Student's view of UC protests
Sunday, December 20, 2009
When the UC regents passed a 32 percent fee increase last month,
barely restrained frustrations across the UC system were unleashed.
There was a palpable change in the tone of the dialogue as voices
became more strident with each cut in services and hike in fees.
The mass support behind the occupation of campus buildings at UC
Davis, UC Santa Cruz, UCLA and, most recently, UC Berkeley are
evidence of how widely the discontent has spread. Standing in the
crowd of protesters, one certainly felt ready for a revolution. But
while students should continue to assemble in protest as a way to
keep the socially destructive policies of the UC regents on the
forefront of the public consciousness, it is only the first step in
bringing change. We need to channel our ideas and energy into
creating systemic mainstays that will outlast us and serve future generations.
The UC Board of Regents is an institution in serious need of reform.
That 18 of our 26 regents are appointed by the governor for 12-year
terms with no oversight, no review period and no transparency at any
point in their selection or time on the board is unacceptable. The
board is a remnant of a long-rejected ideology. When the University
of California was founded in 1868, the voting age was 21. And though
it was lowered to 18 after the Vietnam War, the regents continue to
portray themselves as paternalistic caretakers of a disenfranchised
age group. But we are increasingly becoming politically mobilized,
the most clear and national example being the Obama campaign.
As the regents implement policies that make education less accessible
and of lower quality, the need for oversight becomes increasingly
important. Students, as the consumers of education, are in a unique
position to comment on the problems of the university. If given the
necessary tools, the student body can be an innovative agent of change.
Lakshmi Santhosh graduated from UC Berkeley in May with a bachelor's
degree in economics.
UC vandalism complicates protests
By Matt Krupnick
Weekend vandalism at the UC Berkeley chancellor's home has
complicated a philosophical battle over the best way to protest
student-fee hikes and budget cuts.
UC police arrested eight people Friday night after demonstrators
broke windows and other property at the campus home of Chancellor
Robert Birgeneau while he and his wife were inside. At least six of
those people are expected to be charged with multiple felonies for
what Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called "terrorism."
The incident has further roiled an already uneasy campus that has
been hit by budget cuts and tuition hikes this year. The arrests were
the latest among dozens over the past month and led to vastly
different reactions Monday from students, faculty and administrators.
Some said the vandalism, which capped a week of sit-ins and other
protests on campus, was an understandable reaction to Friday's early
morning arrests of 65 people who had occupied Wheeler Hall all week.
"People were rightfully angry," said Laura Zelko, a sophomore who was
among those arrested at Wheeler. But "in the end, there was only
slight property damage (at the chancellor's home)."
Tensions began to escalate Nov. 20, when another group was arrested
for blocking access to Wheeler Hall's classrooms days after UC
regents approved 32 percent fee hikes. Demonstrators said they were
beaten by police during that protest, and Birgeneau later apologized
for the heavy-handed crackdown.
The incidents have ignited a debate over how best to protest the
budget cuts and who should be involved. Several of those arrested
at the chancellor's house and at Wheeler Hall last week were not
students at UC Berkeley or other universities.
Outsiders have damaged dialogue with the administration, said UC
Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof. Birgeneau declined to answer
questions Monday, and Mogulof would not say whether additional
security was in place.
"We will not be talking with people who come from outside our
community," Mogulof said. "But we will be stepping up our efforts to
discuss (the issues) with a diverse range of groups."
Students involved in the vandalism will face disciplinary action, he
said. He declined to go into detail, citing privacy laws.
Although dozens of professors signed a statement condemning the
vandalism, education professor Daniel Perlstein wrote in an e-mail to
colleagues that he had witnessed the incident from his office window
and that, though the damage was unwarranted, the administration and
police were mostly to blame based on their handling of past incidents.
"I believe that the university administration not only set the stage
for a violent turn in protests by acts which have repeatedly raised
tensions and undermined belief in its good will," he wrote, "but
actually engaged in most of the violence that has occurred."
Although the more "extreme" acts of late could help motivate more
mainstream protesters to get involved, the violence more likely
harmed the students' cause, said student body President Will Smelko.
"If you can't convince a farmworker in Central California that his
taxes should be going toward higher education, then you're not going
to convince Sacramento" by vandalizing property, Smelko said. "It's
stuff like this that reflects poorly on our campus."
Those arrested Friday night included two UC Berkeley students, two UC
Davis students, a City University of New York graduate student and
three people who are not believed to be students. Most were scheduled
to be arraigned today in Alameda County Superior Court.
