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Friday, November 30, 2018

Friday, November 30, 2018
Comments from the 150th Anniversary Symposium of the University of California Academic Senate, Oakland, California, October 27, 2018, 
by Dylan Rodríguez, Chair of the UC Riverside Academic Senate, Professor, Department of Media and Cultural Studies
[Photo: Gen. David Barrows, Armistice Day, 1926, courtesy of FoundSF.]

Let us reconsider the full historical context of the University of California’s founding moment and the context in which it coined its motto, “Fiat Lux.”  A brief reflection on the UC’s political, geographic, and historical conditions of possibility may offer some vital complexity and depth to recent college- and university-based discourses on free speech and academic freedom, while raising deeper questions about the notions of “speech” and “freedom” in-and-of-themselves.

The founding of the University of California represents a particular confrontation between Western Euroamerican modernity and the high point of Manifest Destiny—a nation-building cultural, political, and military regime that is inseparable from the UC’s academic and juridical infrastructure.  During this extended period, the UC’s founding faculty and administrators were engaged in a variety of global colonial projects, which is to say racial colonial projects, including the US conquest and protracted colonial governance of the Philippines.

As a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley, i spent a lot of time in a building named after David Barrows, President of the University of California from 1919-1923.  Barrows had an interest in California Indians, particularly the Cahuilla Tribe, the topic of his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Chicago (where else?).  Before he became the UC president, Barrows played a pivotal role in the US colonization of the Philippines, during which the US military was engaged in a genocidal military campaign to liquidate and neutralize indigenous resistance to colonial occupation throughout the archipelago.  As people and ecologies were destroyed, burned, and displaced, Barrows accepted an appointment as Chief of the “Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes of the Philippine Islands.”  I imagine that if he were awakened from his mortal slumber, President Barrows might concede that the conditions of his own “academic freedom,” of his freedom to speak and his “freedom of speech,” were not only entangled in but constituted by his lifelong engagements with projects of colonial dominance, from the Cahuilla to the “non-Christian” Philippine tribes.  “Fiat Lux” indeed.

Across these and other historical political geographies of racial-colonial dominance, modern law, rights, and disciplinary academic knowledges affirm white life’s ascendancy over all other life.  This has been the historical, if generally tacit mission statement of the modern university, including the University of California.  War against other life, culture, ecology, and sociality is the genesis of law, rights, and university epistemologies in this instance, structuring the “civility” and the “freedom” that disciplines those who are on the historical margins of that civil society, the underside of the thing called Civilization.

In this sense, it is horrifically appropriate that so many of us engaged in the counter-knowledge productions of critical ethnic studies, queer studies, gender and feminist studies, and decolonial studies have encountered David Barrows’ bronze bust in that building at UC Berkeley.  His visage reminds us that the intellectual space and infrastructure to engage in such counter-knowledge production is the outcome of intense, rigorous, collective social movement that critically extends the entitlements of academic freedom while confronting the ways in which the institutional stability constructed around the edifices of academic freedom is actively policed.

Allow me to turn to the fact of policing in the second half of my reflections on this 150th anniversary.

A spectacle of police violence at UC Davis on November 18, 2011 catalyzed a national and international response, fixated on the vulnerable bodies of young white people engaged in an act of civil disobedience. (With all due respect to the people of color who were also in the line of fire at Davis, my contention is that their bodies were not the ones with which the national and international response was primarily concerned, nor was their vulnerability centrally responsible for inciting this global outrage in the first place.)  Largely displaced by the righteous outcry over the UC Davis police’s pepper spraying of students in November 2011 was a more massive and militarized display of police force/violence that occurred at my home campus of UC Riverside two months later, on January 19, 2012.

