I was one of the persons who mic checked the UC Regents’ Meeting at UC Riverside on January 19. As we made clear at the time, we mic checked the meeting in order to open the forum up for substantive input by the public. The California Constitution states very clearly that UC Regents’ Meetings must be conducted in public. Over 1000 people assembled at UC Riverside in order to participate in the meeting, however, only 80 seats were available for the public and the Regents allowed only 40 minutes of public comment (acting as if this was generous, as it was twice the time they said would be allotted beforehand). The Regents addressed none of the questions or concerns raised by those few persons who were able to speak at the meeting. When public comment was closed, it became clear that this was an undemocratic meeting and that is when we started our mic check in order to institute a genuinely democratic process.
We made it clear to the Regents that we were willing to listen to them as long as they were willing to listen to us. Our openness to their participation was clearly evident in the fact that we allowed the only one of the Regents still in the room by that point—the former CEO of Paramount, Sherry Lansing—to speak without interruption. Unfortunately, she only used that opportunity to speak in order to claim that we were stopping dialogue from taking place. This was in complete and total disregard for the fact that we were at that very moment allowing her to speak and we were ready to hear her for as long as she would’ve liked provided that she was willing to dialogue with us through a genuinely democratic process. After making her statement, which addressed no substantive issues–such as, e.g., alternate sources of funding besides tuition hikes–Ms. Lansing offered only the clear lie that we were the ones preventing the Regents from addressing these issues when they obviously have very little interest in doing so and no interest at all in seriously considering the concerns and proposals of students, faculty, staff, and community members. Once all the Regents had left, we no longer felt that there was much that we could accomplish by staying in a room populated exclusively by ourselves and police, who also refused to participate in dialogue. At that point, we left the room in order to join the protests taking place on the outside.
The protests taking place outside the building were densely populated, lively, and, to the best of my knowledge, entirely non-violent (i.e., on the part of protestors). Unfortunately, there were many instances of police violence against peaceful protestors and these have gone almost entirely without mainstream media coverage up to this point. Particularly concerning is the fact that of those MSM outlets who bothered to report the story, very few mentioned that peaceful protestors outside the meeting were shot by law enforcement with less-lethal bullets after the meeting was closed to the public.
What events led up to shots being fired? As video documentation clearly shows, police were hitting protestors with batons without any clear tactical purpose. They were protecting no one. There was nowhere they needed to go. They simply started hitting the people peacefully assembled in front of them. Only at that point did protestors attempt to bring a barricade to the police line in order to protect those being assaulted by law enforcement. That’s when the police opened fire.
On the day after the Regents’ Meeting, Jan 20, we took one of the persons shot by UC Police, our comrade Anthony, to the UC Riverside Health Center so that he could receive treatment for his injuries. He was denied service. In response, we marched to the administration building and demanded to speak with Chancellor White, who came out and spoke with us for approx. 20 minutes. Anthony asked for the Chancellor to assist him in receiving treatment for his injuries from a health professional. Unfortunately, Chancellor White offered no real help for Anthony beyond suggesting that he could go to the emergency room (presumably at his own expense!) or a community clinic.
The students, faculty, and staff of the UC system have good reason to be infuriated with the Regents, particularly as they have conducted themselves in recent years. In the 2004-2005 academic year, tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates at UC campuses totaled $7,557. Today, tuition and fees have already doubled to $15,123. If this wasn’t enough, the Regents have proposed continued increases for the years to come which will bring tuition and fees to at least $23k by 2015-2016.
The Regents like to encourage students and other constituencies disturbed by these increases to direct their rage elsewhere—namely, at the politicians in Sacramento who have drastically reduced state funding in recent years. However, time and again, each reduction in state funding has been directly preceded by a prior increase in tuition implemented by the Regents. This trend is clear: the more tuition at UCs is raised, the more state politicians will reduce the State’s contribution to the UCs, and the more tuition increases will be necessary in the future. This is precisely the vicious circle that UC students, faculty, and staff have had to endure in recent years. What is clear to nearly everyone besides the Regents themselves is that this pathological disinvestment in public higher education would never have been possible without the Regents’ inexcusable and grievous abdication of their responsibility to the very communities they vowed to serve.
One of the clearest indexes of the Regents’ central role in gutting the UC system can be seen in their concerted and willful refusal to utilize any of their ample resources in order to generate political pressure (and public awareness!) regarding the dire social implications posed by the diminished existence of quality and accessible public higher education. Ours is supposedly a post-industrial, knowledge-based economy, and yet, our so-called “leaders” (and I take the Regents as a paradigmatic case of this kind of “leadership”) are less and less interested in making the sort of public investments in research and education that provided the essential conditions for the emergence of the very communication technologies responsible for that social and economic transformation. As we continue to learn time and again, once manufacturing industries flee to foreign shores it is not so very easy to get them back. Can we really afford to think that this is any less true of knowledge-based work? As we disinvest in higher education, we set the stage for our economic future to be surpassed by that of industrializing societies who do not share our collective myopia. The answer to this problem is not to wait until wages (and working conditions) in the US reduce to levels comparable to those in the Third World. The answer is to return to the sort of robust and thoughtful public investment that built the UC campuses in the first place. The only problem with this answer is that it is not the one desired by those who are getting richer and richer by selling off public goods and selling out the public interest—e.g., the UC Regents, many of whom are among the richest 1%. No wonder the Regents are such poor communicators of the true responsibilities, needs, and values of the very institutions which they are charged to serve.
Rather than being advocates for, and stewards of, the investments in accessible public knowledge, information, infrastructure, and inquiry made by prior generations of Californians, the UC Regents instead seem to be more interested in selling the brand of UC education to an increasingly elite group of educational consumers. There are many problems with this as a marketing strategy, chiefly among them is the fact that consumers who pay for quality typically expect quality in turn. Not only are UC students paying twice as much for their education as they were seven years ago, during this same period, the Regents have instituted a series of crippling budget cuts which have drastically compromised the quality of the education that students get for their money. Library hours have been cut, class sizes have been increased, the number of classes offered has been reduced, entire academic programs have been disbanded, many (if not a majority of) non-tenure track faculty have had their contracts go unrenewed (i.e., the phenomenon which in other industries is called being fired), and staff and faculty have experienced frozen salaries, salary reductions, lay-offs, and forced early retirement. That these severe cuts to areas fundamentally necessary for the performance of the university’s core function—education, lest we forget—have all taken place alongside tuition increases is inexcusable. Proving the adage that the devil knows no shame, over this same period, the Regents have also presided over significant increases in the salaries of the UC’s complacent and collaborationist administrative class.
The overwhelming and somewhat unexpected turnout of students, faculty, staff, and community members to protest the Regents’ Meeting at UC Riverside provides a clear indication of the fact that the Regents’ reign of impunity is not long for this world. The continued existence of the UCs as institutions of public higher education—in any meaningful sense of the word “public”—depends entirely upon ending the plutocratic rule of the Regents and the ideology of privatization that they represent. Last Thursday, the UC’s community of stakeholders came much, much closer to recognizing itself as a unified body—one definable as such on the basis of a common enemy. More than that, many of the individuals who comprise this community demonstrated the bodily courage that the task of vanquishing the enemy will doubtless require.