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LOCAL Commentary :: Education & Youth

An Open Letter to the campus community from Lit Grads

In her most recent press release, Chancellor Denton states that Tent University is a security threat. "This is not an issue of free speech," she says. "Rather it is a matter of ensuring students' safety and protecting the orderly conduct of our educational mission." As graduate students of literature we understand this to be the language of bureaucratic euphemism, the same form of official rhetoric that has been used in the past to stymie academic debate.
And though we concur that there is a great need for the spirit ofopenness which Chancellor Denton calls for, we see her invocation of the highly politicized concept of security as an administrative tactic to justify control of public space and limit the exchange of ideas. If the UCSC community is really to foster "open dialogue," then the administration must dispense with policies and positions that pit the leitmotif of public safety against the practice of free speech. There is no liberty where the outcome is already determined; under such a presumptive and authoritarian logic, security always trumps freedom.

In recent years the UC has not operated openly, making crucial decisions about budget and resource allocation without consultation or consideration for student/worker needs. As a mobile counter institution, Tent University, on the other hand, is an example of democratic pedagogy in action; a liberated zone where students can conduct themselves as full participants in their education.

In contrast, the chancellor's call to openness comes wrapped around a threat: if "plans for erecting a 'tent university' proceed, the university will enforce all relevant university policies and will apply maximum sanctions against violators." Such dehumanizing rhetoric turns students into "violators" and is, in the end, drawn from the same technocratic lexicon that furnishes the terminology used to justify militarization, "free speech zones", and "special administrative measures"-- in other words it is the language of social control.

Of course the chancellor's quoted remarks are less provocative than the text of the press release. Attendance at Tent University by "well intentioned but uninformed students could threaten their academic careers," Chancellor Denton says-- a condescending and disingenuous statement which guarantees that self-determination on the part of students will be punished. Chancellor Denton would have us learn the lessons of participation and democracy, yet the curriculum she offers lectures in the language of consequences and obedience.

Oddly, the chancellor states twice in her press release that she desires not civic but "civil" debate. That lawyerly phrasing-- the civility of manners and legal custom over the civic activity of student citizenship-- indicates Chancellor Denton is more concerned that we behave politely than that this public university fulfill its educational mission. We the undersigned agree that the UC is a promising site for "sharing ideas and working for positive change," and we sincerely hope that the decisions to raise our fees, to cut language and academic programs, and to deny workers a living wage will be shared with the entire campus community in an open forum. Until this institution, the University of California at Santa Cruz, meets and then exceeds all those expectations, counter-institutions such as Tent University will be both welcome and necessary.

Sincerely,

Aaron Anderson
Stephen Carter
Sean Connelly
Jay Guevara
Johanna Isaacson
Jin Jirn
Laura Martin
Alexei Nowak
Emily Sloan-Pace
Monica Smith
Christina Stevenson
Cara Stratton
Katie Woolsey-Springer

Sean Connelly
Literature Dept.
UC Santa Cruz
831 227 0626
 
 


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