On this day, UCR students were shot with “less than lethal” police pellets during protests of tuition/fee increases at a meeting of the UC Regents.  (Here i will gently suggest that we modify our language to acknowledge that these actions might be more comprehensively described as “debt protests.”)  In anticipation of this student-led demonstration, police were mobilized from every UC campus other than Davis and Merced, supplemented by officers from the City of Riverside Police Department and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.  Police helicopters periodically circled over the protest, while officers appeared to assume sniper positions at strategic high points on several campus buildings.  The climate was thick with police presence, and the pageantry of political intimidation represented a massive show of force against the students, faculty, staff, and ordinary people who populated the crowd.
Riot police confronting student protest at UC Regents meeting, UC Riverside, January 19, 2012 (photo courtesy of the author)

This police presence starkly contrasted with the protest’s well-disciplined adherence to tactics of “nonviolence.” (By way of definition, i do not consider loud chants, intense and vitriolic rhetorics of protest, militant refusal to disperse an alleged “unlawful assembly” or sit-down blockades to constitute “violence”; further, even if one wishes to perform the academic gymnastics of labeling such activities as forms of discursive, symbolic, existential, and/or immanent violence, they are not of a kind remotely comparable to the aforementioned marshaling of legitimated state violence.) For reasons i have explained elsewhere, we should not be surprised that UC Riverside’s scene of police repression—images of which were easily accessible via e-mail listservs, public YouTube videos, Facebook photos, and the like—did not attract remotely the kind of attention and righteous reaction as did the incident at UC Davis.

There is something structurally white supremacist about how expressions of outrage and institutional shaming over the UC Davis police spectacle seemed to be fueled by an overidentification with (historically white) university campuses as places of presumed innocence, wherein enrolled and employed (white) bodies are presumed to presume innocence.  On the other hand, UC Riverside students generally signify (and biographically reflect) the normalized policing and criminalization of Black, Native, and Brown people—young and old, urban and rural, transgender, queer, and straight.  Such bodies—such people—are incapable of extracting the consensus of liberal outrage surrounding (and ultimately protecting) the repressive university policing of white, able-bodied college youth.  Thus, while all campus policing is fundamentally “political,” only a select few of its most acute forms are addressed as such.

There is a punchline to this story that takes place in a former UCR Chancellor’s living room…

During this period, Chancellor Tim White periodically invited groups of department chairs to his residence for friendly dinners, during which he engaged us in conversation about things we felt were important to the campus.  During the dinner i attended, a fellow departmental chair and i raised concerns over the heavy handedness of the police response to the nonviolent, student-led action of January 19.  (Other chairs seemed either unaware of this matter or uninterested in raising such criticisms of police violence and administrative complicity.)  After eating, the fellow chair and i sat with Chancellor White on his living room couch.  He looked us both in the eye and, in a most calm and reassuring tone, expressed sympathy with our concerns and informed us that he had taken pains to instruct the police to shoot the student protestors “below the knees.”  My colleague and i took turns staring at each other and the floor.  Not long thereafter, i watched Chancellor White shed crocodile tears over the financial hardships of a Black woman undergraduate on an episode of the reality show “Undercover Boss.”

I offer these reflections to deprovincialize and radically contextualize the concepts and jurisprudence of free speech and academic freedom beyond the institutional mythologies of “Fiat Lux.”  Allow me to conclude with a set of overlapping questions that may offer some productive reframing of our ongoing discussions:

  • Who are the assumptive subjects of “free speech” and “academic freedom?” 
  • How are these notions of liberty (particularly as they are inseparable from the jurisprudential regime that produces them as such) structured in relations of gender, race, sexual, and colonial dominance in the long historical and recurrent-present tense?
  • How are free speech and academic freedom actually inhabited by people whose speech and thought are constituted in relations of dominance, such that the underlying humanist allegation at the core of both terms is (perhaps radically) demystified and disrupted?
  • What forms of policing are martialed through the politics of free speech and academic freedom? 

While both "free speech" and "academic freedom" suggest discourses of liberty, i would argue that they cannot be separated from the densely historical, gendered racial-colonial logics that persistently claim to secure such “freedom” and “liberty” against lurking threats from what W.E.B. DuBois famously called “the darker peoples of the world.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Wednesday, November 21, 2018
We've gotten dosed this past week with some prime time smugness about how we don't need to do anything much to help higher education.  First was one of my favorite data journalists, David Leonhardt, rejecting loan forgiveness in the New York Times. He wrote,  "The fatal flaw of universal student-debt cancellation is that it’s not, in fact, progressive. It mostly benefits the upper middle class. 'Education debt,' as Sandy Baum and Victoria Lee of the Urban Institute have written, 'is disproportionately concentrated among the well-off.' The highest-earning quarter of the population holds about half of all student debt, according to Baum and Lee. Which means that universal student debt cancellation would be a giant welfare program for the bourgeoisie."

