Occupy education: uniting university student protest

University and college student protest returned yesterday (here and here).  Across California, at UC, Cal State, and even some high school campuses, students protested tuition hikes and program cuts, even as schools are raising tuition and cutting programs everywhere.  Now, the student protests are called “Occupy.”

You can see the broad trend in tuition below (from the College Board):

But it’s worse than this.  In public institutions, tuition hikes are accompanied by cuts in services, courses, and faculty, resulting in a, uh, compromised, educational experience.  Students who are working more hours off-campus to fund their educations are finding themselves closed out of classes they want or need, sitting in more crowded lecture halls, navigating reduced library hours and offerings, and seeing greater personal debt and dimmed career prospects on the horizon.

Access to high quality education, higher and otherwise, is a core equal opportunity issue.  Whatever Senator Rick Santorum says about snobbery or liberal professors indoctrinating youth, young people with college degrees are less likely to be unemployed than those without them; they’re still likely to earn more money and enjoy more stability as well.  (Of course, it’s worse for college grads than it used to be.)

When Occupy left public parks, usually not by activist choice, it spilled out into the range of issues and arenas that organize American life.  “Occupy” provided the language for a wide range of campaigns to reduce political and economic inequality.  The campus-based protests yesterday aren’t anything new, but framing them as part of a larger campaign for justice and reform is.

In Santa Cruz, Occupy turned out hundreds of students, made some interesting pictures, and canceled many classes.

Across California, the LA Times reports, turnouts were vigorous, but relatively small.  It’s a little early in the tuition hike cycle for student protests to take-off.  The challenge for Occupy is to find ways to inspire larger numbers of people to take up specific parts of the cause in the places they know best: housing, finance, work, and certainly, education.  The promise is of a multi-faceted, diverse, and powerful movement.

The risk is that these diverse efforts fail to generate the inspiration and attention of the Occupations.

It’s early yet.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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15 Responses to Occupy education: uniting university student protest

  1. Does Occupy really exist?

    It has been months now since the Occupy Movement first appeared in the streets and in mainstream articles in American newspapers around the country. Yet, despite attempts by the mainstream media to keep the slogans and ideology of Occupy in the minds of Americans, very little has been accomplished in either substance or organization influence.

    As an example, the Tea Party – in about the same amount of time – was already drawing thousands to meetings and independent groups were being set-up in congressional districts across America. Populist leaders from Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin were rallying people to come to weekend meetings. Groups like Freedom Works had National Capital Tea Party Patriots had emerged offering organizational assistance.

    What has Occupy accomplished? How many people can this leaderless movement actually put in the streets?

    What influence can it bring to bear on the American Electorate in 2012? Can Occupy turn out as many Americans who voted for President Obama in 2008?

    At this point in time, It would seem that the same people are being recycled through various campus rallies or direct action street protests, without engaging or motivating vast numbers of others to join their cause.

    J.R. Werbics is a Canadian writer and philosopher.

    • It’s pretty easy to find lots of Occupy activity all across the country, albeit less dramatic and focused than sleeping in public spaces. The Tea Party activists worked hard to develop a Washington profile, and kept the story alive as grassroots activism faltered. Unsurprisingly, Tea Partiers are disappointed with the field of Republicans all their efforts generated.
      Occupiers are trying to avoid getting sold out by a national group. It remains to be seen if their strategy of maintaining a grassroots orientation will result in the fragmentation of the movement.

      • Milan Moravec says:

        Occupy campus chancellors offices. UC Berkeley (UCB) pulls back access and affordability to instate Californians. Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau displaces Californians qualified for public Cal. with a $50,600 payment from born abroad foreign and out of state affluent students. And, foreign and out of state tuition is subsidized in the guise of diversity while instate tuition/fees are doubled.

        UCB is not increasing enrollment. Birgeneau accepts $50,600 foreign students and displaces qualified instate Californians (When depreciation of Calif. funded assets are included (as they should be), out of state and foreign tuition is more than $100,000 + and does NOT subsidize instate tuition). Like Coaches, Chancellors Who Do Not Measure-Up Must Go.

        More recently, Chancellor Birgeneau’s campus police deployed violent baton jabs on Cal. students protesting Birgeneau’s tuition increases. The sky will not fall when Birgeneau and his $450,000 salary are ousted. Opinions make a difference; email UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu

  2. Milan Moravec says:

    I love University of California having been a student & lecturer. Like so many I am disappointed by Chancellor Birgeneau’s failure to arrest escalating costs, tuition. Birgeneau has doubled instate tuition. On an all-in cost, Birgeneau’s UC Berkeley (UCB) is the most expensive public university. Tuition consumes 14% of a median family income.
    Paying more is not a better university. Birgeneau dismissed removing much inefficiency: require faculty to teach more classes, double the time between sabbaticals, freeze vacant faculty administrator roles, increase class sizes, freeze pay & benefits & reform pensions, health costs. Birgeneau said removing such inefficiencies wouldn’t be healthy. UCB ranked # 2 in earning potential in USA. Exodus of faculty, administrators: who can afford them?
    Californians agree it is far from the ideal situation. Birgeneau cannot expect to do business as usual: raising tuition; subsidizing foreign student tuition; granting pay raises & huge bonuses during a weak economy that has sapped state revenues, individual income.
    Recently, Chancellor Birgeneau’s campus police deployed violent baton jabs on Cal. students protesting Birgeneau’s increases in tuition. The sky above Cal. will not fall when Robert J. Birgeneau ($450,000 salary) is ousted. Email opinions to the UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu

