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<nettime> Nathan Brown: Five Theses on Privatization and the UC Struggle
nettime's_occupier on Wed, 16 Nov 2011 18:48:51 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Nathan Brown: Five Theses on Privatization and the UC Struggle


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1. Five Theses on Privatization and the UC Struggle

     Nathan Brown
     November 15, 2011
     UC system-wide strike

-------------------------------------------------------

Hello Everyone!

It's beautiful to see so many of you here today. On four days' notice, this
is an incredible turnout. Let's remember how much we can do in so little
time.

I'm an English professor, and as some of you know, English professors spend
a lot of our time talking about how to construct a "thesis" and how to
defend it through argument. So today I'm going to model this way of
thinking and writing by using it to discuss the university struggle. My
remarks will consist of five theses, and I will defend these by presenting
arguments.

THESES

1. Tuition increases are the problem, not the solution.

2. Police brutality is an administrative tool to enforce tuition increases.

3. What we are struggling against is not the California legislature, but
the upper administration of the UC system.

4. The university is the real world.

5. We are winning.

THESIS ONE

Tuition increases are the problem, not the solution. In 2005 tuition was
$6,312. Tuition is currently $13,218. What the Regents were supposed to be
considering this week--before their meeting was cancelled due to student
protest--was UC President Yudof's plan to increase tuition by a further 81%
over the next four years. On that plan, tuition would be over $23,000 by
2015-2016. If that plan goes forward, in ten years tuition would have risen
from around $6000 to $23,000.

What happened?

The administration tells us that tuition increases are necessary because of
cuts to state funding. According to this argument, cuts to state funding
are the problem, and tuition increases are the solution. We have heard this
argument from the administration and from others many times.

To argue against this administrative logic, I'm going to rely on the work
of my colleague Bob Meister, a professor at UC Santa Cruz and the President
of the UC Council of Faculty Associations. Professor Meister has written a
series of important open letters to UC students, explaining why tuition
increases are in fact the problem, not the solution to the budget crisis.
What Meister explains is that the privatization of the university--the
increasing reliance on tuition payments (your money) rather than state
funding--is not a defensive measure on the part of the UC administration to
make up for state cuts. Rather, it is an aggressive strategy of revenue
growth: a way for the university to increase its revenue more than it would
be able to through state funding.

This is the basic argument: privatization, through increased enrollments
and constantly increasing tuition, is first and foremost an administrative
strategy to bring in more revenue. It is not just a way to keep the
university going during a time of state defunding. What is crucial to this
argument is the way that different sources of funding can be used.

State funds are restricted funds. This means that a certain portion of
those funds has to be used to fund the instructional budget of the
university. The more money there is in the instructional budget, the more
money is invested in student instruction: money that is actually spent on
your education. But private funds, tuition payments, are unrestricted
funds. This means there are no restrictions on whether those funds are
spent on student instruction, or administrative pay, or anything else.

What Meister uncovered through his research into the operations of
university funding is that student tuition (your money) is being pledged as
collateral to guarantee the university's credit rating. What this allows
the university to do is borrow money for lucrative investments, like
building contracts or "capital projects" as they are called. These have no
relation to the instructional quality of your university education. And the
strong credit rating of the university is based on its pledge to continue
raising tuition indefinitely, since that tuition can be used as collateral.

Restricted state funds cannot be used for such purposes. Their use is
restricted in such a way as to guarantee funding for the instructional
budget. This restriction is a problem for any university administration
whose main priority is not to sustain its instructional budget, but rather
to increase its revenues and secure its credit rating for investment
projects with private contractors.

So for an administration that wants to increase UC revenues and to invest
in capital projects (rather than maintaining quality of instruction) it is
not cuts to public funding that are the problem; it is public funding
itself that is the problem, because public funding is restricted.

What is happening as tuition increases is that money is being shifted out
of instructional budgets and into private credit markets, as collateral for
university investments. Because of this, and because of increased
enrollment, as university revenue increases the amount of money spent on
instruction, per student, decreases. Meanwhile, students go deeper and
deeper into debt to pay for their education. Using tuition payments, the
university secures credit for capital projects. In order to pay their
tuition, students borrow money in the form of student loans. The UC system
thus makes a crucial wager: that students will be willing to borrow more
and more money to paying higher and higher tuition.

Why would students do so? Because, the argument goes, a university
education is an investment in your future--because it will "pay off" down
the line. This logic entails an implicit social threat: if you do not take
on massive debt to pay for a university degree, you will "fall behind"--you
will be at a disadvantage on the job market, and you will ultimately make
less money. The fear of "falling behind," in the future, results in a
willingness to pay more in the present, which is essentially a willingness
to borrow more, to go further into debt in order to make more money later.

But is it actually true that a university degree continues to give students
a substantial advantage on the job market? It is now the case that 50% of
university students, after graduating, take jobs that do not require a
university degree. It used to be the case that there was a substantial
income gap between the top twenty percent of earners, who had university
degrees, and the bottom 80 percent of earners, who did not. But since 1998,
nearly all income growth has occurred in the top 1% of the population,
while income has been stagnant for the bottom 99%. This is what it means to
be "part of the 99%": the wealth of a very small segment of the population
increases, and you're not in it.

