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Whose university?

Written By: daveski on November 20, 2009 1 Comment

As I write this post there are hundreds of Berkeley students and community members surrounding barricades and police tape (“POLICE LINE – DO NOT CROSS”) around Wheeler Hall, the site of a student ‘occupation’ (see updates here too) after the UC Regents’ passage of a budget including an unprecedented 32% fee hike for students.

The budget crisis is immense and is unfolding on multiple scales, each of which seems to point somewhere else: the general economic downturn in the U.S. is a backdrop and potential scapegoat for California lawmakers and citizens who struggle to understand and explain this state’s own money problems. While public education in California is universally suffering and deserves attention as a unified whole, higher education is articulating its own needs and demands. Cuts are of course being made across the community colleges, CSUs, and UCs, and in this context accentuating the plight of the UCs seems to, among other things, highlight the potential inequities in access and resources of maintaining a “3-tiered system” in the first place. That of course is hard to see here inside the UC system, where President Yudof and the UC Regents are busy pointing their fingers back to the state, complaining of California’s “failure to support higher education”. And, meanwhile, on the Berkeley campus, the budget pinch has played out differently in different departments, as decisions about budget cut allocations, staff firings, course offering reductions, and other ‘readjustments’ are made and felt at the level of the college, the department, and even at the level of the building and classroom. Which brings us back to Wheeler and Dwinelle Hall, together representing the center of many of the university’s disciplines and life in the Humanities and Arts, and focal points for much organizing and protest in the past and present.

If the large-scale news stories, chanting students, metal barricades, yellow police tape, and riot gear-donning police force are what motivated me to sit down and write this post, indignant that we as a university community should have to be engaged in a battle over the very space of our campus, it was when I recently began to see the more subtle markers of the university’s privatization, in the most mundane of places, that I feel the most anger. These, too, have woven themselves into the fabric of a space that can no longer, it seems to me, be called public: while Tully’s Coffee enjoys the business-ification of what’s arguably the most visible spot on campus (see also the ASUC Auxiliary article; all while Bear’s Lair vendors protest plans to double their rent) other chains have been given license to do business in campus buildings, including this very Dwinelle Hall.

This was the first and the last straw for me: not only does the newly opened Common Grounds on the 5th floor charge full Peets prices for its lattes, cookies and muffins, but they also seem to have started charging rent on the chairs and tables.

What next? And, as the saying goes, “Whose university?”

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One Response to “Whose university?”

  1. Usree Bhattacharya on: 25 November 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Thank you for posting this story, Dave. I think the University’s decision to lease out common student space to them is awfully problematic, and leaves me feeling somewhat cheated.

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