The following statement was presented to the UC Regents by graduate students at the May 19th UC Regents meeting at UCSF. Nine graduate students from UC Berkeley attended the meeting dressed as “GSI Joes” in army attire adorned with military patches that read “Dean Edley = Class(room) Enemy.” The action was a response to Dean Christopher Edley’s recent proposal for transforming UC Berkeley into a “Cyber Campus” where “squadrons of GSIs” will serve on the “frontline of online contact” with undergraduates. Dean Edley's Cyber Campus proposal is here, and coverage of the action is here.
We are here today as members of UAW 2865, the union for Academic Student Employees at the UC. The University of California perceives its graduate students as a cheap labor force that will follow orders without question. Recently, in a proposal for transforming UC Berkeley into a “Cyber Campus,” Christopher Edley, the Dean of Boalt Law School and Chair of the Gould Commission’s Education and Curriculum Working Group, called for “squadrons of GSI’s” to serve on the “frontlines” of a new UC Berkeley. This myopic vision of higher education conceives of the UC as more of a brand than the public institution called for in the 1960 Master Plan. We find Dean Edley’s “Cyber Campus” to be just the beginning of a frightening trajectory that will undoubtedly end in the complete implosion of public higher education in the embattled state of California. Dean Edley’s proposal and many of the recommendations currently under consideration by the University Commission on the Future are just select examples of how the UC is sacrificing undergraduate education in order to maximize profits.
As graduate students who are on the front lines of educating undergraduates, we see everyday what is happening to the quality of instruction at the UC. We are horrified by the UC Regents’ vision of the future, one that is based on business models that do not consider quality of education or student and worker experience. This is a future in which we refuse to live, work, and teach. If the future of the UC is one where graduate students are continued to be treated as a casual labor pool we guarantee it will be one that is missing the top notch graduate students on which administrators have come to rely.
One of the unfulfilled promises of the UC system is that it should be at the forefront of progressive change that California desperately needs. Instead, it is at the forefront of privatization, a high fee-high loan model that will drive low income students into debt or shut them out completely. Instead of negotiating fairly with the labor unions, the UC has repeatedly thwarted good faith bargaining. Instead of striving to be competitive in attracting graduate students to the UC, our universities expect us to work for less and receive lesser benefits because we chose to study at a public institution. Meanwhile just the opposite argument is used to attract people to high level management positions: we have to pay them exorbitant salaries and perks or they will go elsewhere. Instead of insuring childcare for the lowest income students at UC Berkeley, our registration fees subsidize football tickets for students. A crisis of priorities, indeed.
The Regents increased our fees without increasing the quality of our experience here at UC; in fact, Dean Edley's plan will destroy the quality of undergraduate education in the process of redefining what teaching means for graduate students. We did not come to graduate school to be in squadrons, nor did we come here to be virtual instructors on the frontline of dismantling quality public education in California.
But the military rhetoric Dean Edley uses is perhaps apt in this case. A moment of crisis is a time when profound change can happen, a new path taken; there are parallels here and lessons that we should have learned but have not. In the moment of crisis generated by 9-11, the president of the United States was able to sell the country on an illegal, unilateral and murderous war, a war that our country is still waging after nearly a decade. And to what end? To generate profits for a select few while hundreds of thousands suffer and die. The budget crisis has been used in the same way here at UC. You, the UC Regents, have accelerated your plans to dramatically restructure the UC in a way that represents the outright rejection of the logic of public education. Your vision of the UC could not be clearer: it is a corporation that sells education, one that lives and dies by its ability to reduce costs of production. You are well on your way to destroying the UC's public function as a collective investment in the future of all Californians, replacing it instead with the market function of providing a luxury good to those who can afford it. This will be your legacy. We did not come to the UC to fight, but we will fight you every step of the way, and that legacy will be ours.