What this means is that the advantage of a university degree is far less
substantial than it used to be, though you pay far more for that degree.
The harsh reality is that whether or not you have a university degree, you
will probably still "fall behind." We are all falling behind together. The
consequence is that students have recently become less willing to take out
more and more debt to pay tuition. It is no longer at all clear that the
logic of privatization will work, that it is sustainable. And what this
means is that the very logic upon which the growth of the university is now
based, the logic of privatization, is in crisis, or it will be. Student
loan debt is a financial "bubble," like the mortgage bubble, and it cannot
continue to grow indefinitely.

To return to my thesis: what this means for our university--not just for
students, but especially for students--is that increasing tuition is the
problem, not the solution.

What we have to fight, then, is the logic of privatization. And that means
fighting the upper administration of the UC system, which has
enthusiastically taken up this logic, not as a defensive measure, but as an
aggressive program for increasing revenue while decreasing spending on
instruction.

THESIS TWO

Police brutality is an administrative tool to enforce tuition increases.

What happened at UC Berkeley on November 9? Students, workers, and faculty
showed up en masse to protest tuition increases. In solidarity with the
national occupation movement, they set up tents on the grass beside Sproul
Hall, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. The administration would
not tolerate the establishment of an encampment on the Berkeley campus. So
the Berkeley administration, as it has done so many times over the past two
years, sent in UC police, in this case to clear these tents. Faculty,
workers, and students linked arms between the police and the tents, and
they held their ground. They did so in the tradition of the most
disciplined civil disobedience.

What happened?

Without provocation, UC police bludgeoned faculty, workers, and students.
They drove their batons into stomachs and ribcages, they beat people with
overhand blows, they grabbed students and faculty by their hair, threw them
on the ground, and arrested them. Numerous people were injured. A graduate
student was rushed to the hospital and put into urgent care.

Why did this happen? Because tuition increases have to be enforced. It is
now registered in the internal papers of the Regents that student protests
are an obstacle to further tuition increases, to the program of
privatization. This obstacle has to be removed by force. Students are
starting to realize that they can no longer afford to pay for an
"educational premium" by taking on more and more debt to pay ever-higher
tuition. So when they say: we refuse to pay more, we refuse to fall further
into debt, they have to be disciplined. The form this discipline takes is
police brutality, continually invited and sanctioned by UC Chancellors and
senior administrators over the past two years.

Police brutality against students, workers, and faculty is not an
accident--just like it has not been an accident for decades in black and
brown communities. Like privatization, and as an essential part of
privatization, police brutality is a program, an implicit policy. It is a
method used by UC administrators to discipline students into paying more,
to beat them into taking on more debt, to crush dissent and to suppress
free speech. Police brutality is the essence of the administrative logic of
privatization.

THESIS THREE

What we are struggling against is not the California legislature, but the
upper administration of the UC system. It is not the legislature, but the
Office of the President, which increases tuition in excess of what would be
necessary to offset state cuts. Again, tuition increases are an aggressive
strategy of privatization, not a defensive compensation for state cuts.
When we protest those tuition increases, it is the Chancellors of our
campuses, not the state legislature, who authorize the police to crush our
dissent through physical force. This is why our struggle, immediately, is
against the upper administration of the UC system, not against
"Sacramento."

This struggle against the administration is not about attacking
individuals--or not primarily. It is about the administrative logic of
privatization, and the manner in which that logic is enforced. We need to
hold administrators accountable for this logic--and especially for sending
police to brutalize students, workers, and faculty. But more importantly we
need to understand and intervene against the logic of privatization itself:
a logic which requires tuition increases, which requires police brutality,
in order to function.

This is why the point is not to talk to administrators. When we occupy
university buildings, when we disrupt university business as usual, the
administration attempts to defer and displace our direct action by inviting
us into "dialogue"--usually the next day, or just...some other time. What
these invitations mean, and all they mean, is that the administration wants
to get us out of the place where we are now and put us in a situation where
we have to speak on their terms, rather than ours. It is the job of the
upper administration to push through tuition increases by deferring,
displacing, and, if necessary, brutally repressing dissent. The program of
privatization depends upon this.

The capacity of administrators to privatize the university depends on its
capacity to keep the university running smoothly while doing so: its
capacity to suppress any dissent that disrupts its operations. The task,
then, of students, faculty, and workers, is to challenge this logic
directly. The task is to make it clear that the university will not run
smoothly if privatization does not stop. In many different ways, since the
fall of 2009, we have been making this clear.

THESIS FOUR

The university is the real world.

The university is not a place "cut off" from the rest of the world or from
other political situations. The university is one situation among many in
which we struggle against debt, exploitation, and austerity. The university
struggle is part of this larger struggle. And as part of this larger
struggle, the university struggle is also an anti-capitalist struggle.

