Sunday, April 28, 2024

What is University For - Part 1

In case you've missed it, many students on university campuses have been protesting the ongoing genocide in Gaza. 

The police have been heavy-handed -- or outright violent -- with some of the students. Yet one prof wrote about his primary concerns in the NY Times: that the constant noise disrupts his class and the protests are upsetting for Jewish students.

Quick aside from the main point: I don't understand the concern for Jewish students hearing people protest an atrocity committed by the Israeli government. I can understand an allegiance to a religion or to a piece of significant land or to a people, but I don't understand any blind allegiance to the decisions made by any political leaders. In fact, it's vital that we don't adhere to leaders since they are are merely human and open to corruption. We have to be vocal when our leader make bad choices. That can't happen if we're enmeshed with officials. 

Students and some profs have been arrested for protesting and some schools have moved to online work for the remainder of the semester. Some profs cancelled final project or exams in solidarity.

Dr. Megan Ellyia Green, a prof at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote about her experience:

At one point tonight, students asked Alisha Sonnier and I if we could be intermediaries between the protests and the admin. We approached the police line and asked to talk to the admin standing behind them. They threatened us with arrest several times. Later, some admin did come to talk to us along with other faculty. We asked what the end goal was and raised concerns about the excessive presence of police for a calm protest. We suggested that the admin assign someone to come talk with students, hear their concerns. The admin said “he’d take it up the chain of command.” No more than 15 minutes later a massive amount of police converged on the students and began arrests. One student was filming and an officer stood in front of him. The officer told him everyone not affiliated with the university must leave. The student replied “I’m a student.” The officer then said “you’re under arrest.” Later, as the final students were being arrested those police closed in on us and press. Told us everyone not affiliated with the university needs to leave. I showed him my faculty ID card and was threatened with arrest. Pretty sure only reason I wasn’t was because I’m elected.

Mario Savio's speech from the Berkeley campus back in 1964, when he was just 21, is making the rounds. It's not just about free speech, although it's definitely about that. It's about universities treating students as resources for the state and for corporate use. It's one turning point, or maybe one moment of awakening to the top-down bureaucracy in the university system that slowly shifted from enlightening students to training them - from getting them to contemplate the greatest minds in all of history to regurgitating their thoughts without being affected by their views. Five years after this speech came Bloody Thursday on the Berkeley campus, which Hannah Arendt wrote about, followed by the Kent State shootings a year after. 

Arendt said of the problem with intellectual "brain trusters": "Not that they are cold-blooded enough to 'think the unthinkable,' but that they do not think."

Universities must be a place where people learn to think, to consider arguments from all sides and to deduce the best way forward. As a training ground to better serve our corporatocracy, unaware and unthinking citizens coming from these institutions will be, and are, fodder for the loudest group with the catchiest slogans.

"We're gone back to a traditional view of the university. The traditional view of the university is a community of scholars, of faculty and students get together with completely honesty, who bring a hard light of free inquiry to bear upon important matters in the sciences, but also in the social sciences. What ought to be, not just what is. Now that traditional view of the university, that's the one that had been attacked by revolutionaries, by those who would make it into a kind of adjunct to industry, to the government and so forth. Really, the people - us - who fought this fight are maybe the most conservative people on the campus. We're asking that there be NO restrictions on the content of speech save those provided by the courts. That's an enormous amount of freedom."

And this more famous bit:

"Those people up there have no desire to interfere with what we're doing. I would ask that they be considered and that they not be heckled in any way, and I think that while there's unfortunately no sense of solidarity at this point between unions and students, there at least need be no excessively hard feelings between the two groups. 

Now, there are at least two ways in which sit-ins and civil disobedience and whatever can occur. One when a law is promulgated which is totally unacceptable to people and they violate it again and again and again till it's rescinded, appealed. But there's another way: sometimes they follow the laws such as to render impossible its effective violation as a method to have it repealed. Sometimes the grievances of people extend to more than just the law, extend to a whole mode of arbitrary power, a whole mode of arbitrary exercise of arbitrary power, and that's what we have here. We have an autocracy which runs this university. It's managed. 

