IRVINE – Responding to plans to occupy Langson Library on Friday, December 4 – the weekend before final exams – and threats of an indefinite study-in, the UCI administration decided on Tuesday to open the library from 8am December 4 until 5pm December 11. Vice Chancellor Manuel Gomez (himself a former radical-turned-administrator, who admittedly “used to fly the black flag” but now knows better than us) made the announcement in an email sent to the student body: “In consultation with ASUCI, we are prioritizing student study needs during Finals Week. We are pleased to announce that we will be keeping Langson Library open 24-hours a day beginning 8 a.m. Friday, Dec. 4 and ending 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11.” While ironic that amid a 32% tuition hike, 1200 layoffs, cuts to already-funded student services (such as SAAS), and the arrest of one student organizer they finally give a shit about student needs, the decision to open the library has more to do with a broader strategy to co-opt and preempt student dissent and action, and the reality that it would have cost the administration more to pay police overtime to staff the occupation than to actually open the library to students.
While by no means ideal, UCI students consider this a victory. Even with the wind taken out of their sails, students and faculty continued on with a study-in to draw attention to the role of student action in opening the library. About 50 students and faculty took over a graduate-only reading room at 5pm and opened it to the public, holding teach-ins and discussions about the university’s structural adjustment programs, a meeting earlier in the day with Chancellor Michael Drake, and future actions. The study-in ended around 7:30pm, with future meetings and actions planned and a clearer understanding of where we are now and how to move forward.
A few of the things to come out of the action:
- A former UCI graduate student, now a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), shared her knowledge of UNAM’s past student strikes and actions. Students have traditionally held a university-wide referendum with about four questions, open to students, faculty, workers, and administration. With the results showing significant opposition to the administration, with the only real dissent coming from administration and some faculty, students have leveraged this consensus to justify actions like the 1999 student strike. UCI organizers have stated an interest in making this referendum happen, possibly near the end of Winter Quarter. The referendum should be coordinated across the UCs, and could be adopted by the CSUs and Community Colleges. A sample question: Do you oppose the privatization of the University of California?
- There is a desire among some faculty and students to begin alternative learning programs. There are proposals for a lecture about the budget crisis, and another calling for autonomous, student-run courses.
- The meeting with Drake and Gomez earlier in the day revealed a few things. Drake refused to condemn police violence against students or lobby for amnesty for John Bruning, a graduate student in Sociology and member of the Radical Student Union who was arrested at a protest on November 24. His stated reason was that he didn’t want to “step on UCIPD Chief Henisey’s toes.” Even after seeing video of violence against students, he said that he would not ask for an independent or even internal investigation, but that an investigation might happen if students filed complaints to the Police Department. At the very least, it is easy to file complaints – lots of them – and it will cost the police considerable money to process them. Gomez added that students shouldn’t be surprised to be beaten when they encounter police, as if advocating for Bodyhammer study groups.
- A faculty member brought up a May 2008 interview with Mark Yudof published in the San Francisco Gate newspaper. Even 18 months before the 32% tuition hike was voted on, and perhaps 6 months before the extent of the budget crisis was understood, Academic Senate was calling for tuition to rise to over $10,000 immediately and to $18,000 by the 2011-12 school year. Yudof also makes comments suggesting that he will “trim the fat” from the budget. The comments provide additional information about Yudof’s tenure at the University of Minnesota and the University of Texas, suggesting that he may have been hired to carry out such hikes, cuts, and restructuring as we’re seeing now.
- There is also a clear attempt now by Academic Senate to undermine the student movement by defining the terms of debate and action and legitimizing police action against students. There was a proposal that we divert some energy to opposing those members of the Academic Senate that oppose us.
- Throughout the study-in, there were multiple police stationed inside Aldrich Hall, UCI’s administration building. It is clear that police are being instructed to defend Aldrich at all costs, to keep any forms of dissent and accountability out of the administration’s home.
The study-in did not go as planned, but rather than hitting a dead end we just turned. There are even more students plugged into the struggle, and even more energy for the prospect of direct action and occupation. UCI isn’t in the same place as Santa Cruz or Berkeley, but we’re catching up fast.