Monday, June 15, 2015

In the Regents We Trust? How Autonomy Put Tenure on the Chopping Block

Guest post by Lenora Hanson and Elsa Noterman

JFC Omnibus copy.jpg

National attention has turned to Wisconsin yet again due to a Republican-led charge to eliminate longstanding and historically progressive state protections for employees. Last week, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC), a subcommittee of the Legislature, approved an omnibus motion that not only cuts the university budget by $250 million but also removes tenure protections for faculty from state statutes. The tenure item has led many around the country to conclude that Wisconsin is a conservative testing ground for ALEC-styled initiatives, while media representation would seem to suggest that there has been an active, political response to it. For instance, headlines last week read, “Wisconsin faculty incensed by motion to eliminate tenure,” “Faculty members protest tenure, shared governance changes,” and “Outraged UW-Madison faculty call for full court press on tenure.” (The titles of the first two pieces, written by Colleen Flaherty for Inside Higher Ed, have recently been changed to remove any mention of faculty response. They are now entitled “Trying to Kill Tenure” and “Losing Hope in Wisconsin.”)

But these titles are misleading, as we will outline here, for numerous reasons and importantly for strategic reasons. Early on in February when the Biennial Budget first announced the potential magnitude of the cuts, there was widespread agreement among university administration and many faculty and students that protest and political action would only worsen the situation. Despite the ongoing attacks on the university system by the state legislature and the seeming complicity of the UW System President, Ray Cross many faculty and students continue to trust the Board of Regents (BOR), UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, and Cross to diplomatically defend student and faculty interests against the conservative agenda set by the Legislature. By and large, faculty, students and others decided that political action would only ensure the passage of the $300 million cuts proposed in the 2015-17 Budget. Despite the fact that sixteen of the eighteen members of the Board of Regents are Governor Walker appointees, there was a hopeful assumption on the part of faculty that the Board would push back against the recent Joint Finance Committee’s motion especially item #39 which alters the tenure system by moving tenure protections from state statutes to the Board of Regents.

But the Board of Regents, and UW-Madison’s administration in particular, is playing a strategic game. From what we see as an increasingly neoliberal university, the elimination of tenure and massive budgetary cuts are merely bumps along the road of “difficult decisions” that will transform Wisconsin’s flagship university into a more efficient competitor for tuition dollars and a more flexible manager of its employees. In recognizing this strategic game, our point is not to dismiss the importance of state defunding nor to argue that the state should be idealized or nostalgized as a funding source.

It is, rather, as Annie McClanahan recently pointed out during a talk on UW-Madison’s campus, that we cannot separate or exempt the university from its role in the production of student debt, delimited accessibility for students of color and students of limited economic means, and ultimately the collectively foreclosed future of what we continue to refer to as the public. One important example to bear in mind throughout this post comes out of Demos’ recent report “Wisconsin’s Great Cost Shift.” The report greatly emphasizes state defunding and pays little attention to the role of universities’ pursuit of increased tuition revenues. But it also mentions that despite tuition revenue increases, expenditures on student instruction and academic support has slightly declined while expenditures on student services has risen 12.3%. Thus, as we wrote in February on this blog, tuition control and what tuition can be used to pay for has been a main factor in the struggle for UW-Madison and System autonomy in Wisconsin.

Wait for it….

At the emergency UW-Madison Faculty Senate meeting held on June 9th to address the JFC’s passage of the omnibus motion, Chancellor Blank attempted to allay faculty concerns by telling them that whereas other universities in the UW-System are subject to the Board of Regents’ tenure policy, UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee will have the ability to write their own tenure policies. Why is this? Because UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee are currently both in the process of finalizing independent Human Resource systems (through the HR Design project) that are to be implemented this year. Blank offered this olive branch as if it was a reprieve from the current legislative onslaught on the university. In reality, however, the HR Design project at UW-Madison is bound up with tenure elimination and budget cuts. And Blank’s use of it as a tool in the growing flexibilities toolbox obscures the fact that it is a causal factor and not a byproduct of the current funding crisis; Blank treated it instead as an affirmation of the need for autonomy from the state rather than bound up with the cuts that came along with it. What follows is a brief recap of the origin of this HR Design, since a broader outline was offered in a past post on this website and on Remaking the University.

At the same time that Governor Scott Walker was pushing through policies that demolished public sector unions in Wisconsin in 2011, then-UW-Madison Chancellor Caroline “Biddy” Martin was in discussions with him about another item in that budget, which was called the New Badger Partnership (NBP). Walker had the prerogative to include the NBP because, in Wisconsin, the Governor has a divine fiat allowing him to write statutory changes, fiscal and otherwise, into the Biennial Budget. Chancellor Martin’s messaging about the NBP primarily focused on the financial flexibilities it would give the university for purchasing supplies. But for our purposes here, the most important and least spoken about feature of the NBP was that it would have given the University of Wisconsin-Madison far greater control over tuition setting capacities, both for in-state and out-of-state students. This Partnership was eventually watered down considerably and some of the “flexibilities” it did provide were expanded out to include all UW-System universities and colleges. But it gave UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee alone the power to create and implement their own, independent Human Resources policies.

