UC Students, Nader Hold Second Teach-In

By Richard Brenneman
Monday October 19, 2009 - 04:48:00 PM

UC Berkeley students held a second teach-in on Friday, protesting budget cuts, staff reductions and the increasing dependence of public education on corporate funds. 

About three dozen students gathered in Tolman Hall’s Education and Psychology Library for an action on the University of California budget crisis, with Anthropology Professor Laura Nader providing the keynote address. 

The turnout was smaller and the event shorter than the Oct. 9 all-night event at the Kroeber Hall Anthropology Library, perhaps because one of the key reasons for the teach-in had been resolved, at least for the moment. 

Thanks to gifts from alumni and parents of current students, the university has promised to restore normal library hours after cutbacks and weekend closings had been implemented as a cost-cutting measure in response to the state budget crisis.  

UC’s Board of Regents will vote in November on a proposed 32 percent fee increase for students, which would bring annual fees for students to more than $10,000 for the first time in the university’s history. 

Nader, now in her 49th year of teaching at UC Berkeley, urged the student activists to be patient—“Americans are used to making these marches and strikes and thinking doing it once will accomplish the result,” she said—and to recognize that the struggle is part of a larger fight to determine “whether we are to be a plutocracy or a democracy.” 

Nader reminded the students that it was alumni and not the university and its administrators who had given the funds to allow the libraries to maintain normal hours, adding, “Thank goodness we have some alums who have their priorities straight.” 

Nader put the crisis of the university into a larger context. College education is considered a right in many nations, but, she said, “not here, in the richest country in the world, a country which is spending trillions on war, and not a defensive war. And look at the billions we are spending in California on prisons.” 

One possible tactic to protest the fee increases she raised drew applause from the students: “Imagine if everyone started a boycott.” 

She also criticized the university’s football program and intercollegiate sports in general, which she said had amassed a $158 million debt, “as far as we can determine from the numbers.” 

She urged the university to follow the example of Robert Maynard Hutchins, who abolished intercollegiate athletics during his tenure at the University of Chicago. Nader said half of UC Berkeley’s football players fail to graduate.  

The anthropologist also decried the diminishing role of the Academic Senate in campus decisions, recalling that when she joined the university in 1960, “you could not hold classes when the Academic Senate was meeting.” 

She also urged alumni to organize more effectively on behalf of the school, citing the example of Yale alumni who have been organizing an alternative alumni association because the existing association “is now under the administration.” 

“There is also the problem of words and deeds,” she said. “I was raised in a house where words and deeds had to go together. But now we live in a world where people say ‘Hope, hope; change, change’ and think they’ve got it done. And the people most susceptible to this are college graduates.” 

Akash Desai, a graduate student in environmental engineering, helped organize Friday’s event. 

“As a first year graduate student, you’re pretty much on your own for funding,” he said, explaining that grants and other resources become more available in later years of study. “I took out a loan to pay for my fees this year, and now it looks like I’ll have to take out another one. And even if you’re well off, the general character of the university is being endangered by increasing privatization.”  

Desai said he and other organizers “believe that education should be a social right, and access shouldn’t be limited to people who can afford it.”  

Dan Nemser, a sixth-year graduate student in Spanish, agreed. 

“I was inspired by the success of the Sept. 24 march and rally to continue with direct action in support of public access to education,” he said, referring to demonstration that brought more than 5,000 students, faculty and campus workers to Sproul Plaza for the largest campus protest since the Vietnam War. 

Nemser said students also want “to shine a light on the way the Berkeley administration and the university’s Office of the President is handling the crisis. Professor Meister’s report is a direct indictment of the way (UC President Mark) Yudof is mishandling university finances.” 

Robert Meister, president of the Council of UC Faculty Associations, is the author of “They Pledged Your Tuition to Wall Street,” a 12-page report which alleges that regents are hiking fees specifically to raise the ratings on UC bond issues and to bankroll the system’s extensive building program.