    • Thanks for posting an email like this whenever I write about education. I’m not going to defend every decision at the University of California, but cuts in state support are far more consequential than anything you identify.
      Your solution: cut spending on salaries and health care, raise class sizes, and cutting administration means a different, and lesser, university. It will still be a UC degree, it just won’t mean the same thing. Obviously, I get a salary and health benefits, but I think California’s young people deserve better.

      • Milan Moravec says:

        Create breakthroughs to reduce inefficiencies at public universities like University of California What’s past is gone. Reexamine the manufacturing model of higher education in California. It’s time to increase the quality of teaching and research at University of California AND lower costs. Breakthroughs in higher education that lower costs do not result in a reduction in quality: but the breakthroughs will be unfamiliar and uncomfortable to higher education faculty, chancellors, senates, higher education unions and administrators.

        Here are examples of what not to do to create breakthroughs at University of California.
        Every qualified Californian must get a place in public University of California (UC). That’s a desirable access goal for UC. However, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau displaces Californians qualified for higher education at Cal. with born abroad and out of state affluent students paying $50,600 tuition.
        Paying more is not a better education. UC tuition increases exceed the national average rate of increase. Birgeneau has doubled instate tuition/fees. Birgeneau jeopardizes affordability to Cal by making it the most expensive public university.
        UC President Mark Yudof uses tuition increases to pay for faculty & administrator salary increases. Payoffs like these point to higher operating costs and still higher tuition and taxes. Instate tuition consumes 14% of Cal. Median Family Income. President Yudof is hijacking our families’ and kids’ futures: student debt.
        I agree that Yudof and Birgeneau should consider the students’ welfare & put it high on their values. Deeds unfortunately do not bear out the students’ welfare values of Birgeneau, Regent Chairwoman Lansing and President Yudof.
        We must act. Birgeneau’s campus police deployed violent baton jabs on students protesting Birgeneau’s tuition increases. The sky will not fall when Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau ($450,000 salary) ‘honorably’ retires.
        Opinions to UC Board of Regents, email marsha.kelman@ucop.edu

      • I’ve got to remark on how disappointing I find your responses. You suggest that unspecified “breakthroughs” can reduce costs without compromising quality. I don’t know whether you really don’t have a clue about quality or whether you lack the courage of your convictions: specify what you want. There are all kinds of ways to cut costs, and there are models of state universities across the country that deliver higher education at lower costs. If you look honestly, you’ll see that the schools that cost less really deliver less.
        President Yudoff has looked at those other systems and thinks that the few state universities that have maintained a high level of research and teaching (e.g., Virginia and Michigan) have done so by serving the state’s population less and recruiting out of state and international students who pay even more, taking the burden off the state and putting it on students.
        I’m not a fan of that model, but if you want to reserve an affordable high quality education for state residents, then someone has to pay for it. Taxpayers did so in the past, but you reject this idea.
        Oh, but a “breakthrough” can solve this. Unfortunately, the trustees and administration deal with real budgets rather than unspecified breakthroughs; they may make bad decisions, but do so choosing among real, rather than imagined alternatives.
        I expect you’ll reply with a rant against the Berkeley Chancellor, avoiding the real fiscal issues once again.

      • Milan Moravec says:

        The problem is not outside Cal. The buck stops at Chancellor Birgeneau’s desk wheter you like it or not: that’s why he earns $450,000 salary. Birgeneau’s solution to the millions of inefficiencies his 8 year reign created is to create a OE program where the removal of the inefficiencies Birgeneau creaded are identified as “savings”. Further Birgeneau has not allowed OE to apply it’s methodology to the Chancellor’s office.
        I love University of California (UC) having been a student and lecturer. But today I am concerned that I do not recognize the UC I love. Like so many Alumni, Corporate Donors, Legislators, and Californians I am deeply disappointed by the pervasive failures of UC Chancellors from holding the line on rising tuition/fees.
        Californians are reeling from15% unemployment (includes those forced to work part time, those no longer searching), mortgage defaults etc. And those who still have jobs are working longer for less. However we also understand that there needs to be reasonable limits that reflect economic realities. Chancellor/Faculty wages must reflect California’s ability to pay, not what others are paid.
        UC Berkeley (ranked # 70 Forbes) tuition increases exceed national average rate of increase. Instate tuition has doubled. Chancellor Birgeneau’s molds Cal into the most expensive public university in the USA. We will do better with a spirit of shared sacrifices by UC Faculty, Provosts, and Chancellors? (17,000 earn more than $100,000).
        There is no question the necessary realignments with economic reality are painful. UC Board of Regents Chairwoman Lansing can bridge the public trust gap with reassurances salaries reflect depressed California wages. With UCB shared financial sacrifices, the sky above will not fall.

