Wednesday, November 30, 2011

UC Davis Updates

    So far, this has been another exciting and turbulent week at UC Davis, despite an underwhelming Monday morning.
   As expected, the UC town forum was a sham. The regents, etc. listened to student grievances for about an hour and a half. While the extra half hour of public comment appears as a nice gesture by the administration, it was instead merely a ploy to tire out students at the four teleconference sites (Davis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Merced) -- a plan that worked fairly well. Many students left when the addition time was announced. More sinister, perhaps, was the procedure for collective sharing of speaking time. Each student was given one minute to speak. But when students pooled their time, some miraculous arithmetic occured. Whenever three students pooled their time the administration gave them 2 1/2 minutes to speak. That's right, in the UC universe 1+1+1=2 1/2. And further stressing their clear disregard for our grievances, after students at three campuses (Davis, SF, and LA) repeatedly mic-checked over regent's discussion post-forum, the regents went behind closed doors and approved a series of administrative salary raises, some as high as 21%.
   Now for the truly amazing events. Following the public forum, Occupy UC Davis stormed and occupied Dutton Hall, which houses amongst other services the Cashier's Office. Bodies on the gears of the machine? Check. Demands? Dutton Hall will be occupied for two weeks or until: Katehi resigns, the UCPD is disbanded, and tuition increases are frozen.
  About forty-five students (and one "Rogue Element" -- my fiancee) spent the night at Dutton:

Despite several key tactical mistakes -- no night watch, no plan for action the following morning -- we managed to hold our ground around the Cashier's office. But not without collateral damage. Dutton Hall also houses the Student Academic Success Center (a tutoring service), whose operations we consistently worked to continue (escorting students, complying with all staff requests). The administration, however, preemptively shut the building down for, guess what, "health and safety concerns," forcibly locking SASC up and making it look like we intended to interfere with student academics. Typical divide and conquer tactic, anyone?
   Frustrated, we convened a strategy and logistic meeting last night to discuss the long term goals of a Dutton occupation. Clearly the tactical advantage of holding Dutton is a disruption of the Cashier's office, where the university collects fees and tuition. Clearly, however, students at large were not getting this logic, but instead saw us as a fringe element intent on making everyone else's lives more difficult.
   So now a new strategy: We continue to occupy the hall 24 hours a day, but during business hours we maintain an information table (and tent) in front of the Cashier's office without blocking access (of course the office itself locked its doors, forcing everyone to have to knock for access -- at which time we can chat with visitors. Win for us!).
   More important, however, we have renamed and repurposed the entire building. Dutton Hall is now Paulo Freire Open University, a 24-hour academic center open to all students:

At night it serves primarily as a study space desperately needed by students during finals week. We are also holding teach-ins and workshops throughout the day, as well as various group office hours (the University Writing Program is holding open office hours on Friday, 3-5 – surprisingly with director support), tutoring services, film screenings, various department events (poetry readings, discussion groups), even a dance party.
  By repurposing the building we effectively combat a growing wave of criticism – that we are not concerned with student academics – by providing supplemental academic services. We just happen also to be clogging part of the university's financial operations.
    In all honesty, I believe this is what the coming community will look like, at least in its revolutionary phase: a spatial activity that at once renders the a specific location's dominating mechanisms of life inoperative and establishes a vibrantly active political community. It is everything I have been envisioning (politically) for a few years: inoperativity, profanation, the Messianic community.
   But as is the nature of these measures, what is rendered inoperative tends to become operative again. The police will come, the study spaces will be locked up, and the machine will hum once more. But for at least a moment we will have created the living image of a coming community.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

General Strikes, Administrative Acquiescence, Union Contracts: the Already Privatized Public Education


