Tuesday, October 20, 2009

College Protests in the New Millennium

In a recent letter to the Santa Cruz Weekly (Oct 14-20 2009), Kathy Cheer bemoaned the fact that the recent take over of the commons building at UCSC was non-eventful. Her hope was for a greater “show of force” and that the “UC agitators (would) seriously put forth demands and boycott with vigor.” She likened the serious money problems facing the UC system as a class war similar to the “civil war”. She ended her letter suggesting a “Up against the wall,” mentality toward the college and to “stare down the administration daily; make them queasy”.

My reaction to this letter is probably the same as most whom read it; Ms Cheer, UCSC is not a jail. The UC system is a gift from the citizens of California by the already over taxed payers; primarily the rich tax payers. The purpose of the UC system is to provide the citizenry of California with the opportunity to receive a high quality subsidized college education, for which it is the envy of most states. However, as I stated before, the tax base of California is reliant by the taxes paid by the rich. In a recession, the rich make less money and therefore pay less taxes. The state has reduced the UC system budget , resulting in cuts based on priorities. While there might be vigorous debate on these priorities, one can not blame the lack of funding on the Regents. The current UC agitators may well be protesting money diverted from the UC system to pay for programs that subsidize medical care for indigent families; or pay for the housing of convicts in state prison. Either way, encouraging a hostile environment on UC campuses, is not going to increase the money in the state coffers, but it will most certainly result in adversarial relationships between the students, teachers and administration.

During the Vietnam era violent protests and demonstrations resulted in a US President not running for re-election and an expedited end to an unpopular war. Theses protests got their start on college campuses, and were quickly joined by Marxist revolutionaries, who not only wanted an end to the war, but used the anti-war sentiments to try and forward their agenda of a violent overthrow of the United States. However it was the anti-war, minus the revolutionary agenda, that won out. It would seem however, that the some of the students who are now college professors, have never gotten over their ten minutes of fame and try and fall back on protests and demonstrations to right all the perceived wrongs they see in today's society. This of course is a right rooted in our country's history and guaranteed in our Constitution. The problem is, when viewed through Vietnam era glasses, you end up with radical idealism, espousing escalated intimidation and violence.

Right or wrong, UCSC students are often looked upon as adults by statued only, with limited life experience and only a summer or two older then their high school graduation. Most students will not stay long enough in our college town, to appreciate the incremental improvements that result in real positive change. In essence, knee jerk protests with escalating violence is the functional equivalent to a child throwing a tantrum, when they don't get their way. And since most college students feel fairly impotent, having lived their entire life dependent on their parents, the tantrum response would seem quite normal. What's missing here of course is having a dialogue; trying to see opposing view through the other side's eyes. A radical sees no other view but their own and attempts to silence any dissenting view. In this case there seems to be less money available to subsidize education. This may come as a shock but there are no shortages of students. I'm thinking while boycotts and escalating violence, has had some limited success in a jail setting, that hopefully success in higher education can be achieved through dialogue and intelligence; it is, after all, a place of higher learning.

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