Tuesday, November 29, 2011

OWS Protests and The Cost of Education

According to the baycitizen in a Nov 28 article "Despite Angry Protests, UC Regents Raise Administrators' Salaries", after listening to several hours of discussion with students, University of California Regents voted to approve the university budget by $400,000,000, which includes anywhere from 9.9 to 21.9 percent pay raises for some university administrators and lawyers.

I'm not sure they are getting the message. 

The University of California at Davis protest is an aspect of OWS protests that I do support. I support it for all the reasons I do not support the other OWS protests as a whole. 

From the beginning it has been instructional and specific. Although the reasons for the protests, for example the proposed increase to student tuition that would nearly double the price of attending UC Davis as a full time student in three years, have been severely overshadowed by the violence towards protestors, they are trying to change something specific. 

Secondly, the demonstrations have been peaceful and focused and willing to cooperate with moving tents and continuing dialogue with police officials (as I understand it students were even passing out coffee and snacks to officers, including the now infamous Officer Pike, before they were subsequently sprayed in the face with military issue pepper spray).

Third, the entire campus is uniting in dialogues from students to professors to administrators.

Fourth, and not at all the least, a university campus is an exceptional forum for the open exchange of ideas, demonstrations, and practice. These students are practicing .. they are preparing to try to make a difference, to make tangible change, to find their voices.

Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, the silent demonstration held when Chancellor Katehi walked to her car, after she had watched videos of violent officers she had inflicted upon students, was graceful, poignant, and still gives me the chills. It was, in a word, effective. 

All over the world, the violence of the police, and in a way even more sickening, the reactions of the administration, particularly in discussions with themselves as this clever blogger notes, is in stark contrast to the organized, efficient, and emotional gathering of silent students.
With no words they made their point.

I recently saw an OWS sign online at one of the larger urban protests, Los Angeles perhaps, that said "you can't evict an idea". Yes but this is what the OWS as a group gets wrong. Very few people are really actively trying to evict ideas and I think it is wasteful and misdirected to suggest otherwise. They are trying to evict bodies. And having ideas doesn't give you the right to occupy a park, a street, or anything else. The Constitution may give you the right to free assembly, if that is what you meant, but again you have been given this right for months. If you really want to show that "you can't evict an idea" then stop making the focus about your bodies and your tents. Focus more on the discussion and awareness raising because I am not convinced you are succeeding in drawing attention to anything on a large level other than a vague sense of anti-capitalist sentiment and tents. 

Anyway, I support the UC Davis protests and all protests that raise awareness of what is happening to education all across America, particularly at the university level. Tuition increases are but one of the problems. We're also allowing universities to develop into businesses where professors are salesmen and students are customers and education is the product. This is dangerous to the creation of an educated society and stinks of anti-intellectualism. It may seem pragmatic, but there is a difference between pragmatism and the corporatizing of the exchange of knowledge and ideas. In a world where online learning is replacing classroom interaction, and hence real dialogue; in a world where real dialogue is consistently replaced by ranting and raving by one-sided politicians and media talking heads, it is not pragmatism but a deceitful reduction of education to profit.

As part of this, tuition is increasing. As someone who works in the field of education, I understand and have heard all sides to this issue. I disagree with the claim that perhaps administrators should be elected democratically. I know that often student representatives in student senates as well as faculty representatives are called in to participate in search committees for some administrative positions. Students and faculty then often collaboratively participate in official committees of "review" for some of these positions.

What is more disturbing is the judgment of the Regents to increase anyone's salary given not just the protests and thus the timing of this decision, which seems unwise to say the least, but of the larger crisis of the decline and fall of the University of California system. 

The defense of these salary increases is to be able to hire and maintain the best people for those positions, in other words to remain competitive. This is precisely the problem of a corporate approach to university education. If a university wants to thrive it needs to make sure it has the top faculty and the top students, not the top administrators and lawyers. 

According to the baycitizen, Sherry Lansing, chair of the Board of Regents, said none of them wanted to raise tuition (which does not imply that they wouldn't, simply that they want to be perceived as not wanting to) "We strongly believe that the state should make our great university affordable for all students." I interpret this to mean that if students are harmed by massive tuition increases, as proposed, it is the fault of the State of California. But if administrators are receiving substantial raises, in some cases forty thousand dollars of increased salary, well that is the purview of the Board of Regents.

Who are the administrators serving? I think they have it backwards. They exist to help provide education for students at the university level. I am beginning to think administrators think that students exist to provide their salaries.
We strongly believe that the state should make our great university affordable for all Californians.
We strongly believe that the state should make our great university affordable for all Californians
We strongly believe that the state should make our great university affordable for all Californians
We strongly believe that the state should make our great university affordable for all Californians

When the university system has hiring freezes, tuition increases, programs are being cut, and teachers are getting their virtual pink-slips, it is bad judgment to give highly paid administrators any raise at all. It is shocking and students have a right to be mad.

I wish more people were mad enough to join collectively in a purposeful and focused way, and creatively, innovatively, pragmatically, and concretely come together to instill better policies, structures, and financial accountability for these great universities before they run them into the ground completely

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