      The reason behind Monday's general strike is simple: UC Regents are holding a teleconferenced town hall meeting ahead of their rescheduled vote on tuition increases. Given the timing of the town hall's public forum (immediately before the tuition vote, therefore leaving regents no time to reflect upon student grievances) and its organization (Skype-style, limited access, one hour period at only four of the ten UC campuses), last week's general assembly approved (with 99% of some 2,000 votes) direct action to shut down both the vote and the sham forum. Because the public forum is merely a ploy by the regents designed to give the illusion of democratic participation, we have decided to make our grievances heard -- on our terms.
    My problem, however, is not that I teach at Monday 8:00 am, but that I work for a unsympathetic department (University Writing Program) and under a compulsory union contract that bars me from striking. Using the logic of capital, our administration claims that as instructors "we are ethically obliged to hold class for the students who wish to be there." Translation: because students have already paid into a privatized UC system, they are guaranteed receipt in the form of educational services. By refusing to provide this product for my student-consumers, I withhold their rightly purchased commodity.
   But this is precisely the logic (and concrete manifestation) Monday's activities are intended to subvert. As we attempt to push back against the increasing privatization of the UC system, departments and union contracts,  both deeply entrenched within the gears of a capitalist education paradigm, restrain the voice and power of student-lead activism. By "ethically obliged," our department chair intends (knowingly or not; I suspect the later) an obligation not to our students, but rather to the smooth operations of privatized education. We are obliged to offer a service to paying customers. We are obliged to ensure that the logic of capital is not ruffled, that our students' tuition will not be wasted on activities wavering from the our student-teacher business contract (our syllabus).
   And this is not merely a matter of administration discretion. Certainly other departments have worked with their faculty to ensure actual ethical commitments are met. For example, my parent department, (English) has approved a department-wide "sick day" on Monday. Why? Because tenured faculty and graduate student employees university-wide work under union contracts that prohibit strikes. Negotiated by the UAW, my own contract not only prohibits my ability to stand in solidarity with the majority of my students, but also demands my compliance. Whether or not I pay dues, whether or not I willing opt into the union, I must work under this contract. No compliance, no work.  Working under an administration unwilling to stand up for its students and alongside its employees, I am handcuffed into either teaching/serving my students (most of whom will not be there anyway) or risk losing my already precarious graduate school funding. My choice is to some degree this reductive: either continue the logic and operations of a privatized education or suspended that logic and operation and potentially lose my job.
     This personal dilemma is indicative of more than the tenuous employment status of a graduate student. Rather, it displays the degree to which our public universities are already privatized. Humanities departments churn out the logic of capitalism to defend their acquiescence as if it were some moral high ground. Union representatives are forced to accept contract provisions against striking just to ensure a living wage for their workers. And when our public university students rise up against privatization they face not simply the challenge of lowering tuition or ousting belligerent chancellors. They face modes of thinking and institutional structures deeply enmeshed within the operations of capitalism.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chancellor Katehi's Initial Response to Police Brutality.

Chilling, legalese prose. My first-year writing students have a blast ripping this letter apart.

November 18, 2011

To UC Davis Campus Community,

I am writing to tell you about events that occurred Friday afternoon at UC Davis relating to a group of protestors who chose to set up an encampment on the quad Thursday as part of a week of peaceful demonstrations on our campus that coincided with many other occupy movements at universities throughout the country.
The group did not respond to requests from administration and campus police to comply with campus rules that exist to protect the health and safety of our campus community.  The group was informed in writing this morning that the encampment violated regulations designed to protect the health and safety of students, staff and faculty.  The group was further informed that if they did not dismantle the encampment, it would have to be removed.
Following our requests, several of the group chose to dismantle their tents this afternoon and we are grateful for their actions.  However a number of protestors refused our warning, offering us no option but to ask the police to assist in their removal.  We are saddened to report that during this activity, 10 protestors were arrested and pepper spray was used.  We will be reviewing the details of the incident.
We appreciate and strongly defend the rights of all our students, faculty and staff to robust and respectful dialogue as a fundamental tenet of our great academic institution.  At the same time, we have a responsibility to our entire campus community, including the parents who have entrusted their students to us, to ensure that all can live, learn and work in a safe and secure environment.  We were aware that some of those involved in the recent demonstrations on campus were not members of the UC Davis community and this required us to be even more vigilant about the safety of our students, faculty and staff.  We take this responsibility very seriously.
While we have appreciated the peaceful and respectful tone of the demonstrations during the week, the encampment raised serious health and safety concerns, and the resources required to supervise this encampment could not be sustained, especially in these very tight economic times when our resources must support our core academic mission.
We deeply regret that many of the protestors today chose not to work with our campus staff and police to remove the encampment as requested.  We are even more saddened by the events that subsequently transpired to facilitate their removal.
We appreciate the substantive dialogue the students have begun here on campus as part of this week.s activities, and we want to offer appropriate opportunities to express opinions, advance the discussion and suggest solutions as part of the time-honored university tradition.  We invite our entire campus community to consider the topics related to the occupy movement you would like to discuss and we pledge to work with you to develop a series of discussion forums throughout our campus.
I ask all members of the campus community for their support in ensuring a safe environment for all members of our campus community.  We hope you will actively support us in accomplishing this objective.

