Napolitano’s Offensive Against Public Education & Our Necessary Response

by Juan Garcia

Last November 19th, 2014, during the first night of the Open Wheeler Occupation  at UC Berkeley,  we experienced the start of a new phase of the movement against fee hikes & budget cuts. This occupation and movement was a symbolic continuation of a series of walkouts, occupations, and other protests that started in Fall 2009, in response to a 32% fee hike. This most recent Wheeler occupation was in protest  to the UC Regents  vote on Nov. 19th  to have the option to increase tuition by five percent every year  for five years if the Governor didn’t add more to the pot. If the Regents move forward with the fee hike proposal, it would amount to one of the largest fee hikes, in cumulative numbers, in recent history.
Furthermore, the  increased cost of education is a reflection of a declining quality of education and of campus working conditions: students, workers and faculty have been enduring cuts to student programs, overflowing lecture halls, classes that are difficult to get into,  having to take out more loans and work part-time for students, and a worsening campus climate for historically underrepresented students of color (i.e. Blacks, Latin@s, Native Americans, etc.)[1]. It’s also important to note that other higher education and K-12th schools & institutions in California (like Cal State Universities, Community Colleges) and across the nation are facing similar privatization and defunding measures.  This is why students, workers and community members statewide did a week of actions for the week of March 1st & are calling for protests, walkouts, and strikes across the UC and in public education during the UC Regents meeting and for the Fall Semester.

Occupations, #BlackLivesMatter & other Campus Protests

The Wheeler occupation lasted a few days (until Nov 25th), with marches and other direct actions in between (the march in Nov 24th had almost 2000 people) and would set the backdrop for other campus protests that would happen in December. In addition, the campus rallies & protests around the disappearance/massacres of Ayotzinapa (México) as well as the rallies & marches in Berkeley against the racist policing of the black community has shed a light to the systematic violence, repression, exploitation & oppression that Blacks and Latin@s/Chican@s face in our society, and highlight the intersection between the fight against the privatization of education and continued under-representation of these communities in higher education.
Thus,  when hundreds of students and community members decided to occupy Wheeler Hall on Nov. 19th after the fee hikes proposal was passed, it was no surprise that many more students and workers came out the following days and nights to express their rage at yet more increases.”We must continue to defend public education from this continued privatization, the continued underrepresentation of Blacks, Latin@s, Native Americans and other historically underrepresented communities, and to connect these struggles with the struggles against racist policing.

UC a Crisis of Priorities & Privatization

The fee hikes plan and the logic used by the UC is outrageous on a few levels. First, it is  economically absurd & expresses a crisis of priorities. Instead of using millions to fund educational necessities, the UC has chosen to use this money to fund countless construction projects and partnerships with corporations like British Petroleum and Monsanto. None of these decisions, of course, was decided democratically and instead was unilaterally made by the Regents, many of whom come directly from major private institutions such as Bank of America. The problems of transparency are even apparent to the state legislature, who in an official investigation stated, that  “UC spending from all sources of revenue went up 40 percent from 2007-08 to the present fiscal year” — far greater growth than seen in other large state institutions & this “undercuts Napolitano’s claims of poverty and shores up critics who say UC has slack, unfocused management.” Lastly, even state legislative “officials struggle to detail exactly where much of UC’s current $26.9 billion budget goes.”[2]
UC tuition increase plan 2015
In reality, Napolitano, the Regents, &  Governor Brown’s administration (& previous ones) seek to continue & further the privatization and austerity measures that began in 2009. The UC is not facing a budget shortfall and has been able to raise tuition revenue by $1.4 billion in the same period that state funding for the UC declined by $900 million[3]. Instead of structuring itself to rely on public state funding, the UC, in the spirit of other elite private universities, wants far less regulated private tuition to continue it’s corporate construction projects & other private research interests. Specifically, UC wants to continue to raise student tuition as collateral in order to gain loans from financial institutions.

Gov. Brown is not an Alternative Either!

Since last Fall’s protests, Gov. Brown and UC President Napolitano formed a “super-committee” in early January to discuss and negotiate on how to stop the raising of  tuition/fees and to find other alternatives.  One likely hypothesis that helps explain Gov. Brown’s plans are that his administration is trying to restructure higher education in California so that the UC’s are the elite academic institutions, the CSU’s absorb as much of the student population as possible, and that the CC’s become purely transition schools and/or vocational trainers (e.g. look at recent laws that allow CC’s in California to grant bachelor’s degrees). Furthermore, Gov. Brown wants a “public” or at least “semi-public” institution (depending on how one defines “public”), whereas the Regents want to turn the UC into a fully privatized enterprise. Furthermore, some of alternative proposals to fee-hikes that Brown is proposing are worrying since they include: “moving classes online, increasing the hours faculty devote to teaching and spurring students to complete their studies in four years or less.” Though Napolitano & Regents are saying that the state needs to fund the UC more, shifting the cost to students is not a solution.
Nevertheless, instead of taking input from the general UC-wide student, worker and faculty body on finding collective solutions to avoid fee hikes, the Regents, Napolitano, and Gov. Brown instead choose to continue to undemocratically decide for themselves.
And now, this supercommittee recently announced plans to “delay” the fee hike’s implementation for the upcoming summer sessions to the fall semester. Though their public statement doesn’t mention this, this move was in likely a response to mounting pressure from students, workers, faculty and community around the state. We’re sure this committee was aware of planned protests and actions in March, from the 96 Hours of protest being planned in March 2-5  to the planned protests for the March 17-19 UC Regents meeting. Thus, this delay is a chess move to demobilize planned protests and to give an impression that they are in fact listening to our concerns.

Collective Direct Actions, Protests and Walkouts & the need for a Long-term Strategy!

As a result, now is the time to be clear. We must demand far more than a simple delay, which we know to be a sleight of hand- we want no more fee hikes!
We should follow the spirit of the “Call to Action for 96 Hours of Direct Action” by UC students and demand[4] the following :
1) we want fully subsidized public education through increased state support;
2) higher admission rates for working class students of color;
3) living wages for front line educators and workers;
4) an administration that is far more responsive to mounting concerns about sexual and racial violence, workplace health and safety, & the declining quality of undergraduate education;
5) an end to the financialization and privatization of our public institutions.
Therefore, students, workers, faculty and community members should avoid the pitfall to slow down our organizing until the Fall. We should continue to organize and put pressure on this “supercommittee” in our campuses. We should demonstrate that there’s an alternative to the current defunding & austerity by shutting down our campuses and continue the fight for truly free and public education.
In this spirit, we should continue to link up the struggles in campuses with the general privatization of public education and other community social problems, like the racist police and the continued re-segregation of education, among other issues. Campuses should do forums and education events to discuss strategy and the best next steps for the movement. We should also be linking our struggles with others and be organizing together where possible. This is so we can build the student, worker and community organizational power needed to counter and remove those in the ruling elite who are trying to turn public education into a profit-making machine and make the rest of the 99% pay for their financial goals & woes.

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