Thus, the HR system Blank invoked on Tuesday originated out of the first real political confrontation between the state and the university in recent years, not over abstract or general flexibilities but namely the right to set in-state and out-of-state tuition costs in a manner more akin to our university’s peers. We saw the same struggle ensue over tuition setting power in the most recent budget, where UW System leaders and Republican legislators both agreed that a Public Authority model, which granted tuition control after a two-year freeze imposed by the state, was best for the System even if it meant trading that power for significant cuts to the university’s budget.

Blank’s characterization of the HR Design as a fortunate antidote to current tenure threats obscures past decisions and actions of the university, decisions that some warned against as potential triggers for future state defunding. Her portrayal of the Design as a disconnected tool that we happen to have at our disposal, rather than as a past point of contention in the recent history of the restructuring of higher education, makes it impossible to debate whether or not past decisions in the pursuit of autonomy were good ones, and whether or not we should continue to endorse and move forward with them now. And it further perpetuates the bureaucratic posture with which many UW-Madison workers and students are now familiar in which we are told by administrators that not enough information is currently available to predict what will happen in the future. This posture ignores the incremental, but concrete, decisions made along the way, decisions which inform what future policies on tenure, governance and tuition hikes will look like years from now. As UW workers found out during the process through which UW-Madison created its new HR system one that removed seniority and established merit-based pay raises once there is enough information about university policies, it’s already too late to contest them.  

This bureaucratic posture is reflected in Blank’s recent comment on her blog that “Section 39 isn’t a command or directive. It merely authorizes the Board of Regents to lay-off faculty for the stated reasons. The Regents can decide when and how they want to invoke that authority” (Chancellor Blank’s Message). The ambiguity of this comment is stated as if it was meant to be a comfort for faculty, promising a malleable and open process in which they will have agency, through a Task Force, to write a tenure policy for UW-Madison that adheres to the “gold standard” of the AAUP. It is further coupled with guarantees by Blank and others that campus community involvement in that process will be crucial, even as she describes shared governance through a weakened language of “consulting” with faculty.  

In such rhetoric the actual precarity of faculty’s current situation is turned into a selling point, neglecting the fact that while the BOR might approve this gold standard for UW-Madison it’s still entirely unclear how much jurisdiction they will have in implementing their own, newly acquired powers to terminate tenured professors above and beyond UW-Madison’s policy. As the Public Representative Organization of the Faculty Senate at UW-Madison (PROFS) has pointed out, the fact that the BOR can “terminate any faculty or academic staff…due to a budget or program decision regarding program discontinuance, curtailment, modification, or redirection,” means that there “could be no meaningful limit on the power of the Regents to dismiss faculty and/or to close programs or research centers that fell out of favor with administrators or political leaders.” In this context, Chancellor Blank’s statements evoking UW’s history of standing up for academic freedom and commitment to “sifting and winnowing” is far from reassuring. As David Vanness, an associate professor of population health sciences, recently said as to the future without tenure, “We will sift where it is safe to sift. We will winnow where we are told to winnow.”

It’s entirely unclear how this promise of “wait and see” will function in the future since, as Richard Grusin put it, “Wisconsin is about to go from being the only state with tenure in statute to being the only state with broad provisions for firing tenured faculty in statute.” But it’s likely that what Blank refers to as a mere authorization of power for the BOR is of a kind with the logic by which she separated the HR Design project from our universities’ struggle for greater access to private revenue streams like tuition at UW-Madison. That is, it will be used in a similar manner in the future, swooping in at a moment of budgetary crisis and applied under the guise of necessity, as if it was the only way to protect the university from the state’s attacks. And shouldn’t we be grateful for it, they will ask, when programs need to be closed and certain faculty let go?

In instances like this, we are reminded of the logic Zizek describes where one waits patiently for evidence or data for proof of what might happen in the future, instead of looking in the face of available and explicit ideology. In our case, that means asking how the struggle for autonomy, a term that Scott Walker, Rebecca Blank and Ray Cross all deployed in support of the public authority model, connects seemingly disparate projects like our new HR system to recent budget cuts from the state, along with the rising tuition, fee and housing costs that are making UW-Madison an increasingly elitist, exclusive institution.

Whose tenure?

HR policies are thus part of a systemic shift that includes decreased affordability and even, however unintentionally on the part of UW System administrators, the recent attacks on tenure. The successful precedence of those policies, which have effectively eroded job security for staff and non-faculty workers by terminating seniority rights and installing individuated merit-based pay raises, only further highlight an entrenched raced and classed ideology that would preserve job security only for those doing “intellectual” or academic work at the university. Such policies can easily target janitors and clerical workers without backlash from academic workers, in part because tenure was defined in its origins as a protection specifically for academic freedom and not as a job protection. It’s no surprise that Blank can defend tenure through the same system that is stripping other workers of job protections, since it was first established in 1916 when the AAUP abandoned unionization for “a weak form of academic freedom” through which faculty “retained the power to govern knowledge production [but] gave up power to govern the political and economic functions of the university” (Johnson et al 492).