Linda P.B. Katehi

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New Voohries and the Quad Encampment

The English department has set up an encampment on the quad -- seriously, colleagues are holding office hours and student conferences here! I am beginning to wonder if this might be the start of the coming community? Special things are happening at UC Davis. Also, this is only one corner of the encampment; the latest estimate was over 120 tents. That's 5X the original ("criminal") encampment! Katehi made an appearance shortly after I took these photos. Apparently she is trying to restore our confidence in her . . . But how can anyone have confidence in privatization's papier-mache mask? 

Yesterday's Rally

Here are some videos from yesterday's rally: Nathan Brown mic-checking his critique of the Chancellor's language and the English department's formal call for Katehi's resignation and the immediate and permanent removal of all police forces from campus. Another outcome of this rally and general assembly: approved (by 99% of some 2,000 voters) General Strike on 11/28 to disrupt and cancel the UC regent's backdoor vote to raise tuition 81% over four years.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

11/19's UCD Protest

      Some corrections to recurrent media accounts of yesterday's UCD protest. First, there were not a mere 100 students, but rather 500 students (our final line of sitting, silent, and arm-linked students stretched for a little over 1000 feet, according to googlemaps, so at roughly 2 feet per person, 500 students). Bear in mind that this protest was organized within two hours after the Chancellor called her last-minute press conference in an obscure corner of campus in a room too small to allow student representatives (originally, Aggie TV, our student news channel, was not allowed inside). If we can get 500 students to mobilize in two hours, Monday's Rally should surpass last Tuesday's 2,000 person rally/strike with ease.
       Second, our dear Chancellor Katehi and her media lackeys (i.e. Sacramento's KCRA) have repeatedly claimed that she could not leave Surge II because she was surrounded by protestors. This is simple false. 1) While we had established a ring around the entire building, it was a ring with a 10-15 foot corridor through it with openings onto Hutchison Ave. The Chancellor had easy egress. 2) Our representatives at the door who were in communication with Katehi's handlers made clear our willingness to let her leave in peace -- i.e. without chanting, but rather silence (although I suspect that she objected to our willingness to link arms, which has been deemed by the UCPD, at Cal and now at UCD, as violent protest -- I don't mean this as a joke). Further, following a series of "mic-checks" we all agreed to this proposal -- to let the Chancellor leave in peace through our walkway, in peace and silence -- and repeatedly over the course of the two-hour "standoff" (a farce engineered poorly by Katehi to give herself time to complete an interview with CNN's Don Lemon -- again, no joke) chanted "You can leave in peace."
     This is what happened when she finally decided to accept our proposal, although she did not maintain her end of the agreement: walk to the end of our line where she would be picked up. "End of the line of students" now means "200 feet" or "the end of the building's lawn." And that makes myself and 300 others no longer students, but mere bodies on the side of the road.

And finally, the most important correction of all. UCD is not Chancellor Katehi's university. It is our university.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Petition for Chancellor Katehi's Resignation

While videos of the UCD's deliberate, calculating, and inhuman assault of peaceful, non-violent protestors are evidence enough to support this petition, I would also like to stress the larger, perhaps more significant threat Katehi posses to not only the UCD and other UC's, but to the general erosion of public life in America. First, Katehi is directly responsible for the mass privatization of our state's public education -- an education guaranteed in principle and in law for all citizens of California, irregardless of economic background. By increasing tuition from $6,312 in 2005 to a proposed $23,000 by 2015-2016 Katehi and the other Chancellors and regents of the UC system prohibit the enactment of the UC's mission. The administration argues that such tuition hikes are necessary to offset state funding cuts. But this argument is a mere ruse covering their actual agenda. First, state funding actually increased this year, albeit by a minuscule  amount. Second, and more importantly, tuition hikes serve as a means of privatizing the public university. How? State funds are restricted funds that by law must be spent on instructional necessities. Tuition funds, however, are unrestricted funds. The UC administration uses these funds as collateral for capital and market investments. Such investments are ultimately guaranteed security through the presupposed continuation of tuition increases. Tuition increases guarantee a privatized UC increased profits. They do not ensure the continuation of the UC's mission as a public university offering world-class education to (nearly) all citizens of California. The administration's responsibility is, under this economic model, to their investors, not the students.
     For this reason, I beg everyone committed to public education to sign the petition for Chancellor Katehi's immediate resignation. The issue isn't police brutality, but the rational beyond such brutality: protestors are interfering with the smooth operations of the radical privatization of California's legally public universities.