Where Dissent Is a Crime, the Good Ones Aren’t Welcome

    Stefany Chen/Guardian

    We may have entered the 21st century of civil disobedience, but ­— while hundreds of students can still get away with an occupation of the chancellor’s office — our antiquated administration doesn’t seem to take kindly to a little virtual rebellion from one of their own.

    The UCSD Audit & Management Advisory Services is currently investigating UCSD visual-arts professor Ricardo Dominguez for staging a Virtual Sit-In, during which he and about 400 others hacked into the UCOP Web site, where they created error messages like “There is no justice at the University of California Office of the President.” Already in a bit of trouble since he developed a cell-phone application to help illegal immigrants cross the U.S. border, Dominguez now faces losing his tenure — which would make it much easier for the university to eliminate him altogether.

    Ironically, holding Virtual Sit-Ins is exactly the kind of behavior that helped Dominguez land his job here in 2005. The professor is renowned for his Internet protests — particularly, a successful 1998 attempt to shut down a Mexican government’s Web site.

    The only difference between Dominguez’ prior activities and the incident now threatening his job, of course, is his choice of targets. Now that the impeccable UCOP reputation is at stake, Dominguez’s ACS account was shut down and officials have initiated an investigation. Whatever that means.

    Of course, the university has every legal right to continue an investigation of Dominguez — and, if that investigation yields just cause, is also entitled to strip him of his tenure.

    But whether Dominguez technically broke the law isn’t our primary concern. What’s at stake is the preservation of dissenting opinions within the university setting. Higher education is about challenging preexisting ideas and using the resources around us to form your own opinions about the world. Before university higher-ups choose whether to press charges, they should first consider the message they’re sending. By terminating a well-loved and highly valued visual arts professor or taking any measures to silence his (particularly well-thought) dissent, the university is saying its image takes precedence over its responsibility to educate. We’re not here to get a cookie-cutter representation of life according to the UCOP; we’re paying to exist in an institution where we have diverse opinions, the freedom to think and say what we want and — most importantly — someone who will teach us to question the way things are.

    Let’s stop a second and take this protest out of its virtual context. If Dominguez had, for example, disrupted UCOP’s day-to-day business by holding a nonviolent two-hour sit-in at their headquarters in Oakland, there would be no question of him losing his tenure. At worst, security would have called the police and he’d have been removed from the property and fined for trespassing — or, more likely, the whole thing would have blown over along with the rest of the demonstrations that took place that day.

    So, it becomes apparent that the university is jumping at the chance to punish a protester — despite the fact that Dominguez insists he didn’t technically violate the law.

    As Dominguez was hired on the basis that Virtual Sit-Ins were part of his M.O. — and was liked enough to be granted tenure in 2009 — this latest investigation is made all the more catty. The university is trying to expel him for what he was hired to do. Should Dominguez lose his tenure, it will send an intimidating message to all other faculty members who rightfully use their university resources daily to lecture on the downfalls of this institution. And we all know Dominguez isn’t the only one.

    Problem is, virtual protests like his exist in a judicial gray area. If administrators think the best way to punish Dominguez’ dissent is to take away his tenure (a very rare occurrence, usually in response to more serious wrongdoings such as sexual misconduct), it’s devaluing the kind of opposing viewpoints that make our education worthwhile.

    Ironically enough, with all the national press Dominguez has garnered, he’s actually helped boost the university’s image; he’s publicized the fact that we’re a thinking, artful bunch — not just the square-eyed engineers and lab rats of tomorrow. Pick your battles, UCSD. This one only publicizes your staunch desire to sterilize our college experience.

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