Actually by American standards student debt isn't very concentrated.   And Leonhardt misses some major problems with "manageable" student debt that forgiveness would fix.

I drafted the list of problems that Leonhardt misses (below), and then stopped to meet with a UCSB senior whom I didn't know.  We talked about a book in my Detective Fiction course, Black Widow Wardrobe, and this student's account of the book was really good.  At the end of her analysis of the ambiguity of a key Mexican national mythology the novel uses, I said, "that's a great summary of this issue, and," I half-joked, "it's something you could continue to work on when you go to grad school."

"I want to teach," she said, "nothing is more important to me.  I don't think I can go to grad school though. I don't have the grades."

"Why?" I asked, surprised.  She seemed to learn completely and to forget nothing. "What's your GPA?"

"In the English major I have about a 2.4."

"That's ridiculous," I said, "that's obviously not the right GPA for you."

"Well," she said,  "I'm off academic probation at least.  I've been on it four times.  I have to work a lot to stay in school.  I had some help from family my first year, but they couldn't keep it up and told me my education was mine to pay for now.  I work 12 hours a week minimum, and then when there's a break in midterms or finals I work 20.  My father also has a new baby and I spent weekends this term helping his wife, who couldn't get around. I'm first generation college--my father and mother only finished middle school and are so happy I'm at UCSB.  It's really important that I give back to them.  I need to take care of them."

"It's none of my business," I said, "but you also need to take care of yourself in school. You need to get through this with the grades and the learning that will help you go on."

"I'm excited about what I'm learning," she replied.

"Does your GPA bother you?"

"It bothers me a lot.  I think about it all the time."

"Then how can we help you to work less? You don't want to because it means loans?"

"Yes.   That's what the probation advisors said to me --take loans so you can work less.  But I can't have any debt.  I see the job market and it isn't reliable enough for me to be sure that I can pay it back."

This went on for a while, with me trying to figure out how to save her GPA from her justified fear of debt, with a family that can at most send her $20 a month for groceries.  I failed.

"Well you have to do well in my class," I said cheerily.

"I want to.  But I couldn't turn in the midterm paper-- I had to go home."

She'd worked a lower-points alternative out with the TA, but that means she's heading for something like a 3.0 or less for my class too, where she has obviously mastered the key concepts.  I offered to advise a senior thesis so if she does well I can write her a good letter for the next phase.  She's thinking about it.

In spite of constant wishful thinking, there's no escape from the fact that student debt--in this case its desperate avoidance--is a major cause of "limited learning" and narrowed future possibilities.

The #RealCollege movement has shone a spotlight on the fact that a third of US college students face food and housing security issues.  Organizations like Temple University's Hope Center are working to fix that.  So why are policymakers and journalists as informed as Leonhardt so complacent about the educational damage done by our financial aid system?

Here's my short list of the problems that Leonhardt omits.
  • Fear of debt causes undermatching, in which lower-income students go to cheaper--and poorer--colleges than they are qualified for.  This reduces their chances of graduation and probably their learning. 
  • Students manage future debt by working more than they should while studying.  As the case of my smart 2.4 GPA student illustrates, this is a structural source of the "limited learning" that Arum and Roksa documented in 2011 (which, it must always be said, was largely limited to  "vocational" fields).
  • Loan repayment pushes students toward disciplines with higher future salaries, whether they want to study them or will do well in them.  Moving someone who loves history into computer science is inefficient as well as undemocratic, and yet debt makes this more likely.
  • Much of this "reasonable" debt is held by low-income students who have no family resources to help pay it back.  (Low income students borrow on average as much as middle-class students do.)
There's so much stubborn inertness about student debt because of a philosophical mistake made as much by Democrats like Leonhardt as by Republicans:
  • Means-tested loan forgiveness contradicts the public-good status of education.  With means-testing, the baseline norm is for everyone to pay for college out of their own pocket.  This treats college as a private good.  Then, since most people can't pay for college on their own, various kinds of state and private charity kick in--which maintain the private-good status.  Means-testing makes everyone focus on the income effects of college--as does income contingent repayment in the UK. It makes them forget the nonmarket, indirect, and social benefits of higher ed.  This in turn completely changes the psychological experience and effects of college.  Democrats supposedly don't think everything is about money, and yet they've set up a financial aid system that is only about money.  This is the system Leonhardt supports.
These market-ruled aid programs continue the Clinton-era suppression of the value of public goods. In reality, goods like clean air, sanitation systems, mass transit, vaccination, and education should be distributed according to individual need and general benefit, not according to ability to pay.  With these goods price signals don't work.  They give an oversupply to rich people and an undersupply--or much lower quality--to the poor.  This is why the Clinton-Obama market model of health and education has lost so much support.

