Do U.C. What Happens?


California entered a serious budget crisis in 2008 as a result of the financial crisis and slump in its once-hot housing market. (Despite having the largest dollar per capita prison system in the entire United States, cuts were instead made to vital public services under the watch of of Arnold Schwarzenegger, super-rich Reagan-wannabe known for his attempts to ‘terminate’ allegations of sexual misconduct and business-related conflicts of interest). At the beginning of the 2009 school year, the California Board of Regents announced that tuition would go up by 32% across the University of California (UC) system. This money was not set to pay for new buildings or pay raises. Rather, the money was set to be used as collateral for the UC system’s bond sales (how the UC system, and many other public university systems and city governments borrow money); in a way, this money is being set aside to let wealthy investors know that the university system is a safe investment, part of a process that has been accelerating since 2004, when the UC system became “tuition-funded”, which has made the system more and more privatized. (1)

Students participating in the occupations have begun to articulate a radical perspective on their role in the educational and economic system that’s increasingly in crisis. As current- and future-workers, debtors, and knowledge-producers immeshed in an increasingly bankrupt and privatized education system, many university students of today leave school with mounting debt and diminishing job prospects. In California, they’ve begun to practice forms of collective struggle that point toward the only way of improving their situation, a radical overhaul in the system. In “Communique from an Absent Future,” a statement released from the September occupation at UC Santa Cruz, the occupants spell out their current situation:

We work and we borrow in order to work and to borrow. And the jobs we work toward are the jobs we already have. Close to three quarters of students work while in school, many full-time; for most, the level of employment we obtain while students is the same that awaits after graduation. Meanwhile, what we acquire isn’t education; it’s debt. We work to make money we have already spent, and our future labor has already been sold on the worst market around. Average student loan debt rose 20 percent in the first five years of the twenty-first century—80-100 percent for students of color. Student loan volume—a figure inversely proportional to state funding for education—rose by nearly 800 percent from 1977 to 2003. What our borrowed tuition buys is the privilege of making monthly payments for the rest of our lives. What we learn is the choreography of credit: you can’t walk to class without being offered another piece of plastic charging 20 percent interest. Yesterday’s finance majors buy their summer homes with the bleak futures of today’s humanities majors.(2)

Elsewhere in the Golden State, students demand a different kind of university that could create, along with other movements, a different kind of economy:

...we can and should accept the university’s most radical goals: universal education, the affirmation of all areas of human knowledge and the creation of free beings....By affirming these radical promises of universal education, the affirmation of all areas of human knowledge and the creation of free beings, we can show how the university’s link to the economy undermines its very foundations.(3)

While sporadic banner drops and protests have occurred this semester, it remains to be seen what the next wave of action in California will be.

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End Notes

(1) The UC bond sale system and the use of tuition as collateral are explained in depth by Bob Meister  in his open letter to UC students, ‘They Pledged Your Tuition to Wall Street’: