Protest Studies: Letter from California about student protests at the University of California.
By Tad Friend
The New Yorker January 4, 2010
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The University of California has long been America’s best public university. U.C. is also the country’s most multifarious university, comprising five medical centers, four law schools, three Department of Energy laboratories—and suddenly, two serious problems. It’s as broke as the state that funds it, and many of its faculty and students are in open rebellion.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a budget that cut U.C.’s allocation by $637 million. As a result, two thousand U.C. staff members lost their jobs and the remaining staff and faculty were asked to take furlough days.
In mid-September, U.C.’s Board of Regents discussed a budget-balancing plan proposed by the university’s unpopular president, Mark Yudof. The plan would increase undergraduate fees. The regents agreed to vote on the plan when they met again, on November 19th. This gave the opposition plenty of time to organize protests.
In late October, Berkeley students convened a daylong Mobilizing Conference to Save Public Education.
Discusses the proposals put forward at the conference. Tells about Ananya Roy, one of Berkeley’s star teachers. Roy was a stalwart of the faculty organization Save the University, but was only loosely affiliated with the more radical Solidarity Alliance, a coalition of union members, faculty, and students which organized a September 24th walkout at Berkeley.
With state support withering away, many U.C. divisions and departments have felt the increasing pressure to pay for themselves, either by attracting research grants or by raising corporate or private endowments. Yet this approach, known as “privatization,” can introduce outside agendas and limit academic freedom. Tells about a Washington Post op-ed written by Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau in which he suggested that the leading public universities could stay afloat if the federal government matched, at two to one, private endowment funds raised by the universities. The chancellor also decided to gradually increase Berkeley’s out-of-state enrollment.
Describes the strike called for by the Solidarity Alliance to coincide with the Regents meeting in November and the ensuing unrest on the campus, including the occupation of Wheeler Hall by forty students who barricaded themselves inside the building. Campus police encircled the building, and soon hundreds of students were at the barricades. Tells about Ananya Roy’s role in negotiations between the protesters, the police, and the administration. On December 11th, police were again sent in to Wheeler, arresting sixty-six protesters who had occupied Wheeler for four days. That night, more than forty people carrying torches marched on Birgeneau’s residence. A handful of the protesters smashed the outdoor lights and threw cement planters and burning torches at the house, scattering only after the chancellor’s wife, who was writing Christmas cards, woke her husband and he called the police.