In addition, the market-driven allocation of high-quality college is a main reason why US attainment has fallen steadily over the last 4 decades from first to about sixteenth in the world. It is also why college racial inequality persists.

Most of us feel somewhat badly about this unjust, unequal allocation and try to patch it with our high-tuition-high aid system, stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with loans (2:1 loans over grants vs. the reverse 30 years ago).  We know it doesn't provide equal outcomes by race or class, or actually equal opportunity (for roughly similar educational quality).  Rather than putting financial aid on a market system, we should have put it on a public good allocation system.  Having contributed to the market mistake, Democrats should now stand for the public good correction.

Market failure is what the democratic socialist wing of the Democrats understands, and what the Clinton-Pelosi wing does not--yet.  In practice it would mean that society would set a goal of all students graduating debt-free, and then buy out my smart 2.4 GPA student's 20 hours a week of work so she can actually learn as much as she can and have the record that reflects her capabilities.   Debt-free college is economics that sets socio-cultural goals rather than isolating itself from them--substantively equal access, and outcomes that reflect individual labor and preferences, not grossly unequal prior conditions.

The crisis of financial aid appeared in the biggest higher ed story this week--Michael Bloomberg's $1.8 billion gift for student financial aid.  Unfortunately, it all went to one university.  The recipient was his alma mater Johns Hopkins, and the money will do the useful thing of converting all loans to grants that need not be repaid--for Hopkins students.  It's the right idea, but obviously needs to be applied to the 99.93 percent of U.S. postsecondary students who don't go to Johns Hopkins.

I don't need to point out the problems here: many commentators blasted the elitism of this version of affordability, from Sara Goldrick-Rab to Dylan Matthews, who called the gift a tragedy.  My Twitter feed was strongly bearish.  I don't think senior administrators realize how these megagifts make the university sector seem entitled, greedy, and cut off from the lives of regular people trying to get a good education.  Why pay taxes for these billionaires' BFFs?  A clear warning sign should have been Malcolm Gladwell's trashing of a hedge fund billionaire's $400 million gift to Harvard in mid-2015--followed by his celebration of obscure giving that helps advance everyday students (and takedown of the Knight-Hennessey scholarships at Stanford).

Bloomberg was unable to avoid lecturing the nation on the need for everyone to support financial aid at public universities as he was not.  I prefer my governments actually egalitarian, my tax brackets steeply progressive, and my billionaires plutocratic.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Monday, November 12, 2018

Below you will find the announcement of  the creation of a new network that has formed to defend the critical functions and independence of higher education in a moment of crisis.