Even so, the threat to knowledge production is not evenly distributed today. Numerous faculty responses to the recent tenure threat, including the rhetoric of a mass exodus of faculty from the state, suggest that somehow any faculty person, working on any topic could be affected by the BOR increased powers to terminate employment. While theoretically true, this view ignores the historic and ongoing differences in how faculty and academic programs are treated within the university. Thus, the question of who will be most affected by the changes in tenure are connected to the historic development of ‘academic freedom’ and tenure, the continued “pattern of marginalization” of certain academic programs, and the general trends toward the precaritization of labor in the university. And it tends to ignore the fact that programs and departments have always been tied to their financial viability in some way, as we saw exemplified in the sweeping closures of humanities and arts departments after the 2008 financial crisis.

In response to Republican attacks on tenure as a job-for-life guarantee, faculty have argued that tenure provides critical protection for academic freedom. And certainly throughout the history of tenure it has buffered faculty from external intervention and attack. However, this has not universally been the case. As pointed out in Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira’s book, The Imperial University, certain faculty especially those of color whose research is deemed politically contentious, have lacked these protections. They quote Ellen W. Shrecker, who argues that the early Seligman Report by the AAUP in 1915, actually “reveals how deeply enmeshed the notion of academic freedom was with the overall status, security and prestige of the academic profession” (Chatterjee and Maira 2014:35). Thus, while early discussions of academic freedom sought to protect faculty from outsiders, they did not “adequately address political dissidence or any political positions that were considered ‘unsympathetic’ by the majority of academics” (36). Instead, it was largely focused on maintaining “‘appropriate” behavior that would not jeopardize the professionalism and status of academia.” And thus we see a continued policing of academic “civility” on campuses around the country.

In this context, then, the changes in tenure at UW would certainly affect faculty work - perhaps increasing anxiety and subsequently leading to conservatism. However, faculty who are already marginalized are likely to be affected the most by these changes. In a famous example, Professor Steven Salaita’s faculty appointment was terminated by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after his public critique of Israel’s actions in Gaza in the summer of 2014. The University justified its decision by citing Salaita’s “incivility.” A recent report by the American Association of University Professors, recognizes that “civility consistently operates to constitute relations of power,” and that “it is always the powerful who determine its meaning a meaning that serves to delegitimize the words and actions of those to whom it is applied.” In addition, as pointed out by Salaita, the language of civility also works to reproduce a “colonial logic” one in which the university is thoroughly entrenched determining who gets to speak and which departments get support.

Here at UW-Madison, the recent efforts to consolidate the Ethnic Studies programs which include Chicano and Latino Studies, Asian American Studies, American Indian Studies and Afro-American Studies exemplify what Political Science Professor Ben Marquez calls a “greater pattern of marginalization” on our own campus. Despite asserting the importance of diversity on campus, in 2013 approximately 72% of students and 76% of faculty and staff identified as white. In this context, as Karma Chavez, a professor in communications, argues, “the very programs designed to help students learn diverse histories and feel included on this campus are treated like third class citizens.” And due to the threat of budget cuts, the Gender and Women's Studies department at UW-Madison received notice of a 20% budgetary cut despite having performed very well on the university’s own enrollment-based metrics. So even adhering to the bureaucratic norms put in place by administration may not protect the marginalized and much-embattled programs that were, perhaps, never the central concern of academic freedom to protect in the first place.

How to act on a campus divided

At the recent Faculty Senate meeting, Blank vouched for the Board of Regents as a body that we can trust, but also said only time will prove whether or not they share our care and concern for higher education in the state. As we’ve suggested above, this is a rhetoric that needs to be read closely and carefully as it bears a bureaucratic strategy within it that obscures past decisions made by our own administrators about state funding and the primacy of increasing private funds. Those decisions continue to shape our present and future in Wisconsin. And as we’ve also suggested, her assurances leave questions about equity and race in regards to student access and faculty protection completely to the side. These two reasons are precisely why we believe it is important to organize and protest strategically on our campuses, and not only against the state, as UW-Madison’s administration has itself been an active agent, albeit in complicated and sometimes contradictory ways, in producing our current crisis. With the “flexibilities” that are inevitably coming down the pipeline, those of us concerned with equity, access, race and gender issues must hold our administration responsible, and we cannot do that by remaining silent or by placing trust in their ambivalent information about future decisions that is always deferred.  

