Friday, July 17, 2009

Why I Care Enough To Fight For UC (July 16th 2009)

Nancy Scheper-Hughes

A few colleagues from the Berkey campus who I trust and value suggested that the current crisis was not worth getting riled up about, either because it was already a fait accompli, or because in the larger scheme of things it was tempest in a teapot about elite faculty preserving elite privileges, or because they view UC as a shockingly mean-spirited employer compared to other (mostly private and elite) institutions where they had previously taught and are too alienated to fight back. Their loyalties are to their discipline, their students and their research, but not ‘the university’. There are generational differences and the image of the grand old public university at risk bore little or no resemblance to many new faculty members experiences of Berkeley. Were those mostly older professors who showed up to protest the Yudof plan fighting windmills? What motivates us to put our energies and our bodies on the line? I can only speak for myself. I announced my plans to retire in June 2010 long before this latest crisis in order to make room for the recruitment of younger colleagues (now threatened by a virtual freeze on new faculty hires) and to pursue fulltime my research, writing, and medical human rights work. So why should it matter to me? I care because I believe this to be a noble fight and a consequential one. I want to leave a public university that is as great today as it was in 1969 when I first came here, after a 4 year hiatus in my undergraduate career during which time I went south to Alabama as a civil rights worker and further South to Brazil as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I came to Berkeley via Queens College in NYC because of Berkeley’s illustrious tradition of truly great professors and of free speech. When I registered for the first time in Sproul Hall the little old lady with wire rim glasses behind a banker’s cage, explained to me exactly what I needed to do to became a state resident and so reduce my out of state fees (extremely modest at the time) as quickly as possible. She wrote down a few numbers for me to call, and she warmly welcomed me to UC and said that I had come to right place to study. She was right. This university has shaped my life and I have shaped parts of its life as well. In 1970 I met my husband as part of a small activist contingent that was busy 'occupying' buildings (first Girton Hall, then the basement of a new student dorm) and conducting sit-ins (with our infants and toddlers) in the Chancellor's office to get childcare funded and recognized as a valid UC-sponsored unit. At that time we were running Girton Hall as a parent cooperative. (Michael was an infant-toddler teacher, fresh from Harvard College and full of feminist ideals of male nurturing that was part of the child day care philosophy at the fledgling UC day care program and I was a single Mom). I went on to get my PhD in anthropology at Berkeley (choosing it over Harvard) and then ventured forth for several years, teaching at SMU in Dallas, Texas and at the University of North Carolina before returning to Berkeley in 1982 to develop a new joint PhD program with UCSF in medical anthropology. And except for extended research/ fieldwork abroad and a special leave to teach at the University of Cape Town during the glorious political transition of South Africa, I have taught here and ‘acted up’ here ever since. My recruitment to South Africa by Chancellor Saunders to serve as interim Chair of Social Anthropology (1993-1994) was based on his belief that UCT could learn something from the Berkeley experience and its particular (Bob Laird) model of affirmative action which was internationally admired. I love this university as a public treasure and a public trust. I cannot sit back, despite my own pressing research and writing and teaching commitments, and see this precious gem tarnished and potentially demolished by galloping privatization or attempts to turn UC Berkeley into a mail order, cyber-University as suggested by President Yudof. While this crisis may not be as urgent as global warming, the Middle East situation, ending US occupations abroad, or the continued proliferation of nuclear weapons ( for which I have been arrested several times at the anti-nuclear protests at the Lawrence Livermore Labs) the current proposals are destructive of our unique and historic charter and its bold promise of first class higher education extended to a broad base – though severely damaged by the end of affirmative action - of California residents. I am so proud each time I see our diverse UG students on graduation day and meet their parents and am reminded how much they struggled to get educated here. One of my greatest fears is that all those first generation college educated Cal students will now (due to tuition increases) be replaced by more affluent students whose parents can no longer afford to send their children to the Ivy League colleges that were among our competitors for our state’s brightest students. We have had courageous administrators at crucial times, among them, the late great Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien. Tien stood up to the Regents, though he didn’t prevail. Nor did justice and equity. But Tien, a diminutive man, stood tall and defended, with wisdom and with grace, the greatness of the University of California. This is an urgent public issue.


Lynn said...

My thank you letter to John Garamendi

Good afternoon Mr. Garamendi,

I am a Staff Research Associate here at UCLA. I am also a member of the Health and Safety Committee of my union, University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE).

I want to thank you for voting your conscience at the Regents' meeting last week. Your effort to negate Mark Yudof's unreasonable and immoral effort to balance UC's budget on the back of workers was most inspiring.

As you probably know, there is growing dissatisfaction among faculty, staff, and students with Yudof's lack of leadership. We are all well aware that the University receives less than 20% of its operating budget from the state. Furthermore, we all know that this "great crisis" that President Yudof has conjured up really constitutes only a 3% deficit. And it is now common knowledge that many executives continue to reap large salaries and bonuses while Mr. Yudof wants the lowest paid people to bear the brunt of his poor fiscal management. It is reprehensible that someone earning almost a million dollars a year, about 4 times that of the president of the United States, would deign to propose salary cuts and furloughs for the very people who keep his "shop" running.

Thank you again for your courageous stance. You have given the workers of this once great university the impetus to continue our struggle. We will not forget who stood up for us and who stood between us and justice.

Very truly yours,


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