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Occupied Territory

news_ucscReactions to fee hikes and recent occupations divide UCSC community

On Nov. 17 at UC Los Angeles, the University of California Board of Regents will vote on a proposed measure that would raise student fees by 32 percent next year. If approved, student tuitions will have risen by a total of 109 percent since the start of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tenure. Speaking to an audience of more than 100 students at a forum on the budget crisis on Oct. 29 at UC Santa Cruz, Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at UC San Francisco and an outspoken critic of the UC system’s administrative and financial practices, accused the governor of trying to create “a radical right-wing free market model” of education, and told students, “Basically, Schwarzenegger is the king of sticking it to you guys.”

At the same forum, which was sponsored by the UCSC Faculty Association and organized by recent alumna Ashley Aron Craig, research librarian Ken Lyons talked about the devastating effect the budget cuts have had on the UCSC libraries in terms of forcing reductions to staff, hours, and materials. Like Glantz, he sees the UC Regents emphasizing a purely profit-driven agenda at the expense of education. “What’s in order,” he concluded, “is a fundamental shift in UC’s priorities.”

But while many at UCSC seem to agree that a message must be sent to the Regents and the governor, an increasingly complex debate is forming about how best to do it. The most well-publicized and controversial protest action this year was the student occupation of two campus buildings. The first began on Sept. 24, timed to coincide with both the beginning of classes and a walkout by the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) union. After occupying the building for one week, the approximately 25 protestors left the building on the morning of Oct. 1 without police intervention. Then, on the night of Oct. 15, an affiliated group of protestors barricaded themselves inside one of the Humanities buildings for several hours; three people were pepper-sprayed by police while trying to move a picnic table, which police say they intended to use to bolster the barricade or vandalize the building. One student, Brian Francis Glasscock, 18, was arrested on suspicion of resisting police and released later that night.

Now the Graduate Student Commons Governance Board (GSCGB) and the UCSC administration are claiming that the two occupations left widespread damage to school facilities in the form of graffiti and stained carpets and furniture. In a campus-wide e-mail message, Executive Vice Chancellor David Kliger stated the clean-up costs would “run into the tens of thousands of dollars.” He noted that the occupations “appear to be related to dissatisfaction with UC funding and related budget issues. It seems incongruous, if not absurd, that people declaring UC to be ‘their university’ would deface campus buildings and deny access to spaces used by and for students, faculty, staff and campus guests.”

In response, a blog called Occupy California published an anonymous open letter from a group of the protestors, which was also e-mailed to the entire campus community. In it, the authors call Kliger’s figures “ridiculous” and state that “these sums that he touts to scare and divide people are only a drop in the bucket compared to the real cuts that the administration has overseen and indeed foisted upon those who depend on the university’s functions and services: students, faculty, and workers alike.”

Katie Woolsey, a Ph.D. candidate and associate in creative writing in the departments of literature and American studies, sent out her own campus-wide e-mail response, which was also published on Occupy California. In it, she calls his estimates “factually, simply crazy,” and states: “The implication of these numbers, of this hand-wringing over wear and tear, is that the university would run cheaply and efficiently if only students weren’t here doing what students do.” The full text of both letters is available at occupyca.wordpress.com; David Kliger’s original letter is available on UCSC’s official website.

The debate has been further complicated by the fact that no one seems exactly clear on just how much damage was really caused. UCSC Spokesperson Jim Burns says, “I don’t have a line-item breakdown.” He adds, “an early estimate, ballpark, is at least a couple thousand dollars of cleaning and painting. I walked through there and saw the stains. It looked more like the aftermath of a party than any kind of meaningful protest.” As of early last week, all graffiti appeared to have been removed and no visible traces of the occupations remained in either building.

The larger student body seems both divided about which side to believe and less than clear about what the occupations were meant to accomplish. A recent editorial in the student-run newspaper City On a Hill Press was titled “You Say You Want a Revolution? Just Let Us Know What Kind.” In it, the editors state that “communication between protestors and the student body at large has gotten fuzzy,” and ask, “Who are they? And more importantly, what do they want us to do?” Referring to the dance parties that have been held at the site of both occupations, they concluded: “While there’s been lots of dancing, if there’s no clarity in your revolution, we’re not coming.”

Reached by phone, Chris Chitty, a history of consciousness graduate student who has been authorized to speak on behalf of the protestors, tried to clear up some of the confusion. He stated that the protestors are made up of roughly half graduate and half undergraduate students, and that the occupations were meant to be “an appeal to all the broad groups affected by this budget crisis,” which includes not just students in the UC system, but many other vulnerable populations throughout California.

“A part of the occupation was an attempt to point out that we’re being forced into a zero-sum game,” he says. “The reform movement has made a demand of ‘no cuts to education,’ but that implies that there will be more cuts somewhere else.” He says the occupations were also meant to be a testament to the power of direct practical action. “The idea of tactics like occupation is to show people you don’t have to just go out and scream and get angry,” he adds. “Sitting back and yelling into a megaphone isn’t going to get you anything.”

According to Chitty, the claims of vandalism are faulty. “The occupiers themselves did not vandalize spaces, and the accusation that the occupation was an act of vandalism is patently false,” he says. “Graffiti happens on campus all the time. Graffiti becomes a scandal to the administration only when it’s connected to a political action they disagree with.”

He also questions the emphasis university officials are placing on material damages. “Any university official worried more about upholstery than the eyeballs of a freshman student who was pepper-sprayed is morally bankrupt,” he says. “In Kliger or Burns’ moral universe, how many stained couches permit the extreme tactics of police beat-downs and pepper spray?”

Henry Symons, a fourth-year environmental studies and politics double major, was present at the Oct. 29 forum and tried to sum up the tumult of the recent weeks. He believes that all the protest actions “send a message to the regents that all members of the UCSC community care about this: students, faculty, staff, and the larger Santa Cruz community.” But ultimately, he’s unsure if any action, no matter how drastic, will make a real difference. “I’m just not sure if they’re even interested in listening to us at all,” he says.

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