Blog of the International Sociological Association (ISA)

Crisis at UC Berkeley

December 21, 2009 50 Comments

By Michael Burawoy, University of California,  Berkeley

This semester at Berkeley has been one of the most tumultuous since the early1970s when the campus was regularly overtaken by civil rights and anti-war protests. The factor precipitating today’s protests is the economic crisis which hit California deeply, but especially its system of public education.  Once the pride of the nation California’s public education — from elementary school to college — has become a public disgrace.  As the result of Proposition 13, passed in 1978, which capped property taxes, funding for public education has suffered steady decline, even as funding for incarceration has witnessed a steady increase.

[youtube=]Calfornia’s Master Plan envisioned a system of public higher education that ranged from community college to the pinnacles of the University of California. The Master Plan has been ditched.  As the system has steadily lost its funding so deterioration at the underprivileged end is accompanied at its most privileged end – Berkeley — by increased reliance on private funding, that is on donors, federal research grants, and investment by large corporations in the engineering school, business school and the natural sciences. As the university is subject to the market appalling inequalities follow as surely as night follows day.

This destruction of the public university was taking place gradually until the latest round of cuts in public funding which could no longer be absorbed without massive lay-offs of non-academic staff,  up to a 10% pay cut for all employees (presented as a furlough), and an unprecedented 32% hike in student fees. Once virtually free, now higher education costs some $10,000 a year.  From the greatest public university it once was Berkeley is rapidly becoming a private corporation with access limited to those with deep pockets.

Organizing for the defense of public education began last summer and continued through the Fall semester. Students and faculty across the 7 campuses of the University of California held a walk out on September 24th, demanding no student fee increases, no lay-offs or furloughs, no pay cuts to workers earning less than $40,000 per year, full disclosure of the budget, defense of public education in California, election of the regents (the managers of the university of California appointed by the governor) by students, faculty and staff. This was followed by a three day strike on November 13-16, which ended with student occupation of one of the main buildings on campus, the appearance of riot police, and a show of violence not seen on campus since the 1970s. Protest will continue next semester with a march on Sacramento, the seat of the state’s legislature, planned for March 4th. Similar changes are taking place across the US, although the cuts are not as deep and the protest is more muffled.

In 1964 Berkeley became famous for its Free Speech Movement that seemed to spring from nowhere, marking the politicization of a student generation, angered by the racial injustices of US society, fueled by hostility to an unjustifiable war in Vietnam. The protest became a broad attack on the public university for being complicit in these injustices, in perpetuating war, and for its bureaucratic machinery that treated students as dehumanized atoms of a mass society. Today, protestors are demanding the restoration of that same public university against its privatization, corporatization and financialization.  Across the world the public university is under assault from a combination of government regulation and privatization. This blog is the place for sociologists to record the devastation of our very different and unequal workplaces, to report on the counter-movements against such degradation, and to mount visions of an alternative future. A global movement requires a global accounting.

50 Comments → “Crisis at UC Berkeley”

  1. Napoleón Velástegui 12 years ago   Reply

    It seems to me like a paradox that, here in Ecuador, a small country with a very small economic scale, compared with the U.S., the government promotes, firstly, through a new Higher Education Act, a quality university, while in the opposite way, in the first world economic power, is restricted fund for the development of the third and fourth level education.
    I think the echoes of the Bologna process, which split from the U.S., return to the same ground to demand a higher return on higher education institutions in the light of increasingly scarce resources in the middle of a global crisis that also reaffirmed trends becoming stronger to build a multipolar world in which China, India and Brazil, among others, will play a increasingly important role.
    Bologna, which began at 90, completed last year but was only a stage that opens the doors of a social demand toward greater linkage between the various public university with its pressing demands.
    I think that along with the growing spirit of freedom, must accompany the reaffirmation of the traditional and world famous and ever expanding, American practicality.
    So, we´ll have rough days that sociologist like to swim like fish, or something like that…..
    Congratulations for your article…!!!

    • restrepeat 9 months ago   Reply

      Then, on November 13-16, students went on a three-day strike that culminated in the takeover of a key campus building, the deployment of riot police, and a level of campus violence not seen since the 1970s. A march on Sacramento, the state capital and location of drift hunters the state legislature, is scheduled on March 4 of the next semester. Alterations of a similar kind are being implemented all around the United States, but with less severe cutbacks and less vocal opposition.

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