Our decisions about strategy, protest and political action need to be informed, of course, by the 2011 Capitol occupation and how it has been remembered during this most recent political crisis. In the month after the current budget proposal was released, much of our campus community and administration warned that any response similar to that of 2011 would only further weaken our chances of reducing cuts, because it would make us look like “crazy radicals” and play into Walker’s own narrative. This kind of revisionism isn’t simply wrong, given that what received widespread media attention throughout the the occupation and what led to its limited agenda (Kill the Bill) was that the fact that it was quite unradical in many regards. The Capitol protests were peaceful and largely filled by teachers, firefighters, and nurses--not by insurrectionists.


But you wouldn’t know that by talking to most Wisconsinites, who argue that the extreme nature of the occupation catalyzed the failure of the later recall election that tried to oust Walker from power, rather than the Democrats' mismanagement of it. Ask most people in Madison or consult popular publications on the recall, and they will attest that the occupation proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that political action is too risky in conservative times like these, an assessment that confirms, a la Frederic Jameson, that history hurts. But in our case it also seems that history is traumatic, as many of those who participated in the protests now reject them and endorse a revisionist account in which it wasn’t everyday people engaging in direct action in 2011, perhaps for the first time in their lives, but some other unstable, radical population. What could have been a starting point for building a more skilled and strategic action for the future has lapsed into a narrative that makes action an untouchable end point, never to be repeated. This interpretation of the past informed the strategic choices made early on in the budgetary process, making it seem like the only channels available to university workers and students were the doors of System and UW-Madison administrators and their largely closed-door discussions.

The results they returned to us, a reduction from $300 million to $250 million in cuts and a proposal to raise out-of-state and international student tuition by more than $10,000 over the next four years, might maintain some kind of status quo of funding on our campus for now. But what are the larger impacts of having depended on legislative lobbying and administrative approaches to address state budgetary cuts? Who will get left out, put on the margins, made the exception or the example of the rule under these conditions, both as a result of cuts to the budget and to tenure protections? And who would we be struggling for and with if we instead chose to cultivate an active culture of dissent from this status quo and engaged instead in political action? 

One answer to these questions might be available in the history of struggles for ethnic studies, black studies and women’s studies programs that took place from the 1960s up to the 1980s, and their focused strategy of antagonism, occupations and concrete demands. Instead of relying on promises of future reform made under the sign of multiculturalism and diversity, students and some faculty engaged in political actions because they realized it was the only way to leverage their power and to make demands on university faculty and administrators. Many of these attempts were unsuccessful and others were translated into disciplines and colleges that conformed to the existing university structures. But we close with this example because it reminds us that students and faculty before us recognized and identified their campuses, and not simply their states, as sites of dissensus and struggle, rather than unity and agreement. Those were struggles over the kind of non-utilitarian education, one not reducible to the demands of the job market, that can seem impossible to defend in public today. As Nick Mitchell recently glossed in his Theses on Adjunctification, the struggle for ethnic studies and black studies came about at the very same time that black, brown and female workers were brought into the university to perform low wage, contingent labor. We should keep this in mind today, as we see the inverse taking place in the collapse of such programs alongside the explosion of contingent labor far beyond dining halls and custodial closets. It is time choose our histories strategically, then, and align ourselves with those workers already in the most precarious positions in our universities, and to fight for tenure not for the sake of already-tenured faculty but with those who have been excluded from it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Political Economy of Enrollment

One the most important debates about the crisis of public higher education these days has to do with understanding the reasons for the restructuring of the public university, which is tied to everything from skyrocketing tuition and student debt to administrative corporatization. In very schematic terms, there are two answers: one focuses on state governments and budget cuts to public higher education, the other on university administrations and their profit-seeking protagonism. The way we choose to answer the question is politically important because it is part of what shapes our strategic and tactical response. If the state government is the primary actor, interventions will generally operate at the level of electoral politics, either through supporting candidates, lobbying, or more generally “making a case” for supporting public education. In contrast, if university administrations are the primary actors, interventions will generally occur more locally, at the level of the campus or system, through actions like rallies, walkouts, strikes, occupations, and so on. Of course, things aren’t always as clear cut as this dichotomy suggests. But in a context where austerity is so visible and “politics” is largely seen as something politicians do, it’s important to remember the active role of administrators in restructuring their universities into the ground.

These debates are organized in part by how the numbers are calculated. Take the recent and controversial New York Times essay by Paul Campos, which argued counterintuitively that government support for higher education has actually increased, not declined, since the 1960s. He claimed that the real reason tuition has gone up so much is not budget cuts but the skyrocketing expenditures that channel money into administrative bloat and building construction. Not surprisingly, the piece generated a quick response from folks who see state funding as the key. A number of these critiques turned on the claim that he was using the wrong metric—rather than aggregate support for higher education, he should instead be using per-student funding:
Overall, public spending on higher education has, as Campos argues, risen dramatically over the long term. But so have the number of Americans attending college. When administrators say that government support is shrinking, what they usually mean is that per student appropriations have fallen. This is a crucial point. Someone has to foot the bill for each and every undergraduate's education. If taxpayers don't do it, then families have to pick up the slack themselves.
And sure enough, the administrators did in fact say exactly that. Nathan Brostrom, the Chief Financial Officer of the University of California system (and former JP Morgan exec), wrote a letter to the Times criticizing the Campos piece in which he made exactly this argument:
Mr. Campos blames administrative bloat and high salaries; I disagree. The State of California, for example, funds the University of California system at the same level as it did in 1999—even though today we enroll 83,000 more students and have one more campus.
The per-student argument makes mathematical sense. It’s obvious that equal funding / more students = less funding per student. State funding per student has obviously declined. And yet... using this metric as the gold standard seems to miss something important about the function of the student at the public university today.

