The shockwaves of reduced state funding for public education are felt in sickening lurches throughout California, across all levels of public education, from the university and community college system down through high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. Education has been under attack for over a decade as undergraduate studies are pushed into the background and “research” becomes about student tuition financing development, and student labor being harnessed for a private corporate research agenda. Yet, the solution to the current crisis, according to the powers that be, is to privatize more, and to raise tuition. This not only affects the quality of education, but also the accessibility of it, which more directly affects low-income students and students of color.
Actions across the state express outrage at the overtures towards privatizing what has long been held as a public good, responding to the human impacts of the layoffs and fee hikes, as well as highlighting long-standing reluctance on the part of the UC to give answers or listen to anyone.
“It’s now a toll road”
President Yudof and Chancellor Birgeneau play the blame game with legislators in Sacramento to cover up their inability to manage the University’s budget. Managers who pull in six figure salaries say they have no choice but to cut the pay and hours of University workers who are already living on poverty wages. The administrative class at UC is expanding and growing, up 293% since 1992. In 2008, 21% of student fees went to pay the salaries of management. By comparison, only 8% of these fees went towards instruction. The current budget crisis is not a lack of available resources, but a crisis of priorities.
Many students raise concerns about increasing privatization of a public university, and recognize this trend coursing through the K-12 system as well. They beg poverty in a year where the University received $23 billion in endowments. Where is the money going?
The University of California is run like a multi-billion dollar corporation, with the governor-appointed Board of Regents with extensive connections to the banking, real estate, and media industries serving as chief financial decision-makers. Their goal is to eventually privatize the university system, tying tuition paid by students to loans for capital construction projects that keep the lucrative contracts flowing to their business partners. Transparency and democratic representation are desperately needed if this privatization is to be averted.
Mismanagement and outright theft is the real story behind this so-called budget crisis. Why is the football coach the highest paid employee in the UC system? Who did they think they were fooling when they awarded UC Police Chief Victoria Harrison a $2 million retirement package and then rehired her with a raise? There is no public accountability or transparency because budgetary decisions are made behind closed doors and any public comment is ignored. Public awareness occasionally generates enough shame to change policy or force tactic shift, and because the University is vaingloriously obsessed with their image, now is the time to call them out.
“Freedom for everybody! Occupy everything!” Is spelled out on the ground in green Easter eggs outside the occupation of Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley. Pride softened my throat and moistened my eyes as the most ordinary of days exploded with a vitality no one anticipated and for which everyone yearned. In the days surrounding the student walkouts of November 18, 19, and 20, occupation fever swept campuses across California. 150 students at UC Santa Cruz called for the creation of a sanctuary campus during an occupation of the administration building that lasted three days. At UC Davis 53 arrests were made during the occupation of Mrak Hall. At UC Berkeley, 43 students occupied Wheeler Hall as a crowd well over 2,000 by the end of the day surrounded the perimeter of the building, preventing police in riot gear from taking the protestors to jail. Administration officials later issued an apology for unnecessary police force used against the Wheeler demonstrators. An occupation and picket of the business school at SF State electrified the campus with revolutionary spirit and supporters blocked the streets when occupiers were evicted at gun-point by riot police.
Through this flurry of activity students learned the picket line is an education unto itself, the best way to learn the subtle intricacies of democracy where everyone is entitled to a piece of bread and we help drag each other bruised and bloodied from the barricades. To learn what it means to hold the hand of a stranger and weep with joy, shame, grief for our inheritance, tinged with cautious expectation for our telekinetic ability to electrify the world. There is a growing understanding that only by uniting in struggle with K-12 educators, middle and high-schoolers, parents and workers can provide the continuity and base of support necessary to radically transform the status quo.
This is the start of statewide grassroots movement coordinating actions cohesively to disrupt business as usual in an increasingly corporatized and repressive system. It’s an uphill fight against a system controlled by the nation’s corporate elite but one that has massive appeal to millions of working class Californians struggling with student debt, foreclosures, crumbling schools, wage cuts, unemployment, and higher costs of living. This is an issue with interest not only to students currently enrolled in school, but graduates who wish to see their children educated, and working class would-be students who could never afford private education. The forces of privatization have pushed too far and they may see themselves buried in a wave of popular uprisings as people struggle for the survival of their class, communities, children, and livelihoods.
What began as a reaction to worsening conditions is evolving into a vibrant and vociferous demand for a complete renegotiation of the way the education system is administrated. A growing macro-analysis acknowledges the relationship between massive spending on imperialist wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now potentially Yemen and the lack of money for basic services like education and housing assistance. As President Eisenhower said, “Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”
What has been a tremulous murmur of dissatisfaction on campuses and at meetings is building up into an explosion of student militancy as students come to realize only decisive, disruptive action will give them the leverage they need to hold the University of California accountable to its original purpose of providing affordable, quality education for all eligible students. The response to this latest round of fee hikes, furloughs, and layoffs has reflected the urgency of their livelihoods at stake. As class consciousness among the student population bubbles to the forefront of their political discourse this group of students, faculty, and workers endeavors to address issues of racial and economic injustice as integral to the dialogue on liberating the education system. Through conferences, listservs, meetings, potlucks, concerts, teach-ins, and speaking tours students are deepening their connections across the state, sharing evolving experiences and perspectives on the most strategic way forward. Many educators are committing themselves to extended general strike actions, breaking from corrupt union leadership if necessary, supported by teach-ins, volunteer kitchens, and sympathy strikes.
The student walkouts of November 18, 19, 20 at Berkeley and around the state gathered national media attention. Some hard lessons were learned about the inherently oppressive force represented by state violence. But students who feared disapproval from their parents
were surprised to hear delighted and proud responses from their parents and family members.
Maricruz is a professional organizer for AFSCME, the largest public employee and health care workers union in the United States. She’s seen many a roaring picket line, and stared down more than one profit-driven asshole at the negotiating table. Her passionate articulation of the need for organized labor to return to its militant roots has mobilized fellow workers to march against increased workloads, imposed furlough days, and layoffs.
“The last strike it was only workers, this time the students are turning out with us and you can see the numbers growing day by day, month by month. The struggle will continue to grow as long as the Regents hold onto their power and legislate pay raises for themselves. Our message is students and workers are united in making enormous changes to the university system, and we’re not going anywhere. We won’t rest till we eradicate poverty from the UC.”
Campus labor unions AFSCME and CUE paid for 1000 students from all over the state to converge on the Regents’ closed-doors vote to raise fees at UCLA. The Regents hold another meeting behind closed doors as we go to press where more layoffs and cuts are likely to come down. The coming showdown promises to be epic no matter what happens.
MARCH 4th is not just a date, it’s an imperative! It is a day when people across the state of California will participate in decentralized direct actions to shut down the public education system with teach-ins, rallies, dance parties, marches, and the creation of liberated space. Our unity of purpose will strengthen the interconnection of our struggles and send an unequivocal message to the robber baron bureaucrats that their days of thievery are numbered.