        University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau ($450,000 salary) displaces qualified for public university education at Cal. Californians with $50,600 FOREIGN students. UC Berkeley, ranked # 70 Forbes, is not increasing enrollment. $50,600 FOREIGN students are accepted into Cal. and displace qualified instate students.

        Opinions make the difference; email UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu

  3. Milan Moravec says:

    With due respect David if you and your colleagues do not know how to create breakthroughs in higher educations I recommend that you go to the internet and identify a methodology that in your judgement offers the best possibilities to reduce costs and tuition and implement..

    Of course UC will change to something unfamiliar however that unfamiliar will be better than the past. Those that try to take the past into the future fail, Those that create the future succeed.

    Go to it: get uncomfortable and creative. You can do it David!!! You’ll also learn some skills you didn’t know you had.

    • Thank you for the courage to post this answer. As I read it, you say:
      You can do it cheaper. Think. You’ll come up with a breakthrough. I know that you can do it, because we will spend less. Of course, people constantly try to cut costs here at UC–and elsewhere. The trash in my office building is collected once every two weeks, rather than every week. Ostensibly, there’s no educational impact from this cost-cutting measure, but when the weather gets very warm, there are flies.
      There are fifty state university systems, offering all kinds of costs and all kinds of quality. It would make sense to look at those other systems and figure out what works and what doesn’t. It shouldn’t be surprising that the systems that spend more money actually deliver a better education. The systems that spend less, for the most part, deliver less. And the private schools that offer the most highly regarded educations spend a lot more.
      But we can always cut and pretend that it doesn’t matter. We’ve done exactly that with K-12 education in California, and now consistently perform in the bottom decile of American states. Is this the California you really want to live in?

      • Milan Moravec says:

        Doing the same thing in education but at a higher cost to Californians is not the answer. Just throwing $ at a problem or goal does not work.

        Time to stop believing that the past is best for the current and future of California. Spending more and delivering only what has been delivered in the past is unacceptable.

        If you do what you have done in the past as the future rushes at education like a freight train education will fail Californians. Get uncomfortable and create a future that increases quality while decreasing costs to the parents of our children. Sure there will be failures but that is no reason to stop trying to improve what we no longer can afford.

        Good luck!

      • Milan and Jason say that we should be able to deliver an excellent education more cheaply because….well, because. This claim isn’t refutable because it’s just an assertion, not an argument. (Milan also says I’ll be happier and proud of cutting costs.) Emphatically, they refuse to find sample savings by looking at the 49 other state systems, which have cut costs by doing things like cutting instruction in expensive fields, like engineering (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/09/opinion/krugman-ignorance-is-strength.html?hp)
        They say we should emulate other industries, citing automobile production as example. Bad example. The real cost of new cars over the past forty years has increased far faster than the median income (which has declined) and the rate of inflation (e.g., http://www1.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels/facts/favorites/fcvt_fotw219.html). This increase comes in spite of cutting labor costs substantially.
        But some things have gotten much cheaper. Take televisions or other electronics, for example. A visit to any retailer will show that you can now get a bigger, better tv cheaper. How did this happen? Technological advances allow producers to use robots and off-shore labor to do more and more of the work.
        How does this translate to education, higher and otherwise? I don’t think it does.
        Now, explain why today’s high school graduates should settle for a cheaper education comprised of watching videos on youtube rather than sitting in classrooms with professors, writing papers, and going to a well-stocked library, that is, the education their parents could have enjoyed. I can’t make this argument with a straight face.

      • Like I said before, comments are a great starting point…but not necessarily the end of the debate…

        I suggest that in between your bouts of laughter, you go to http://www.khanacademy.org/ and then watch this Sundays episode of 60 minutes…

        It will be people like Mr Khan and myself that will be laughing all the way into the history books.

      • I love Khan Academy. His idea is that class time in public schools should be spent providing individual help and explanation. This should enhance effectiveness, particularly for kids whose parents make them watch the videos, rather than playing video games. It’s not a cost saver.
        Economist Robert Frank sees the costs as a drive for equality, in an effort to prevent less advantaged young people from falling further behind advantaged peers at prestigious schools. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/business/college-costs-are-rising-amid-a-prestige-chase.html?_r=1&ref=business

      • Milan Moravec says:

        You are right David as long as you sit on your duff and say it hasen’t been done and can’t be done it won’t be done. Sel fulfilling prophacy

        UC Berkeley Birgeneau doubles instate tuition, subsidizes foreign student tuition and denies access to qualified instate californians so Birgeneau can accept $50,600 foreign student tuition.

        The same chancellor that has accomplished the above has used his campus police to use baton jabs on students protesting the doubling of instate tuition

        UC Berkeley on an all in cost is now more expensive than Harvard and Yale.

        David you have a friend in UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau.

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