Student Revolt Makes the Case for a Constitutional Convention
So now what do you do?
After decades of gradual fee increases, the latest “deal” struck by the UC Regents to raise fees an unprecedented 32.5 percent has finally crossed the line. A world class education — essential for the success of yourself, your state and your nation — is slipping away from California’s social contract.
Since realizing the inevitable last fall, you’ve walked-out, sat-in and spoken-up. The outrage — real outrage — on UC, CSU and community college campuses is palpable. In fact, your reaction has received global media coverage. Of your massive protests last September, the UK Guardian first wrote of the “shock” it sent throughout the capitol, and then it described the students and faculty as “meaning business.”
So the die has been cast. The state of California has crossed the Rubicon. Sacramento wants your education back.
What do you do?
You’ve blamed the regents, suspicious of how readily they accepted the cuts and questioning of their compensation, you want answers. You’ve blamed the governor for heaping the fallout of California’s colossal dysfunction onto the shoulders of its children, and for seeming aloof from the plight of California’s students. You’ve blamed the state legislature for doing its best to undermine your education, and for allowing nearly every other function of the state to grind to a halt on its watch.
But something about these enemies doesn’t stick.
The regents are only reacting to what’s coming down on them from the state capital, and their compensation alone doesn’t come close to closing the hole.
The governor, too, is hamstrung. Even in good economic times, he and the legislature only control about 20 percent of the budget. The rest is “locked-in” by the spending priorities and restrictions by the political movements of yesterday.
The legislature is a tempting target… but wait. Fees have increased during periods of Republican control and Democratic control; when liberals were in charge of the legislature and when conservatives were in charge; in good economic times and bad. You have every reason to believe that you will continue to receive less education for more money no matter who wins what election where or when.
No, the fee hikes, the layoffs and the furloughs (like the IOUs, the prisons and the water) are bigger than Arnold Schwarzenegger, and they are certainly bigger than the regents. For this reason, you and your fellow students have been visibly frustrated trying to find the right target for your wrath and the most effective avenue for your collective action.
Should you look to Sacramento? Today, the capitol exists in a state of controlled anarchy. Every lobbying firm and every interest group scavenges whatever it can from the public body; the beast has no strategy, no master plan and no guiding principle. The beast has shown itself capable of devouring water systems, prison systems, roads, bridges and the social safety net, and now it’s hungry for the greatest university system in the history of our species. The monster cannot be tamed or captured, and its gluttony is ravaging us all.
Then it hits. The problem is Sacramento. Your enemy is Sacramento.
What do you do?
When who controls the legislature or the governor’s mansion has largely ceased to matter, and when the system and all its parts have become so fundamentally committed to destroying everything you love — from your parks to your health to your education — where do you turn? Do you tinker around the edges? No. You get a new system.
Last month, a coalition of advocacy groups called Repair California finalized and submitted two ballot measures to do just that, by calling California’s first constitutional convention in 130 years. If the measures succeed on the ballot we would be enabled to scrap the old system and build a new one that learns from other states and reflects the California of tomorrow. No other reform proposal offers anything even close to such an opportunity.
I don’t know about you, but I refuse to accept the status quo and what it’s doing to us. It’s time for us to seize our future. California needs you. This movement needs you.
Member, Repair California
Administration Should Have Delivered Greater Consequences to UCSC Protesters
I am writing to object in the strongest terms possible to the handling of the Nov. 18 protests at UCSC.
While I am not unsympathetic to the point made by the protesters that day, I object to their method, and must equally fault the administration for allowing them to close access to campus.
Those who engage in civil disobedience must also accept the consequences, and I saw no sign whatsoever that those in authority intended to impose consequences upon the protesters. Absent that, the protesters’ actions were mere thuggery and those who turn a blind eye to them are complicit.
As far as I know, campus authorities have an obligation to enforce the law. I don’t know whether or not there is a legal obligation to assist students, faculty and staff in getting onto and off of campus, but it certainly seems like there should be.
Instead, parking officers blocked off the streets approaching the main entrance and in essence aided the protesters.
As a commuter student who had to work all morning, I was unaware of the protests or the reason for the road closure until I checked online while in stopped traffic on Empire Grade approaching the west entrance to UCSC. I know for a fact that several students in my class commute from work in Santa Clara or San Mateo counties, and they were likely caught in the same mess — as were hundreds of others, as evidenced by the mile of traffic leading up to the west entrance.
At the west entrance, I was forced to turn around by a mob of students; the single campus police officer visible, while cordial, made clear that his instructions did not allow him to take any action to allow traffic through.
I missed half a day of work to attend class today, and was prevented from doing so by the actions of a small handful of misbehaving students. The responsibility for this does not lie solely with those students, but at least equally with the administration, which coddles them.
I’m not sure that your administration is not more culpable: as a society, we make an allowance for “kids” like most undergraduates, while we expect responsible professionals to live up to full adult standards.
I strongly urge the administration in the future to take whatever actions are necessary to ensure that protests remain peaceful and do not disrupt the normal operations for campus. If student protesters will not cooperate, they should be subject to the normal legal and academic penalties.
UCSC Graduate Student
To My Fellow Students…
Last week, as we all know, the Regents approved a 32 percent fee increase for the University of California prompting students to occupy buildings on many UC campuses in protest of the decision. Unfortunately, the manner in which these protesters have chosen to voice their dissent — especially the occupation of Kerr Hall here at UCSC — has cast a shadow of immaturity and foolishness on what could have been a very effective strategy of civil disobedience.
I am personally embarrassed and disappointed in my schoolmates who chose a route of vandalism, disruption of the peace and delinquency — actions which are not covered by the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., perhaps the most adept mastermind of civil disobedience in modern times, urged his followers to use non-violent means of protest, for he understood the need to accrue sympathy for his cause from the public. When I hear about the property damage students keep doing to buildings on campus and the demonstrations that lead to altercations with the police, I find myself beginning to sympathize more with school administrators than with these students even though I am a student.
Why are students ripping phone lines out of walls and barricading doors instead of showing solidarity and singing “We Shall Overcome?” How does blocking off the entrances to campus for hours during class time help support access to education?
As a student who does rely heavily on financial aid, I completely understand the devastation and frustration that prompts people to resort to such undesirable means of protest. However, I also have enough common sense to realize that to be taken seriously and given the respect we deserve, we need to come together in a mature, civilized way to show our disappointment. If we want change, we have to garner support from the wider community of voters and taxpayers, and acting like a pack of criminals isn’t getting us any compassion.
Please, I urge you to cease all violent, illegal and destructive forms of protest immediately for the sake of the reputation and future of UC students everywhere.
Miriam Veiss Creque
A Response to “Misinformed Enthusiasm” in Defense of the Nov. 18 Protests
I feel some facts need to be straightened out from City on a Hill Press columnist Lollie Brande’s recent editorial entitled “Misinformed Enthusiasm.”
Yes, Mark Yudof’s salary is closer to $600,000 than $900,000. However, that is before factoring in his roughly $230,000 annual pension funding. Altogether, Yudof’s compensation plan is much closer to the $900,000 students are protesting, and to try and downplay that is misleading and a disservice to the students who are trying to improve our situation. In addition to that, he receives a handful of other bonuses, including University-supplied lodging. All of this info can be found on the UC’s own Web site.
As for the allocation of funds, one-third is pledged for financial aid, but the other two-thirds are simply designated to “close a widening budget gap.” No specifics are given, although a very broad outline for fee hikes in general is. Again, this info can be easily found on the UC’s Web site.
Claims that the money is going towards construction stem from this lack of transparency — something that the protests demanded of the regents. The UC is selling roughly $1.5 billion in bonds to gather revenue for construction and proudly touts the favorable rates the bonds have (again, see the UC’s site). They give no information on what is being used as collateral to get such favorable rates, and research has shown that our student fees can and are being used as that collateral. This is explained in far better detail than I could ever provide at the Council of UC Faculty Association’s Web site (http://cucfa.org).
Therefore, while some protesters may not have all the right info, there are definite factual backings to the assertions the protesters are making.
As for why we protest the way we do about the things we do: as previously proved, the UC is misleading about what it does with our funds and the “sacrifices” the higher-ups are making. We want transparency and honesty if they are going to keep taking more money from us.
People will blame the economic crisis our state is in or the national recession we just faced. While these exacerbated our situation, they are not the roots of the problem. In 2004 our UC Regents unanimously agreed with Gov. Schwarzenegger on a compact that would shift the UC to being primarily funded by “private sources,” or student fees and tuition. They are responsible for setting us on this path towards privatization that has since been escalated and accelerated by the state’s continuing budget woes. We want a return to the old terms, in which the UC was a predominantly state-funded school.
They say the fee hike is essential to keep or improve our quality of education, yet we’ve had constant fee hikes these past few years, our class sizes are still increasing, classes and faculty are still being cut, and the library now has ridiculous, borderline useless hours of operation. We have every right to be skeptical that these fee increases will be the ones that change things. Why wait until we’re paying the same price as kids at Harvard or NYU before we start making a fuss — especially if we’ve seen no increase in the quality of education these last few years as a result of them?
The UC Regents should be our allies in this fight, not accomplices of the governor and legislature that have worked against us. Money is tight and state funding needs to be reallocated and new revenue raised — things that ballot initiatives in 2010 will hopefully start to fix. But there is no reason the regents, governor and legislature can’t start fixing things now.
We blocked the streets and disrupted campus because that is what gets attention. In September, I was one of the students who was frustrated by the protests and saw it as just alienating potential allies. I was especially dismayed by the occupations (and I am still opposed to the vandalism and will never see that as a useful tactic, but neither do the majority of us protesters).
But these recent actions forced me to get involved. I went to general assemblies. I went to teach-ins. I shared my ideas and heard theirs. I was educated on the details of the situation by faculty and staff who are our allies. And so on the 18th I proudly joined their ranks, because the protests do exactly what they aim to do. They get attention and they start a dialogue. If we all could just happily join together and do a peaceful, non-intrusive act that would solve the problem, but that’s not going to happen. There have been multiple general assemblies and dialogues to share ideas, and the masses don’t turn out. There is too much apathy.
By blocking entrances to campus and disrupting campus life as a whole, we accomplish a campus-wide shake-up with the numbers we have. We provoke those who haven’t gotten involved to get involved. It’s what did it for me, and hopefully it’s what will do it for others. Already, our numbers this protest dwarfed those in September.
The attention our protests get and the dialogues they start are necessary for keeping the ball rolling on fixing this mess. If we simply gathered in the Quarry Plaza, waved our signs, and went home, how many people would be talking about the problem compared to the numbers that talk when we block off a major intersection and briefly disrupt the whole campus?
People are working to get initiatives on the ballot and promote those that already are on it. Others are e-mailing and speaking with those who have more pull in the matter. Even more ideas are brewing. The occasional visible, disruptive gesture is necessary to help spur this all and keep it alive and in the public eye. We protesters are just a part of the process — one that may draw the ire of our peers, but an essential one nonetheless. Standing aside and deriding us will accomplish nothing. Engage us, share your ideas, contact faculty, regents, and legislators, come to general assemblies and join the overall cause.
Wednesday, Nov. 18 was a success. Next Wednesday and all subsequent ones can be too. We have been patient, we have organized, we have discussed, and we will continue to do so. We just need you to join us.
Thanks for hearing me out,