When higher education was relatively fully funded by the state—when tuition was zero—the per-student metric made sense. Under the Master Plan, state funding for the UC was pegged to in-state enrollment. In that context, enrollment served as a reasonable way to quantify the “public good” produced by state support for higher education. Rising enrollment theoretically meant more trained workers who could be funneled into the labor market. The massive expansion of the infrastructure of public higher education during the 1960s, when not only new buildings but entirely new campuses were constructed, was justified in exactly these terms.

Over the last three decades, however, these enrollment quotas have gradually been removed. Little remains, likewise, of the idea of higher education as a “public good.” What is the function of the student today? It depends who you ask. Teachers see (or should see) students as critical, thinking subjects, who they can learn with and from. But administrators see students as dollar signs. These days, students are little more than revenue streams that show up on credit reports as potential liquidity and favorable interest rates. We all understand that tuition increases are an attempt by university administrations to bring in more revenue. But enrollment increases do the same thing. And this actually shouldn’t be all that controversial, since we already talk about out-of-state enrollment in exactly this way. But is it the case for in-state enrollment as well?

Last week, the UC regents approved an increase in out-of-state tuition by 8 percent per year for the next 5 years. Next year, out-of-state students will pay an extra $1,830 in tuition. During the meeting, Brostrom himself pointed out that the UC could accommodate 10,000 more undergraduate students if the state provided additional funding for them. He also suggested that the administration would lobby the state for these funds. The CFO’s language frames increased enrollment as a public good, a drag on the university’s resources, certainly, but something that the state should do, as the state once did. What he doesn’t say, however, is that enrolling 10,000 more in-state undergrads (at 2015-2016 tuition levels) would provide the university with an extra $112.2 million per year. And even if we assume those 83,000 extra tuition-paying students are all California residents, that’s nearly a billion extra dollars in gross annual revenue over 1999 levels.

Now, the UC administration claims that the cost of instruction is greater than in-state tuition. But these claims are at best debatable and at worst simply not credible, because as Chris Newfield and Bob Samuels have shown they include research and other non-educational expenses in order to inflate the alleged instructional cost. (It's gotten to the point that, as Samuels observes, the administration literally claims it costs $342,500 to educate one medical student for one year.) According to Newfield, a more reasonable estimate of the cost of instruction for undergraduates would be somewhere between 40-80 percent of the administration’s figures. Even using the higher rate, then, the administration still generates a net profit for every extra student they bring in.

Per-student funding can be a useful metric for clarifying certain trends, but it’s equally important to understand the things it makes invisible. University administrators make decisions about enrollment not out of some abstract interest in the “public good” but rather out of a very concrete interest in the bottom line. Enrollment should not be treated as a given but as a variable that may shift as executives and financial officers seek to optimize revenue flows. In this context, using per-student funding may obscure the function of the student today while deflecting antagonism toward the state.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ambiguous news from Sacramento

Today Governor Brown announced his revised budget. Despite general enthusiasm about its two-year tuition freeze for in-state students, the budget presents a pretty ambiguous picture. In addition to allowing up to 8% annual hikes for out-of-state tuition, it also imposes a series of regressive transformations on the UCs. For example, the budget sets in place requirements that campuses push students toward three-year degrees:
In addition to supporting timely four‑year degrees, each campus will develop three‑year degree pathways for 10 out of its top 15 majors by March 1, 2016, which will provide students with another option to earn a UC degree. The UC has committed to promoting and encouraging these accelerated pathways with a goal that 5 percent of students will access these accelerated tracks by the summer of 2017.
The reduction of time-to-degree is presented as a solution to a problem that would not exist absent university privatization: 3 year degrees are affirmed by the State insofar as they allow students to avoid paying another year's worth of high tuition and room and board. But this accelerated pace would diminish educational quality, and would impose on students an even more intense schedule, making it difficult for them to organize strikes and other sorts of unproductive activities. A couple other areas of concern are the agreements between the governor and UCOP that in-state tuition should begin to rise by at least the rate of inflation after the two-year freeze, the establishment of a third pension tier, and the $18 million dollar cut to the Middle Class Scholarship Program.

