From 'Save the University' to 'Save the State'?

For Immediate Release

SAVE the University
Contact: 

Richard Walker, Professor of Geography, UC Berkeley, walker@berkeley.edu, (510) 525-1969, 295-3108
Shannon Steen, Assoc. Professor of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, shannon.steen@gmail.com, 510.407.225
George Lakoff, Goldman Professor of Linguistics, lakoff@berkeley.edu, 510-849-7465, 510-910-3397
Isaac Miller, student (CalServe), isaacnoah@gmail.com, 510-725-8350

From 'Save the University' to 'Save the State'?

BERKELEY, Calif. - Berkeley activists are used to thinking big; after all, the phrase "Think Globally, Act Locally" was invented here. Now students, faculty and staff at the University of California are looking beyond the Berkeley campus and the UC President's office in Oakland in their search for the sources of the worst budget crisis in the university's history. And they are discovering the fiscal deadlock in Sacramento and the political roadblocks to restoring funding to the nation's greatest public university.

The state of California, which pays for the basic salaries and operations of the university, is not just broke; it is broken. This goes far beyond the economic recession. State and local revenues have lagged the demand for services for thirty years, thanks to Proposition 13 and other caps on taxation. Expenditures are locked in for many programs because of endless legislation-by-proposition. Budgets cannot be passed with a simple majority of the legislature. And the electorate has long been richer, whiter and older than the general populace, who have a greater need for state-funded schools, health care, and other public goods.

How did California get into this mess, and how can it get out? That's what campus audiences will be asking during the upcoming "Week of Higher Education: Engaging the Politics of California", October 24 through November 2. Events will be book-ended by a forum on "The Crisis of the Public University", featuring faculty and state legislators, to be held Monday, October 26, at 4 pm, and a "Day of the Dead" celebration and protest on Monday, November 2, at noon in Sproul Plaza.

The week's featured speaker will be noted author Naomi Klein, who will speak on "The Shock Doctrine: California Style", on Tuesday, October 27, at 8 pm in the MLK Student Union. Klein is famous for her trenchant criticism of austerity policies and privatization of government functions, from Iraq to New Orleans. She will be taking California to task for going down the low-road to fiscal ruin -- a road that taken the K-12 school system from the top to the bottom among the states in a generation. Will the Higher Education system be next?

Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author of The Golden Gulag, speaks on Thursday at 5 at the Bancroft Hotel next to campus. Gilmore, a former Berkeley professor and newly-elected president of the American Studies Association, will be firing up her audience with the provocation, "Life in Hell..." California locks up more people per capita than anyplace on earth (or below), thanks to a generation of draconian sentencing laws and prison-building. The prison system has come to hog a larger share of the state budget than all of higher education. When it comes to politics, you get what you pay for.

The Week of Higher Education is part of a campaign by students, faculty and staff to restore California's support for the country's premiere public university. That campaign kicked off in September with a teach-in, walkout, and mass protest on Sproul Plaza. Robby Cohen, biographer of Mario Savio, compared that rally to the days of the Free Speech Movement (The Daily Californian, October 6, 2009). Cohen will be speaking about Savio's legacy on Wednesday, October 28, at 5 pm in Moffitt Library's Free Speech Cafe.

Students have been rudely awakened to the state crisis by rising tuition, cuts in classes, and fewer services. Faculty have seen their salaries reduced by up to 10%, while staff cutbacks are jeopardizing normal teaching, research and programs across campus. Staff are reeling from layoffs and cost-cutting, along with pay cuts most can ill-afford.

Up to now, debate on campus has focused on shortcomings in the university administration: lack of transparency in making cuts, excessive executive salaries, high administrative overhead, and the like. But many faculty, students and staff realize that the university as a whole is endangered by the budget meltdown of the State of California. They know that the fight to save the university must be carried beyond campus boundaries.

"We're hoping to put UC Berkeley at the center of a grassroots movement to defend public education from top to bottom," says Isaac Miller, CalSERVE organizer and student leader. "When world-renowned professors stand together with kindergarten teachers, UC students with Richmond high school students, anything is possible. We can make our public education a model to the world again, but for that to happen the state's budgeting needs to change, and fast."

The week's events are being sponsored by a wide range of campus organizations, including SAVE the University, CalSERVE Coalition, Bridges Multicultural Resource Center, Solidarity Alliance, Berkeley Faculty Association, the Townsend Center for the Humanities, the Center for Latino Policy Research, the Comparative Ethnic Studies Program, the Center for Race and Gender, the Geography Department, and the Mario Savio Lecture Fund.

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SAVE the University is an organization of UC Berkeley faculty dedicated to preserving access to education, excellence in teaching, and transparency of administrative decisions in the wake of the unprecedented budget crisis facing the University of California. For more information, go to: http://saveuc.org/

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