Ra Ra Riot: "The State is Broke, and Berkeley is in Revolt"

To jump on coattails of Paul Craft’s post and to further discuss the crisis in California, here is an article about by Tad Friend on the recent protests surrounding the fate of public education in California. The tagline of his January 4th article, in the New Yorker, “Protest Studies,” is “the state is broke, and Berkeley is in revolt.” (Here is the article in another form for New Yorker subscribers)

According to Friend (and who wouldn’t trust someone named Friend!), here are the basics of the issue.

**What is the root of the unrest? **

Friend would agree with the points raised in Paul’s article about, well, a huge fiscal crisis and severely diminished funding for higher education.

Who do protesters believe to be the villains?

UC president Mark Yudof, for one, though Robert Birgeneau, Berkeley’s “gangly, staunchly liberal chancellor,” says that,

That enmity is totally misplaced.

At this point, the students are pretty angry at Birgenau too, though he has put on an optimistic face, even after students attacked his home shortly before Christmas.

What are Berkely students doing about the situation?

Forming the Solidarity Alliance (motto: Defend Higher Education), whose members including Professor Ananya Roy.

Over the past few months, Berkeley students have engaged in riots that for some—including Friend–call to mind riots and protests of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Students attacked the Chancellor’s home on November 11th,  and occupied Berkeley’s Wheeler Hall in late November.

What are steps Berkeley and other UC’s could take?

Privitization: essentially, sponsored departments and professorships. The problems with privitization include that it

can introduce outside agendas and limit academic freedom. It doesn’t seem to disturb Harvard University that its medical school has three professorships in sleep medicine endowed by the sleep-medication manufacturers Cephalon, Respironics adn Res-Med. But there was an outcry at Berkeley two years ago when the oil company BP promised the campus about three hundred million dollars for an Energy Biosciences Institute in exchange for significat controls over the research done there.

Others at Berkeley feel that it will turn the University into a “glorified trade school” and ask, “who will bankroll poetry?” (aka the smaller and less lucrative departments).

Chancellor Robert Birgenau’s biggest push has been advocates to “go federal”–but only for five of the UC’s (the most important research schools of the bunch).

Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger has pledged to restore $370 to the UC’s in this upcoming year’s budget, shifting money from prisons to schools.

**What do protesting students and faculty want?

This is somewhat unclear. Walkouts, petitions, “bring back the workers” campaigns, mobilizing against budget cuts, a “remake” of the University. The goals are at once, too narrow, too wide, and too undefined. Some make sense, others don’t.

While having a voice is absolutely something to be admired–getting heard, having the administration respect the needs and wishes of the student and faculty bodies–it is disappointing to see the situation devolve into violence. Berkeley students– and Stanford students, and all California residents — should be speaking up (could and should we be doing more on Stanford’s campus to be involved with debating and discussing California’s crisis and the UC system’s crisis? Absolutely) but no one should not be attacking anyone’s homes, ever.

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