We were told the following: If President Kerr actually tried to get something more liberal out of the regents and his telephone conversation, why didn't he make some public statement to that effect? And the answer we received from a well-meaning liberal was the following: he said, "Would you ever imagine the manager of a firm making a statement publicly in opposition to his board of directors?" That's the answer. I asked you to consider if this is a firm, and if the board of regents are the board of directors, and if President Kerr fact is the manager. And I'll tell you something, the faculty are a bunch of employees and we're the raw material, but we're a bunch of raw material that don't mean to be have any process upon us, who don't mean to be made into any product, don't mean to end up being bought by some clients of the university, be there the government, be the industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We're human beings!

That brings me to the second mode of civil disobedience. There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, but you can't take part, you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop, and you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all. That doesn't mean -- and it will be interpreted to mean, unfortunately, by the bigots who run The Examiner for example -- that doesn't mean we have to break anything. One thousand people sitting down someplace not letting anybody by, not letting anything happened, can stop any machine including this machine, and IT WILL STOP! 

We're going to do the following. And the greater the number of people, the safer they'll be, and the more effective it will be. We're going to march up to the second floor of Sproul hall, and we're going to conduct our lives for a while in the second floor of Sproul hall. We'll show movies for example We tried to get Un Chant d'Amour, unfortunately that's tied up in the courts because of a lot of squeamish moral mothers for a moral America and other people on the outside, the same people who get all their ideas out of the San Francisco Examiner. Sad, sad but Mr. Landau has gotten to some other films. Likewise we'll do something which hasn't occurred at this university in a good long time: We're going to have real classes up there.  There are going to be Freedom Schools conducted up there, classes on the first and fourteenth amendments. We're going to spend our time learning about the things this university is afraid that we know. We're going to learn about freedom up there, and we're going to learn by doing! Now we've had some good long rallies, and I think I'm sicker of rallies than anyone else here. It's not going to be long. I'd like to introduce one last person before we enter Sproul hall. And the person is Joan Baez."

We have students on campus protesting the American and Canadian involvement in the slaughtering of children, like they had protests on campus protesting the US in Vietnam. As happened then, the concern with violence is not from the students, but from the fully armed police in riot gear escalating the situation.

A little more about the police from David Christopher:

"When I was a young man I thought I wanted to be a cop, so I took the civil service test and got hired. I spent two months at the precinct observing and going on ride alongs before leaving to the academy. This thread is about my experience. It wasn't a good one to say the least. 

My first week a sergeant known as "Robocop" ran past me into the armory, came out with a shotgun, ran back past me and out the door while yelling "I'm going to (blank) Avenue to set all those n***ers straight!" There were black officers within earshot, and some white cops laughed. A captain looked at me and said "Don't mind him, that's just Robocop". Robocop became chief a decade later. On a ride along with another captain we parked on the street in a black neighborhood. I can't repeat the derogatory and racist language he casually used about the locals. I considered resigning at that point but decided to give the academy a chance. My roommate was a 35 year old cop from Miami who had to go through the academy again after moving up north. He used racial slurs the very first night and bragged about some shady sh*t he did on the force. It quickly became apparent that many of the cadets were the same narcissistic bullies I remember from high school. With each passing day I kept thinking how these guys were not the kind of people you want doing police work. Aggressive and confrontational dudes with attitudes. 

After six weeks, I decided it wasn't for me. I went into it with the idea I could make a difference, help people, keep my community safe. But I learned that you have to tolerate racist and overly aggressive cops if you don't want to be ostracized. The blue wall of silence is real. So I went into healthcare ad have been here ever since. I think back to those four months and see what's happening now on college campuses. Overly aggressive cops initiating violence on peaceful protesters. Manhandling college kids, professors and seemingly enjoying it. It sickens me. The ruling class won't stand for anyone who threatens to upset their death grip on power. College students aren't buying their bullsh*t so they're sending in riot police because they know these cops will initiate violence. The whole system is f*cked. This is not a democracy."

ETA: As protesting students at Harvard were given notices threatening expulsion, they reciprocated with theses notices to administrators: 

ETA: Emmett Macfarlane's excellent piece in The Tyee.  

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