Within the university struggle, this has been a controversial position.
Rather than linking the university struggle to other, larger struggles,
many have argued that we need to focus only on university reform without
addressing the larger economic and social structures in which the
university is included--in which the logic of privatization and austerity
is included, and in which the student struggle is included. But to say that
the university struggle is an anti-capitalist struggle should now be much
less controversial, and it should now be much easier to insist on linking
the struggle against the privatization of the university to other
anti-capitalist struggles.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, which has become a national occupation
movement, makes this clear. All across the country, from New York to
Oakland to Davis, in hundreds of cities and towns, people who have been
crushed by debt are rising up against austerity measures that impoverish
them further. The national occupation movement and the UC student struggle
are parts of the same struggle, which is global. It is articulated across
political movements in Greece, in Spain, in Chile, in the UK, in Tunisia,
in Egypt, etc. This is a struggle against the destruction of our future, in
the present, by an economic system that can only survive by creating
financial bubbles (the housing bubble, the student loan bubble) that
eventually have to pop.

Two years ago, positioning the university as an anti-capitalist struggle
was seen as divisive. The argument was that such a position was alienating
and that it would inhibit mass participation. But now we see that there is
a mass, national movement which is explicitly anti-capitalist, which
positions itself explicitly as a class struggle, and, in doing so,
struggles against debt and austerity as the interlinking financial logics
of a collapsing American economy. Given this context: the only way the
university struggle can isolate itself is by failing or refusing to
acknowledge that it is also an anti-capitalist struggle, that it is also a
class struggle.

This struggle concerns all of us, faculty as well as students, because the
economic logic of privatization, the logic of capitalism, destroys the very
texture of social life in our country and around the world, just as it
destroys our public universities. "We are all debtors," said a student at
Berkeley as she called for this strike. That is a powerful basis of
solidarity

THESIS FIVE

We are winning.

Yes, it is true that tuition continues to rise. I am not saying that we
have won. But it is also the case that last year state funding was
partially restored. This was due to student resistance on our campuses, not
in Sacramento. It was due to our struggle against the administrative logic
of privatization. Meanwhile, privatization is becoming more and more
unsustainable, less and less viable. In the fall of 2009, student
resistance became a powerful obstacle to perpetually increasing tuition. It
is because of that obstacle that the Regents meeting was cancelled this
week. But even more important than these immediate gains is the fact that
we have built the largest and most significant student movement in this
country since the 1960s. UC Davis has played an important role in building
that movement. The 2009 student/faculty walkout was initiated by people on
this campus. The occupations of Mrak Hall in November 2009 and the
courageous march on the freeway on March 4 2010 have been tremendously
inspirational to students struggling on other campuses. Actions like these
are the very material of which the student movement consists. Without them
it would not exist.

So we have built a historically important student movement, and now that
movement is linked to the largest anti-capitalist movement in the United
States since the 1930s. Students now have the support of a struggle that
can be waged on two fronts, on and off campus. To put it mildly, we have
many more allies than we did two years ago. At the same time, the UC
student movement has made a global impact.

The tactic of occupation that was crucial to the movement in the fall of
2009, which spread from campus to campus that November, has now also spread
across the country. The occupation of university buildings is a
time-honored tactic in student struggles. But by many it was also viewed as
a "divisive" or "vanguardist" tactic two years ago. Now, thanks largely to
the example of the Egyptian revolution, the occupation of public space has
become the primary tactic in a national protest movement supported by some
60% of the American people. The mass adoption of this tactic, the manner in
which it has grown beyond the university struggle, is a huge victory for
our movement.

Here is a passage from an influential student pamphlet written in 2009,
Communique from an Absent Future: On the Terminus of Student Life, which
was read by people around the US and translated into six different
languages:

          "Occupation will be a critical tactic in our
          struggle...and we intend to use this tactic until it
          becomes generalized. In 2001 the Argentine piqueteros
          suggested the form the people's struggle there should
          take: road blockades which brought to a halt the
          circulation of goods from place to place. Within months
          this tactic spread across the country without any
          formal coordination between groups. In the same way
          repetition can establish occupation as an instinctive
          and immediate method of revolt taken up both inside and
          outside the university."

People at Adbusters, the Canadian magazine which initially organized the
Occupy Wall Street protests, read that student pamphlet and wrote about it
in 2009. The tactic that pamphlet called for was put into practice across
the UC system, under the slogan "Occupy Everything," and the goal of
spreading that tactic has been unequivocally achieved. Its achievement has
had huge political implications for the whole country. So this is also a
way in which we are winning.

Occupation has been and continues to be such an important tactic because it
is not limited to the university, but linked to occupations of squares and
plazas in cities, and linked to struggles to begin occupying foreclosed
properties on a mass scale. The resonance of university occupations with
the national occupation movement means that our struggle is growing and
expanding. That means we are winning. And the fact that the university
struggle can no longer plausibly be considered in isolation from from
anti-capitalist struggle broadly conceived is itself a huge victory.

We cannot simply change "the university" while leaving "the world" the
same, because the university is the real world. By changing the university,
we change the world. And we have to change the world in order to change the
university.


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