But to return to the out-of-state tuition hike: the state's effort to divide the student body (in terms of their immediate political interests) between those from California and those from other states or from abroad seems to be working. While the out-of-state tuition hike is not nearly as high as what was being discussed last December (an up to 8% annual increase rather than 17%), the multi-thousand dollar hike is not insignificant in terms of out-of-state students' debt levels, nor is it politically insignificant. Those who rule the state seem to be on the verge of breaking what had been an established across the board tuition freeze: they are thus rolling back some of the student movement gains of 2012. The following charts, composed by Shannon Ikebe, show recent (and projected) trends in tuition rates (based on data from UCLA):

Not only does the out-of-state hike extract more money from certain students and thus divide the immediate interests of the student body, it also exacerbates inequalities between UC campuses, with those (like UCB and UCLA) with relatively whiter and wealthier student bodies receiving a disproportionate funding increase, while those (like UCR, UCM, and UCSC) with higher percentages of working class / students of color receiving relatively little increase following the hike, since they have significantly lower rates of out-of-state students. While the chart on the left shows the percentage of the out-of-state tuition hike that will go to the respective campuses, the chart on the right shows what a more equitable distribution of funding would look like.

All of this is to say that Brown's revised budget is a politically ambiguous document, reflecting at once the power of mobilized students and the current limits of this power. Those who rule the state (whether they be UCOP bureaucrats, the Regents, or State Representatives) have managed to chip away at the tuition freeze and to introduce regressive reforms of UC education, even as active students (led by those at Santa Cruz) have managed to hold off even worse privatizing reforms. 

Beyond tuition, there are a number of regressive dynamics happening at the moment with respect to the repression of student organizers. At Santa Cruz, students who blockaded a highway in early March are still suspended from campus under the orders of conduct officers. This is, I believe, the first extended suspension imposed by a UC administration on anti-privatization protesters in recent memory. And it's possible that Berkeley students who briefly occupied California Hall a few weeks ago demanding a community benefits agreement for the Richmond Bay campus could also be facing conduct charges. If such charges materialize, they would constitute the first student conduct prosecutions for political activity at UCB since the delegitimization of the Office of Student Conduct accomplished over the spring of 2010 by a group of Boalt law students and by other active students. 

Thus, on both anti-privatization and anti-repression fronts, much remains to be done.   

Update [5/15/15]: Chris Newfield is up with a new piece on the revised budget, that especially breaks down the total state contribution levels, the pension re-tiering, and the state's insistence on a certain minimum ratio of transfer to four-year students, among other aspects of the revised budget. 


Monday, May 11, 2015

What Makes a University Public?: Privatization, Environmental Racism, and UC Berkeley’s Real Estate Office

by Beezer de Martelly

“It’s a gift to be here—you can take that to the bank.”
EVCP Claude Steele, May 5 Berkeley Forum “What Makes a University Public?”

“There is deferred maintenance all over the place.”
Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, May 5 Berkeley Forum “What Makes a University Public?”

For those who haven’t been paying attention, UC Berkeley’s recent move to expand the Real Estate Office’s control has led to some strange and shocking administrative moments in the last couple weeks.

One such moment was a May 5 Berkeley Forum in which Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele hosted a chat called “What Makes a University Public?” In this talk, they attempted to redefine “public education” to effectively argue that the kinds of private financial investments that circulate through the newly expanded Real Estate Office do not constitute privatization. These investments—alternately called “Public-Private Partnerships”—currently include privately funded construction projects such as the Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay, a brand new UC campus that will focus on lucrative STEM and Silicon Valley research; the Gill Tract, a piece of land the UC is trying to lease to outside contractors for $900,000/year for six acre plots; Berkeley student housing, including the privately funded Bowles Hall, several other new large-scale dormitories, and real estate developments at UC Village, to name only a few. 

Many students, faculty, workers, and community members are challenging the administration’s superficial rhetoric that such construction on public land does not constitute privatization, citing the lack of oversight for these projects, the ways that private money shifts research possibilities and priorities, and the rising tuition costs which are used to secure the Real Estate Office’s low interest construction loans, called “bonds.” Further, many believe the exorbitant costs for these expensive construction investments will ultimately be deferred to students, as has been the practice in the past, and the public, should the University go bankrupt. Dirks even admitted that this new development comes at the expense of deferred maintenance, as much of the Berkeley campus is in desperate need of basic upkeep.

The egregious forum was protested by multiple allies, where critics seemed to far outnumber supporters and even neutral attendees at the event. Unionists came to ask questions about poverty-level wages and job insecurity amid Berkeley’s contracting out of non-unionized labor. A Teamsters 2010 flyer read “Low Wages Do Not Serve the Public Good.” Also present were various students working on anti-privatization efforts, some of whom distributed sample audience questions for administrators about the UC’s commitment to public education. One question read, “Many of the UC Regents are heavily involved in the financial and real estate sectors. How should the UC Regents balance their private interests with the public’s interest?...What do we, as a public institution, owe to the public of Richmond?”

