and the same.

It is impossible to conclude other than this: even if one does adhere to the belief that the matters of intellectual freedom, free speech, and free assembly are fundamental to this unfolding political economic sequence, the place where such things will be arbitrated is not on their own terrain — the terrain of formal rights — but elsewhere. The necessary arena in which such rights might be protected presently and for the longer durée is the arena of direct antagonism between, on the one side, those fighting against backdoor privatization and austerity programs on campus, and on the other, those who implement and enforce them. This is not a rhetorical struggle, and moreover, the retreat into the sphere of articulation risks affirming the misrecognition of the struggle’s character. Such formal rights are far less an enabling condition for this struggle than an outcome of its material content.

Professors: stand with your students, literally. It is the best thing to be done for academic freedom; it is the least you can do for them.