In this issue’s column, I really wanted to try and write a piece critical of UC student activism— and then the regents went and did something stupid again.
It’s gotten to the point where you can set your calendars by campus protests — there are always a big showings in September, November and March. Recent campus graffiti (the “FUCK TUITION” on the side of McHenry Library and “OCCUPY MY SCHOOL” on the side of the freshly painted Digital Arts Research Center (DARC) seems to be regressing the movement almost to a state of self-parody. Spray paint against a wall, see what sticks.
Activism on campus never felt more like a well-executed play without a climax than during the Hahn Student Services occupation in November. Early in the day, students listened to the teleconferenced regents’ meeting on a laptop. Applause broke out periodically during the public comment portion, but as soon as the regents started speaking, someone snapped the laptop shut — a gesture full of great theatricality, but a disappointment to anyone hoping to learn something about the UC’s future.
How surely history repeats itself. In her 1979 book “The White Album,” essayist Joan Didion writes about her impressions of student activism at San Francisco State University in the 1960s:
“As I walked across the campus that day and on later days the entire San Francisco State dilemma — the gradual politicization, the ‘issues’ here and there, the obligatory ‘Fifteen Demands,’ the continual arousal of the police and the outraged citizenry — seemed increasingly off-key, an instance of the enfants terribles and the Board of Trustees unconsciously collaborating on a wishful fantasy (Revolution on Campus) and playing it out for the six o’clock news.”
That “unconscious collaboration” Didion writes of has been palpable in the UC system for quite a while now. The regents have scheduled and canceled and rescheduled meetings and visits, playing the part of tone-deaf
bureaucrats. Students responded in kind. As appalling as the now-infamous footage of a campus police officer pepper-spraying UC Davis students last year is, it ultimately proved to be a favor to the student activist movement, fueling its fire and lending it many new supporters, at least temporarily. At the end of the day, none of this amounted to much. Until now.
In a cringe-worthy twist, the regents are organizing their own rally. The May regents’ meeting will be held in Sacramento, with one full day dedicated to rallying at the Capitol in an attempt to pressure the California government into giving the UC more money. Never mind that the growth in tuition does not at all mirror the decline in public funding, nor that there are over 3,000 people in the UC system who make over $200,000, nor that the UC chooses to keep spending money on construction projects over education — UC president Yudof and his cohorts are mad as hell, and apparently they’re not going to take it anymore.
The UC student regents are already trying to involve students in this rally, and it will be interesting, to say the least, to see who shows up. What’s even more interesting at this point is the farcical nature the UC’s decline has taken on. The May rally is a brilliant piece of political theater — deflect, deflect, deflect — but it also symbolizes a sort of throwing in the towel on the regents’ part. Anything they do is going to infuriate the student body at this point, so why not go out on a limb and try to redirect our wrath?
Which brings us back to “FUCK TUITION.” As much as I want to reprimand our more activism-inclined peers for their sloppiness, I cannot in good faith write a piece putting them in the same category as the regents.The UC student movement is flawed and often too predictable, but they have something the regents do not — the best interest of the students at heart. I hope there’s a huge turnout out in Sacramento in May, and that they’re all carrying signs that say “FUCK THE REGENTS.”