This month at the UC, we have seen students, faculty and staff beat with overhand blows, grabbed by their hair and thrown on the ground. During peaceful protests, batons were driven into their ribcages, pepper spray was forced into their eyes and mouths at close range and they were ultimately arrested — all at the hands of our student-funded UCPD. UC Berkeley graduate student Alex Barnard testified that when asked what his rights were, the officer arresting him responded, “You have no rights.” Poet Laureate Robert Hass, who was beat at UC Berkeley on Nov. 9, said law enforcement gave protesters no warning to disperse.
Instances of brutality on our campuses have become not only disturbingly commonplace, but institutionally sanctioned. Although the past two weeks have presented a clusterfuck of such tragedies, this has followed suit with a longer trend of repression; don’t forget that an unprovoked UCPD officer pulled a gun on a student protester at last November’s Regents meeting or that those demonstrating at Berkeley’s Wheeler Hall in 2009 faced not only overhead baton strikes but a storm of rubber bullets as well. Instead of working with students who are voicing very serious, legitimate concerns, our top administrators employ a standard procedure of forceful retaliation to allegedly “ensure student safety” — in ways that hospitalized multiple victims of last week’s pepper spray incident at UC Davis and left others vomiting for hours after the attack.
In a sincerely tragic twist of irony that exemplifies just how obscenely powerful a vice our collective balls are in right now, we seem to be paying for the world’s premier police brutality, the gold standard of unjustified bludgeoning — the most expensive beatdown you’ve ever bought yourself. Because the Regents have successfully exerted control over the terms of the privatization debate, they’ve been able to frame tuition hikes as an unavoidable answer to state budget cuts. This doesn’t excuse the fact that Gov. Brown might as well be smoking the ashes of his father’s master plan, and we shouldn’t ignore state budget prioritization. But have you ever wondered why you haven’t seen UC officials picketing outside Brown’s office or sacrificing their salaries in the midst of a self-proclaimed budget crisis? There are at least a dozen ways the Regents could turn before asking for higher student contributions, but tuition hikes remain the inevitable first resort — for a reason.
Here’s what they don’t tell you about the important difference between public (or state) and private (or tuition) funding: state allocations are restricted, and a specified amount is earmarked for the university’s ‘instructional budget’ — in other words, youreducation. Conversely, tuition is unrestricted; it can be spent on instruction, a new soccer field, administrative pay, capital development or literally anything else.
The Regents are business-people, not educators. Their backgrounds are in investment banking, military contracting and serving as presidents of banks like Wachovia and CEOs of multi-million dollar corporations like Paramount. It should come as no surprise that they would elect to run the UC like a corporation rather than a school, favoring increased tuition — which they can use however they like — over restricted state funding. An on top of higher prices, the UC has gotten more people to pay in: enrollment grew 13 percent in the last five years, leaving the UC with 15,134 unfunded students, despite the fact that we can hardly support the ones we have.
This indefinitely growing student tuition can be pledged as collateral to secure a high credit rating for the university system, which bragged in 2008 that it was upgraded to the top ten highest-rated public universities nationwide. This allows the Regents — savvy businesspeople that they are — to borrow money for lucrative investments, such as construction projects, while it continues to cut things like instruction and research since every dollar saved can be counted as collateral. In literal fiscal terms, the Regents’ highest budget priority is not students but revenue bonds, making it easy to allow state cuts to continue while casually throwing our finances — along with our financial futures — under the bus.
Instead of actively seeking support from the state, the public and government are now blamed for what administrators are “forced” to do. Although Gov. Brown “assured” UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau that another $100 million will be cut from state UC funding this year, UCOP has yet to issue a statement on that — and likely won’t until we’re assured they need our money to cover a “surprise” state deficit.
It shouldn’t come as a shock that the Regents aren’t lobbying on your behalf in Sacramento when you consider how far their interests in preserving the status quo in Sacramento extend. Although they could lobby for the repeal of Prop. 13, which permanently lowered state property taxes in 1978, we all know they’ve got property investments up the ass (again, in literal financial terms). Despite the fact that California now spends more on prisons than on its entire system of public higher education thanks to the Three Strikes initiative, the Regents aren’t exactly in the socioeconomic positions to be affected by a corrupt system of incarceration. Several actually have positions at major banks and financial firms and personally profit from increased student debt.