Those arrested were UC Berkeley students Zachary Bowin, 21, and
Angela Miller, 20; UC Davis students Julia Litman-Cleper, 20, and
Laura Thatcher, 21; City University of New York graduate student
Carwil James, 34; Fullerton resident John Friesen, 25, a nonstudent
who also was arrested at Wheeler Hall last week; Oakland resident
David Morse, 41; and San Francisco resident Donnell Allen, 41.
Despite the university's assertions that outsiders have influenced
the protests, the public should think twice before assuming that
participants have no ties to UC Berkeley, said Angus Johnston, a New
York-based expert on student activism.
During the 1964 Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, "one of the early
arrests was somebody who was a recent graduate of Berkeley," Johnston
said. "He was picked out for arrest because he was a nonstudent. The
term in the 1960s was 'outside agitators.'
"In any movement, there are going to be people who gravitate to a
movement for whatever reason."
Staff writer Paul T. Rosynsky contributed to this story. Matt
Krupnick covers higher education. Reach him at 925-943-8246.
Missing the Point
By H. Scott Prosterman
Thursday December 17, 2009
People who choose to move to Berkeley are aware of the importance of
our local history as it has impacted global trends. As a Michigan
grad, I'm especially proud of the connection between Ann Arbor and
Berkeley for their parallel traditions of academic excellence and
positive activism. The Free Speech Movement began as an organic
movement in Berkeley in reaction to the last days of the HUAC
uglinesspossibly the ugliest chapter in domestic American history.
But some historians ask if the FSM would have been as dynamic or
effective as it has been without the support it drew from Students
for a Democratic Society, which began two years earlier in Ann Arbor
under Tom Hayden. I was proud to follow in Hayden's footsteps in Ann
Arbor as a campus leader and point-man activist for important causes.
Berkeley has a grand and rich tradition of activismfor the city, the
school and the community.
I come from a tradition of political activism that goes way back in
my family. Jews from the South had a special role in the civil rights
movement, the labor movement and in this nation's history of
progressive politics. I'm deeply proud of having become Bar Mitzvah
in Memphis just weeks after MLK was killed in my hometown. My rabbi,
James A. Wax, helped to complete King's work in Memphis after his
demise. Before King was killed, and before I became Bar Mitzvah, I
marched with the Memphis Sanitation Workers and held an "I AM A MAN"
sign. My mother was president of the Memphis School Board when they
initiated school desegregation ("busing") and took some nasty heat
for it. By extension, so did I, so a large part of my life is
invested in progressive politics.
Now I see how elements of the progressive movement have become deeply
counterproductive to our agendas, and how the downside of liberalism
has begun the process of self-consumption. There are two disturbing
1) The downside of liberalismprotecting the wrong people for the
2) Misdirected efforts and counterproductive leadership within the
The UC system is spiraling deep in a financial crisis, precipitated
by bad government, bad economics and bad management. To an extent,
the financial problems with UC and the entire state rest with the
"Smartest Guys in the Room"Enron. This state has not recovered from
the grand larceny committed against every citizen of California by
Enron. They set the stage for Gov. Grey Davis' impeachment and
brought us Arnold and his Republican populism. And what was Arnold's
first populist act as governorto end the license plate fee. Adding
it up over the past five years, that's several billion dollars the
state could use right now.
The Regents have acted harshly in raising tuition and fees for
students, knowing that this squelches the dream of a UC or CSU
education for many. As such, the protests since last month have been
welcome and warranted. As an old-time Ann Arbor activist, it warmed
my heart to stand in support with the students outside Wheeler Hall
last month. I have also helped the vendors at the ASUC Bear's Lair
call attention to their plight with unfair lease terms, which seem
designed to drive them out of business. And I was there to make a
visible objection with these merchants when the ASUC brass brought in
prospective tenants to show the property. So I support the efforts to
hold the Regents and UC Administration accountable for their various
cold and mean-spirited actions against the students, staff, custodial
workers, vendors and teaching assistants, who deserve better deals.
However, the recent vandalism directed against the home of Chancellor
Birgeneau and his family is a grossly misplaced and self-destructive
expression. First, Mary Catherine Birgeneau is a very nice woman and
has nothing to do with objectionable decisions. Destruction of any
architectural gem, which the University House certainly is, is a
shocking waste and an expression of gross ignorance. Many thoughtful
people are full of righteous indignation these daysthis is the most
effective weapon we have against selfish, draconian and right-wing
politics. (The tuition and fee hikes are a manifestation of this.) By
destroying property, which is also a private residence, we cede the
righteous indignation to the other side and lose our most effective weapon.
H. Scott Prosterman holds an M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the
University of Michigan. He frequently publishes humor and political
commentary in a variety of publications and websites.