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Systemic Blindness, or School v. Jail

November 20, 2009

University of California students are doing what they do so well: protesting. The UC Board of Regents has just approved a 32% tuition increase, prompting protestors to wave signs like “Education only for the rich.”

Now, let’s leave aside the fact that UC has said that they will also increase aid to poor- and middle-class families. I can’t assess the efficacy of whatever new grants and scholarships have been proposed, but if the Board of Regents is being honest, then raising tuition fees should only affect the rich. So these unfortunate protesters have their story the wrong way around.

But I also want to know what these protesters think the Board of Regents should have done in the face of massive budgetary shortfalls. Cut programs instead? Apparently not, judging by the “Save the Humanities” sign being brandished in CNN’s photo. (Did anyone threaten to cut funding for the humanities?) Should UC freeze professor’s salaries so that Harvard, Princeton, and Yale can go crazy poaching the most distinguished of the professors? The students might like that more, but in the long-term that is also bad for UC. Basically, I think the Board of Regents made the best decision they could.

Of course, the Regents were dealt a bad hand, and we can hardly blame the Regents for that. We could blame impersonal macro-forces like the economic crisis, but that’s just howling at the wind. Fortunately, you don’t need to think hard to come up with a villain more culpable than the Regents: why not blame the ridiculous spending priorities of the dysfunctional California legislature, and by extension the electorate that keeps sending them back to Sacramento?

Kevin Drum has a great post looking at the increase in UC tuition fees along with the increase of spending on the California penal system. It turns out that its expensive to have a world-class university system alongside the world’s largest penal system.

So listen up, protesters: think systemically. Yelling “Shame, shame” at your Regents may be emotionally satisfying (and easy!) but it won’t accomplish much. If you really want to affect change, why not go out and protest our incarceration society? Why not push for a new strategy in the war on drugs? Why not organize to decriminalize marijuana, or better yet, to legalize and tax it? With the resulting cost savings and new revenue source, I’m sure the UC system would have plenty of money to spend on the humanities.

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2 Comments
  1. holly permalink

    Did you not have protesters at UofC? Because, seriously, I’m not convinced protesting in our generation is even approached as possible “affecting change” in anyway. I think, in my horribly cynical way, that it’s social therapy–it serves a cathartic purpose and only that.

    I always keep going back this article (http://www.alternet.org/story/19840/).

    Nevertheless, I absolutely agree with you that they’re protesting the wrong thing, anyway. But seeing as most of those kids being affected by the hike, as you note, are more affluent students anyway who are so far removed from the penal system’s shadow, they wouldn’t make the connection.

    I AM SO CYNICAL RIGHT NOW. Geez.

  2. Actually, U of C students don’t protest much. The only protests on campus were directed 1) against the police department after a case of alleged racial profiling and 2) against the administration when it refused to divest from the Sudanese government. So in both cases, the protesters were in the face of the people who actually mattered.

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