To afford educations, most of those within the 99 percent need to take out student loans. The Regents assume the students will be willing to borrow more and more to keep up with increasing tuition due to the social danger of remaining on the blue-collar rung, making less money and “falling behind.” 92 percent of Americans our age will receive college degrees, so you’re far from likely to come out that far ahead of your peers unless you have a particularly outstanding academic record or achievement. The UC is literally banking on your debt, creating the same type of financial bubble that accelerated state divestment in the first place.
When we point this kind of thing out and refuse to accept an eternally larger reliance on our ever-increasing debt, our peaceful expression is checked by brute police force. It is university officials — not state — who sanction this use of violence to quash dissent. This is why our struggle is first against the upper administration of the UC, not government officials. Last week, the Regents canceled their meeting as a result of student resistance, admitting that “rogue elements” presented in the overwhelming demonstration of community support for the protests was central to their decision to postpone. Thanks to many of our demands’ ties to the larger ‘Occupy’ movement, students now have an entirely peaceful arsenal of advocates both on and off campus, including some of the world’s most renowned educators and an expansive base of fiercely passionate citizens looking for the education they were told was a right.
State-sanctioned education is a personal entitlement and a public investment — not the other way around. So, UCSB, you should be fucking pissed. I know protesting hasn’t been our strong suit in recent years (although we are, laudably, the most tan campus and damn good at Snappa), but it is essential that we emphasize that the university cannot function without us. That’s why you should STRIKE during the Regents’ next Monday, Nov. 28. Ideally, you’ll make a scene at UCLA or UCSF or phone in during public comment, but realistically you don’t have to occupy anything beside the apartment you already pay rent for. At the very least, take a long Thanksgiving break, catch up on Call of Duty or even get ahead on some finals studying.
They rescheduled, decentralized and digitized their meeting to keep our voices from unifying. They pepper-sprayed, bludgeoned and incarcerated us when we exercised our free speech. They’re getting sloppy with their bullshit and they’re getting obviously scared. The best part? This complete lack of subtlety has only generated exponential support from students systemwide. So don’t fuck us, Yudof. Don’t you ever try to fuck us. Screw us and we multiply.
1. Representatives of the Students on the Board of Regents. Students have no say in exactly who the Regents are although they call all our shots. Eighteen are appointed by the governor, one is a student appointed by the regents and seven hold ex-officio positions warranted by a government or UCOP post. They don’t feel answerable to us, but since students are paying in $2.965 billion this year, we deserve a board who does.
2. Involvement in tuition spending. Students should have open access to all documents related to the discretionary diversion of their funds and a vote on capital projects funded by tuition in any way. The UC’s last audit found $46 million worth of UCLA student fees allocated toward construction that was not authorized by the referendum that generated the funding. Students should also be entitled to itemized and fully-fleshed plans for how fee hike revenue will be spent. Over the past six years, UCOP placed an annual $1 billion of expenses under a mysterious ‘Miscellaneous Services’ code.
3. An explanation for why Gauchos are the lowest funded UC students — yes, lower than UC Merced. UCSB student see only 80 percent of their tuition put back into their education. While the average amount of funding per student was $19,529 at UCLA for 2009-2010, only $12,309 went to each UCSB student despite the fact that we pay the exact same amount of tuition. The UC presents some rationalization for this—such as the fact that we lack a medical research center—but has ultimately denied oversight of its budgetary process.
4. Fewer administrators, more faculty and more power in their hands. Professors have lent a generous amount of legitimacy and support to student movements and were also the first to offer student protesters protection when police failed to do so. Unlike administrators, they interact with students on a daily basis and have an intimate understanding of what is needed to run an institute of higher education, making them the obvious choice for a decision-making body. But the UC has instead doubled its high-paid administrative force in the past decade.
5. That Chancellor Yang stay right where he is. Yang in the only chancellor in the system who also serves as a professor. I haven’t heard of any other chancellor who knows more than a handful of students by name and will attend their parties on Halloween. Considering his proximity to the student body, I find it unlikely that he would be able to order riot police on a non-violent protest.
6. Immediately reform current methods of privatization to benefit students. The most dismal facet of the privatization debate is that it fails to note how poorly the UC even emulates this model. Unlike the UC, Harvard cut their construction projects when endowment income fell in 2009. Princeton may have an initial price tag of $49,780 per year, but student with financial need pay an average of $16,352. Since those with financial need are generously supported, they’re able to further invest in the system as alumni. The UC, however, has elected to drive its alumni into debt. Private colleges have become more affordable, and thus more publicly accessible, than the UC system.
Erika Martin is the Daily Nexus University News Editor