We in the United States are facing a dangerous threat to our institutions of higher learning from a political climate dominated by anti-intellectualism and willful ignorance. For more than forty years, the academic community has been the target of a sustained campaign of demonization and defunding that is designed to undercut its legitimacy as a source of expertise and a haven for dissent. The structure of this anti-education movement is deep, wide, and coordinated and the attack is being intensified under the current administration. Almost every area of academic life is now at risk: whether the threats come from the insistence of outside groups pressuring universities to host speakers who seek to affront marginalized members of the university community and others; or the federal government’s attempts to ban Muslims, “Dreamers,” and undocumented students; or the underfunding of public higher education and scientific research; or, most recently, the state’s attempt to reject years of scholarly work on the complexities of gender identity. This is not only an American issue; the world’s universities are in danger of losing the intellectual distinction and freedom that they have represented and defended.
The Network of Concerned Academics will act as a hub to bring together all those seeking to address these threats to higher education.  The originality of the network is its outreach to the three groups—faculty, students, and administrators—who are not usually in direct conversation with one another; indeed they are sometimes at odds.  Our goal is to unite these diverse constituencies in the face of unprecedented attacks on the entire enterprise of higher education, by providing information and updates on unfolding events, and by developing concrete strategies and blueprints, among them models of best practices for all those who are confronted with new kinds of provocations and threats.  The website is now live at https://www.networkofconcernedacademics.org/.
The effectiveness of this Network depends on its ability to bring together and activate people who are committed to preserving the university as a space in which diversity of perspectives, academic expertise, and critical thought can flourish. Please post this letter and the NCA link on your websites and blogs, and please inform your constituencies about this new resource.
We appreciate your help in spreading the word about the launching of the NCA website, and welcome your contributions to its resources and conversations.
If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact the NCA by email or at https://www.networkofconcernedacademics.org/contact-us .

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Saturday, November 10, 2018
By Robert Cohen (New York University)

The release of the California College Republican’s Platform has attracted press attention because of its extreme right wing positions demonizing the university as “degenerate and murderous” -- denouncing university support of transgender rights, undocumented students, Mexican and Muslim student organizations, and funding of birth control, and abortion.  But what the media coverage of the platform missed was the brazen dishonesty of these college Republicans’ discussion of free speech on campus. Indeed, the charge  of attempted censorship that the platform makes against  the UC Berkeley administration, with regard to the campus appearance of conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, is not merely misleading and false; it is by far the biggest lie I have ever encountered from student activists in the more than 30 years  I have spent studying, publishing books and articles, and teaching courses on American student politics. There was no attempted censorship of Shapiro at Cal, and the charge that there was represents an attempt by these right wing students to masquerade as free speech martyrs, which would be laughable were it not for the fact that such lying defames a Berkeley campus administration that has in reality ardently supported (and spent millions of dollars protecting) the free speech rights of conservative speakers at UC Berkeley.

What the California College Republicans’ Platform said was that the Shapiro incident at UC Berkeley was an “example” of  the “attempt” by campus “administrators” to “suppress… free expression” of “conservative students…. The University of California at Berkeley attempted to prevent Berkeley College Republicans (BCR) from bringing conservative speaker Ben Shapiro by forcing BCR to pay for his $600,000 security bill necessitated by violent leftist demonstrators.” This a complete fabrication. UC Berkeley never sought to force the BCR to pay an astronomical security fee. Nor did UC Berkeley in any way seek to prevent Shapiro’s appearance. Quite the opposite. The administration did everything in its power to make that appearance possible and to ensure its safety. 

Here are the facts. Back in July 2017 the BCR applied for a large room to accommodate the Shapiro event, which it planned to hold in mid-September.  It turned out that none of the  large rooms used for student events at Cal  were available on the date the BCR requested. So to ensure that this conservative speaking event could occur anyway, the Berkeley administration took the extraordinary step of making available Zellerbach Hall – whose large auditorium  had  usually been a venue for concerts and major cultural events, and in the past had rarely if ever been made available for student speaking events.  The administration even agreed that it would pay the Zellerbach venue fee, something it had never done for any student political organization. In other words, the UC Berkeley administration was leaning over backwards to accommodate Shapiro’s talk, even subsidizing it, so much so that Berkeley’s left-leaning student newspaper, The Daily Californian complained of administration favoritism towards the BCR.  

