Students Should Rally to Change Higher Ed

Dear Editor:

The passage of the “Long-Term Stability Plan for Tuition and Financial Aid” by the UC Board of Regents marks another milestone in the almost four-decade long transformation of the UC system. Concocted behind closed doors without any transparency or consultation with the most affected groups, this latest move by the regents is symptomatic of what one scholar has called neoliberalism’s penchant for allowing corporate-state leaders to decide both the questions and the answers surrounding key areas of public concern.

As a political gambler, UC President Napolitano showed herself to be skillful. First, she called the bluff of Gov. Jerry Brown and won. Then, the courageous students who had opposed Napolitano’s plan in effect were enlisted by the UC system to lobby the governor for more funding. In the blink of an eye, the students had become allies of Napolitano against whom they had protested only hours before. Suddenly, students were expected to sell the University of California to Sacramento — the task that UC bureaucrats have failed to do since the financial crisis began.

Moving forward, students must be alert to the trap of privatizing neoliberal logic. Despite the vote last Thursday, Brown is not the opposite of Napolitano, but rather her ideological partner. Neither is committed to restoring the land grant and public character of the UC system. Neither is aware of conditions on the ground at each campus and how they affect students who are being forced to pay more for less.

At the same time, dysfunction throughout the entire system has produced distrust between campuses and the President’s office, between faculty senates and an increasingly bloated corps of administrators and between students and the entire system. The so-called “Stability Plan” means stability for privileged power brokers at each campus and more instability for working-class students and their families.

UCOP’s paternalistic claim that “now families can better budget their money” is offensive. Here we are not far from the colonial master who tells his subjects: “This is going to hurt but it will be good for you.” The fact that Chancellor Khosla echoed the claim in his letter to the campus is at best disappointing.

At UCSD, no one who is paying attention believes the public relations slogan “student-centered campus.” Students face larger classes, ad hoc and uncoordinated academic support services, a fragmented and ineffectual “diversity” infrastructure, an overworked and demoralized staff and a campus climate that continues to be hostile for students from historically excluded communities.

As we return in January from the holiday breaks, students will have to connect with those who are seeking to change the entire context for higher education. Rather than simply reacting to the tuition hikes, they will have to organize to amend or repeal Proposition 13. They will have to oppose the calls for a speed- up to graduation forcing students to graduate in four years — three years in Gov. Brown’s recent proposal.

Students and their allies will have to imagine ways in which higher education in California is more than vocational tracking and a cash cow for those seeking to maintain a broken system.

Jorge Mariscal Professor, Literature Dept.