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We Don’t Need the Regents, the Regents Need Us!

As long as corporate elites like Parsky, Blum, Moores, Preuss, Pattiz - old, crusty, billionaire, white, men - control the university’s board we’re going to lose every specific battle, be it student fees, diversity, outreach, academic programs, militarism, ecology, etc.
Students snuck in banners despite tight security.
(photo: josh sonnenfeld)
We Don’t Need the Regents, the Regents Need Us!

By Darwin BondGraham

orts of people who almost never experience being told what to do, being yelled at; being told they’re wrong - morally and politically. They’re used to giving orders and telling others what to do. Of course this is what they did in voting to bid for the Lab, but our refusal to allow them to do so without opposition was important. Symbolic confrontation is important. Making the state exercise its violence (police action) to silence peaceful protesters has serious consequences.

Of course there’s more beyond just protesting. We have to keep opposing them and their program in real material ways in our daily lives. This means denying them our bodies and minds. It means working to create alternative paths for people that do not contribute to monopoly capital and the warfare state. It also means fighting the power elite in the political realm and changing the direction of higher education. But how do we do this? How does one “demilitarize? the UC?

The problem is that you can’t demilitarize the UC if this is all you’re trying to do. This is the frustration that many of us felt on Wednesday. We can make all the right moral arguments, we can point out all the conflicts of interest, we can call the powerful out on all their lies and ideology, but it gets us nowhere in such a limited discourse. The militarist goals of the Regents and the militarized structure of science in the university is part of a larger logic of globalizing capital. It makes perfect sense that the Regents would manage a nuclear weapons lab. These weapons have always been part of their larger geopolitical project, their aspirations. We can and should be precise in critiquing the UC’s ties to the weapons labs, and we should keep on opposing these ties as long as they exist, but we’ll only start winning in a meaningful way when we start to democratize the UC. This isn’t any revelation, it’s all right there in the UCSC Disorientation Guide, and in a multitude of other places. This is not a struggle against certain misguided aspects of the university, this is a fundamental struggle against antidemocratic, authoritarian, corporatist, militarist forces on all levels. That we are positioned to oppose this vision (call it savage capitalism) in the university is a privilege and a responsibility.

As long as corporate elites like Parsky, Blum, Moores, Preuss, Pattiz - old, crusty, billionaire, white, men - control the university’s board we’re going to lose every specific battle, be it student fees, diversity, outreach, academic programs, militarism, ecology, etc. We should recall our roots, our foremothers and forefathers in the student movements of the mid 20th century. Their goals were evident in their key organization’s name, Students for a DEMOCRATIC Society (in the USA). Democratizing the governance of higher education is synonymous with nearly any other worthy goal a student activist can fight for. After all, one need not fight and campaign as an activist for an end to sweatshop UC apparel or a living wage for UC employees if it is we who make the decisions rather than some body of seemingly careless homogenous profit oriented human beings. We simply would never choose to exploit anyone or anything to begin with! Democratizing the UC, to whatever extent possible, will have enormous impact on all struggles.

What does democratizing the UC look like? It probably looks a lot like that moment when the Regents, after voting unanimously for the bid to manage LANL, were opposed by the students in the hall, “we vote no!? It looks like this, and in practice a democratic UC would work like this. There would be no bid in a democratic UC because the students vote no. In a democratic UC the faculty and students would really care about what the University does out there in Northern New Mexico, they would care because they would have an actual say in what the University does. And their say would count just as much as anyone else’s, no matter how much they donated to the Governor last election cycle. As is, many faculty shirk responsibility because they have no real power. In a democratic UC there would be no Board of Regents as we know it. In a democratic UC there would be no plutocracy appointed by the Governor, there would be no de facto corporate control over the University’s macro planning, there would be no bullshit public comment period because the public comment would be the decision making process.

What would a democratic UC look like in practice? Who knows? We don’t know until we start practicing it, which is to say, we’ve seen foreshadowings of it, we’ve seen it well up in our lives as students, in rare and not so rare situations, on those picket lines, in various late night planning meetings, and in action. How do we work toward a more democratic UC? The answers are all around us, but it roughly takes two angles:

1. Making the Regents (and administrators) job of governing the University as difficult as possible.
This doesn’t mean opposing anyone and everyone with decision-making power for any reason. Rather, it means opposing persons with arbitrary power who exercise it in authoritarian ways for dubious goals. As long as the Regents can make decisions with a free hand, without opposition or obstacle, they will do as they please. It is our job to throw a sabot into the machine. We must acknowledge the reality of the situation, which is terribly plutocratic. By doing so we can gear our actions toward a disruptive and oppositional politics. This is the work of resistance.

2. Restructuring the governance of the UC.
We cannot stop at confrontation and opposition, we have to push further, simultaneously toward a new vision of the UC. We’re conspiring a non-violent, democratic coup de’etat. This is the work of liberation. We should be doing everything we can to bring down the Board of Regents and to institute a new means of directing higher education in California. This is no bubble. As goes California, so goes the nation, as goes the nation, well… you all know what “hegemonic? means. We can be trendsetters. Democratizing the UC will have enormous impacts on all universities, indeed on all matters of power in our society.
Photo: Matt Fitt

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