Perhaps the most significant presence at the Forum was a group of Black student organizers who are fighting to reverse Prof. Carolyn Finney’s arbitrary and unexplained denial of tenure. Finney, the only Black Professor in the Environmental Sciences Policy and Management department, researches racial exclusion in the environmental movement. Hers is an especially crucial voice at a time when the UC is trying to break ground in Richmond to construct a new, privately funded campus atop an EPA “superfund” designated toxic waste site in a largely black and brown working class community. Finney’s much acclaimed work represents an especially critical perspective during this phase of Richmond’s development in an environmentally sensitive area. Concerningly, one of the campus functions the Real Estate Office has taken over in its transition is Berkeley’s Environmental Health and Safety Office, which enforces compliance with environmental regulations, water safety, and construction permitting. Whether the EH&S Office will retain its autonomy and commitment to environmental justice or become a permit mill for new construction remains to be seen. Unless the University reverses the decision to deny Prof. Finney’s tenure, a decision within Chancellor Dirks’ power, this battle to ensure environmental justice will need to be waged with one fewer respected local researcher and community ally. 

Also prominent was the Respect Richmond Coalition, a student group pushing the Chancellor to sign a Community Benefits Agreement that would ensure that Richmond residents are not harmed by and actually benefit from the new UC campus construction. Many Richmond community members are currently struggling to stay in their homes as land speculation and rent rises and contributes to gentrification, and they are fighting to ensure that the new campus provides jobs and educational opportunities for local residents. Six student members of this group are now facing Student Conduct Charges for staging a peaceful sit-in outside the Chancellor’s office last week to push Dirks to sign the Richmond Agreement, an attempt to silence student concerns about the direction of the Richmond Bay development project. At the Berkeley Forum, a dozen Respect Richmond Coalition members assembled in a line at the front of the stage, mouths taped shut, holding signs that read “You Can’t Arrest Our Voices” and “Drop the Student Conduct Charges.”

Amid these groups was Fossil Free Cal, whose members distributed pamphlets calling on the UC to divest itself from fossil fuel assets. This group, comprised of students and alums, connected the University’s financial interest in toxic commodities to its profiting off of environmental injustice. “Talk is cheap,” read Fossil Free Cal’s flyer, “A public university that fails to ACT in the public interest sells its mission short.”

For those of us committed to a public UC Berkeley, this is an exciting moment, where there is potential to link many ongoing campus struggles to fight structural racism, privatization and gentrification, environmental degradation, and anti-labor measures. The forum was eventually shut down when the Chancellor and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost refused to answer audience questions about workers’ unlivable wages, when Finney’s tenure denial will be reversed and what it was denied in the first place, and why UC administrators are so actively undermining the UC’s public education mission. 

I write this update both to keep interested readers and coalition partners—wherever you may be—in the loop and also to urge people to continue organizing on these issues in whatever spaces you can and that feel right. This is a really significant time for our University, and it’s future as a public institution committed to racial and economic equality is truly on the line. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Statement of Occupation from the Che Cafe at UC San Diego

The Che Cafe has been occupied. The 35 year old cultural center, social space, DIY music venue, student/worker co-operative and affordable eatery has come under the complete control of students, faculty, alumni and community members who have refused to leave its premises, despite a UC sanctioned eviction notice that became active on March 24 at 6:00 a.m. For over one year, the administration of UCSD has attempted to shut the Che Cafe Collective out of its historic home using a variety of secretive bureaucratic maneuvers, manipulations and blatant lies. This most recent battle between the Che Cafe Collective and UCSD administrators can be contextualized within the larger history of struggle that informs the identity and praxis of the Che Cafe. By our count, this is the 5th time that university administration has attempted to eliminate the Che Cafe Collective since it became operational in 1980. All prior eviction attempts carried out by the university have resulted in abject failure. Each subsequent eviction attempt has inspired wider community and student solidarity with the Che Cafe Collective and this occasion is no different. Students, community members, faculty and alumni from disparate backgrounds have become determined to demonstrate their power and willingness to engage in collective direct action to preserve the Che Cafe.

The Che Cafe Collective and its supporters are not so nearsighted that we ignore the obvious parallels between the fight that UC students have brought against the continuous fee and tuition hikes enacted by the Regents and the fight to prevent the closures of integral student facilities which would no doubt result in an erasure of culture and student self organization that is preserved by spaces like the Che Cafe. Our fight is one and the same.

When we act as we are now, by occupying a space that rightly belongs to the students and community members who utilize it, we act in solidarity with the 6 UC Santa Cruz students who are being criminalized by the UC after having taken direct action to preserve the accessibility of higher education. When we act as we are now, we are acting also in solidarity with the students of Quebec, who have once again taken to the streets with calls for a general strike in order to ensure their access to public universities. When we act as we are now, we invoke the knowledge, practice and ferocity that UC students across California acted with in 2009. When we act as we are now, we hope to inspire action on your part.