Yes, security costs for the Shapiro event in September 2017, most of which were paid for by the university, were expensive. But that was not merely – as the Republicans claimed – because of concerns about “violent leftist demonstrators,” but also  because in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy (where a white supremacist murdered an anti-racist protester) there were fears that violent right wing extremists might come to the Berkeley campus to assault their leftist counterparts and students of color. Indeed, there had been street battles in Berkeley during the summer of 2017 between extremists on the right and left. So the university spent for for the necessary security to prevent such violence and to ensure that there was no repetition of the riot of February 1, 2017, when a paramilitary force of some 150 masked anarchists invaded the Berkeley campus,  threatening public safety, doing $100,000 in property damage to the university, forcing the cancellation of a speech by the  bigoted, foul mouthed, far right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Thus the administration brought in an army of police, closed five campus buildings, and had police barricades set up on Sproul Plaza to establish a security perimeter that made violence or rioting impossible, enabling the Shapiro event to occur with no disruption.

These security measures were  costly not only  in terms of money (despite a serious budget deficit Cal spent some $800,000 on the Shapiro event) but the disruption of the academic lives of many students, who could not access the services of the offices that were closed the afternoon of the Shapiro event.  This led to  complaints from students, faculty, and staff that for the sake of an unpopular speaker brought by one small student organization (the BCR), regular functions of the university had been halted. Cal’s chancellor Carol Christ, heard such complaints. But she had declared that this, her first year in office would be “free speech year,” because at Berkeley – home of the Free Speech Movement – “free speech is who we are.” And so to protect Berkeley’s vaunted free speech tradition she opened herself up to such criticism and had the university absorb the financial costs as well, all to prove that right wing speakers could come to the university to exercise their First Amendment rights. 

As to the BCR, its expenses for the Shapiro event were modest, paying only a  security fee of $9,162, which was dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands of dollars the university paid in actual security costs. In fact, had the UC Berkeley administration not covered for the BCR the venue rental for Zellerbach Hall these conservative students would have had to pay another $13,274.02 to have hosted Shaprio in its grand auditorium. 

In a more rational era, campus conservatives would be grateful that Cal had subsidized their celebrity speaker and that they had a chancellor so committed to free speech that she went to such extraordinary lengths to ensure the Shapiro event’s success and  safety. But since this is the Trump era, where much of the American right wing  disregards truth whenever it finds doing so useful for its favorite sport of liberal-bashing, we end up with dishonest statements from the CCR accusing the "liberal" University of California administration of an imaginary free speech violation. Indeed, it was Trump himself who set the standard for such dishonesty when on February 2, 2017 his blame (and threaten) the victim tweet falsely implied that UC Berkeley had caused the anti-Yiannopoulos riot, sought to suppress conservative speech, and should therefore lose its federal funding. Actually, UC Berkeley’s administration insisted on Yiannopoulos’ right to speak on campus  despite pressures to cancel the  speech on account of his record of using campus podiums to mock, bully,  and invade the privacy of a transgender student and to foment bigotry and political violence. It was only when the riot perpetrated by an invasion of club-wielding (mostly non-student) anarchists  threatened the public safety that the speech was cancelled.

The riot is, of course, evidence that a militant, violent wing of the  Bay Area Left is hostile to the free speech rights of the far right. It is also true that amidst the 2016 presidential election season made extraordinary tense because of Trump’s nativist, Islamophobic, white nationalist campaign, BCR members were sometimes treated like pariahs by leftist students, and that campus conservatives at times faced verbal and even physical intimidation from their political foes at Cal. But such problems – serious as they are – do not justify inaccurate and ideologically motivated attacks on the university  administration itself, which consistently opposed such intolerance. 

The reality is that just in the last spring semester alone, the BCR had, with the UC administration’s support, hosted such conservative speakers as Charlie Kirk, Rick Santorum, Heather MacDonald, Candace Owens, Dave Ruben, Steve Simpson Antonia Oakfor, and Allie Stuckey. Even Yiannopoulos, who would, as with Shapiro, cost the university a fortune in security,  in September 2017,  returned to Cal for a campus appearance and gave a speech so brief and vacuous that UC spokesperson Dan Moguloff referred to it as “the most expensive photo-op in Cal’s history.” So for even the crudest and most irresponsible of  right wing speakers (Yiannopoulos, who just this week expressed regret that the pipe bombs sent to critics of Trump  had not detonated ) free speech is alive and well at UC Berkeley. But so is the free speech masquerade in which the California  state Republican student leadership continues to pose as free speech martyrs, repressed by an administration that actually has consistently championed the free speech rights of conservatives.