Our occupation is ongoing - we invite you to join our fight.

forward until victory,

some occupiers and collective members of the Che Cafe Collective

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Please take action: Students seeking to redesignate restrooms as “all gender” face harassment and police detention at UC Berkeley

Reposted from UCOP Bathroom Brigade:

Yesterday, March 3, an anonymous group known as the Bathroom Brigade posted “all gender” signs on bathroom doors across UC Berkeley. The signs include the following text:
Please excuse our dust! The approval and planning process for a bathroom redesignation is surprisingly time-consuming, but in the interim the University’s priority is making sure everyone has safe access to a bathroom. As a temporary measure, we encourage everyone, of all genders, to use this bathroom. We’ll put up a permanent sign as soon as we can.
In a tongue-in-cheek way, the signs seek to pass as being officially authorized. They also highlight the reality that trans and gender nonconforming people on campus do not have adequate access to safe bathrooms. University administrators appeared to have recognized this unmet safety need: months ago, President Napolitano promised to redesignate every single-user bathroom as “all gender,” while UC labor relations agreed to provide reasonable access to all gender restrooms for student workers. Since then though, UC Berkeley administrators have not redesignated a single bathroom. 
Yesterday, when members of the Bathroom Brigade sought to expedite the process of redesignation, administrators and UC police officers responded in ways that threw into question the UC’s stated commitment to the safety of trans and gender nonconforming students and workers. First, administrators sent out emails disavowing the signs, as in the following: 
Dear Stanley Hall Faculty, Researchers, Students, and Staff,
Signs have appeared on the building’s restroom doors that indicate that restrooms are available to all genders. Please disregard the signs; they will be taken down as soon as possible.
It seems that these efforts to take down the signs have already overstepped, as previously authorized “all gender” signs in Stephens Hall were torn down yesterday. Additionally, members of the Bathroom Brigade and supportive students have reported facing harassment or violence in connection with the signs. Some members of the Bathroom Brigade were followed down the hallways of a building by a campus administrator. And a supportive student who attempted to discourage an administrator from tearing down the signs faced aggression. As she writes:
Still trying to collect my memories from the heat of the moment, but moments ago I stood in front of this sign to stop a man from aggressively tearing it down as we went to the bathroom after class. He had torn down 3 of 4 signs despite repeated requests to stop, and was so determined to get the last one that he attempted to pull it from behind my head. My friends and a passerby were shocked by how he went so far as to almost touch/hit me to get to that sign (which he may have, but I was too focused on protecting the sign to notice). There is a photo of me pointing my camera phone to get him to back off, since he stood incredibly close. All of this occurred even after I explained that the folks behind this campaign are trying to force the UC to take issues of gender and trans safety seriously. He and his friend are both older white men who likely work in the electrical engineering and computer science admin office, so we were surprised that they felt so comfortable proceeding aggressively in a confrontational dispute with students. But their behavior is a perfect example for why the UC needs to stop dragging their heels in implementing accessible gender neutral bathrooms.
Then, early yesterday afternoon, two students were detained by the UC Police in connection with the bathroom redesignations. A white trans woman and a black cis man, both members of the Bathroom Brigade, were initially confronted by two building administrators in the hallway of the Li Ka Shing Center – a building that currently contains no all gender restrooms. One of the administrators demanded that “all gender” signs be removed, which the students attempted to do. When the administrator continued harassing the students, they left the building and walked three blocks to a bus stop. He followed them the entire way, talking on his phone as he walked. The students then boarded a bus and rode on it for a block, at which point the bus was stopped by two UC Police officers. The officers came onto the bus and detained the students. After detaining them on the sidewalk, the officers said that they were planning to report the students to the Office of Student Conduct, and that, if there had been any damage to paint surfaces in the Li Ka Shing Center, they would consider pursuing a warrant for the students’ arrest.

That two students attempting to expand trans peoples’ access to safe bathrooms were harassed, followed, and detained by the UC Police highlights some of the connections between interrelated forms of sanctioned violence: the harassment trans people face in public spaces, including at our universities; the securitization of partially-privatized UC buildings, such as the Li Ka Shing Center; and the militarization of UC and Berkeley City police departments. A coalition of student and community groups has recently been pushing back against police violence in Berkeley. On February 10, the UCB Black Student Union helped organize a march to city council, where students and community members called on the council to take action against racial profiling and against militarized policing throughout Berkeley. The coalition also continued to press for justice for Kayla Moore, a black trans woman who was killed in her home by Berkeley City Police on February 13, 2013.   

Please take a moment to call or email Chancellor Dirks and share with him your thoughts about what happened today. You might consider demanding: 1) that UC Berkeley expedite the process of redesignating bathrooms as “all gender” in order to address the safety needs of trans and gender nonconforming people; and 2) that no student conduct or legal charges be brought against students for posting “all gender” restroom signs.    

Chancellor Dirks: (510) 642-7464;