Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Depressing Debate On UC's Logo

You may or may not have found yourself gripped by the uncharacteristic passion which swept University of California campuses and their virtual communities in the past week.  The source?  An unelected and unaccountable Board of Regents?  A new Berkeley Chancellor who, much like the old Berkeley Chancellor, has resigned himself to seeing the university’s public character eroded?  The certainty of fee hikes in the coming years?  The refusal of politicians in Sacramento or administrators at UCOP to contemplate steps which would reverse the unconscionable slide towards unaffordability and inaccessibility? 
No, nothing like that.  Students and alumni were, instead, turning their ire on the new logo for the entire university system that was recently unveiled.  Facebook exploded, my union took up the cause (to be fair they also talk about fees and contracts), and someone posted a petition at which has since garnered over 50,000 signatures.  To put that in perspective, I remember signing petitions about fees, disinvestment, and police violence which were lucky to get 5,000 signatures. 

Now don’t get me wrong.  The new logo is most charitably characterised as a monstrosity.  I’ve heard it described variously as something anyone with a modicum of design skills could whip up in 10 minutes (without the benefit of a focus group and a budget), as what passed for fine art or graphic design in pre-school, as a toilet bowl, and as the ‘C’ doing something unmentionable to the ‘U’. 

The administration, exhibiting its uncanny knack for being desperately out of touch with its students, explained that the logo change was about making the university look more modern, up with the times as it were.  In reality of course, it just looks goofy.  Researchers at the University of California are world class, but the only thing UCOP does of that calibre is excuse-mongering, and their PR machine launched into overdrive as they explained their swift climb-down. 

Some took heart from the unified front that UC students and alumni presented to the administration, but I actually found the whole episode a little sad and disconcerting.

It’s troubling, after all, that people are willing to put their name to a petition rejecting a logo, but can find neither the time nor the courage to object to terrible fee hikes and the introduction of the sorry logic of the “free market” into our university.  People complained that the logo didn’t reflect the values and character of the University of California, but they haven’t been willing to stand up for that wonderful institution which is our home and was once the pride of our state. 

Many students and alumni, to judge by their actions, find the mutilation of the system’s logo more offensive than they do the demand that they pay twice the fees that they did less than a decade ago.  They find the design flaws in a symbolic representation of the University of California more objectionable than they do the disfiguring of the University’s mission and public character. 

Because the real tragedy has been that successive generations of Californians have been willing to put their short-term personal prosperity ahead of long-term communal well-being.  It is that we have created a system of government that allows one generation to wage war on another, to create a set of conditions skewed to benefit those who are wealthy and secure at the expense of those who struggle and face daily uncertainty.  It is tragic that our Governor has been allowed to present decades of disinvestment and austerity regimes as a “victory” for higher education.  It is reprehensible that our community lets him and our representatives get away with pushing this myth as inexorably as the UC Regents and the state’s business community are pushing their grubby little market ideology, which they pass off as a philosophy compatible with UC’s commitment to the promotion of social and economic equality and justice. 

Even Berkeley’s campus seems increasingly quiescent in the face of what we are told is the overwhelming logic of market diktats.  Students are too caught up in the rush of the semester and the hurry to get a marketable degree to pause and think about how their educational experience is being reconstructed, and how access to that experience will be circumscribed for future generations of Californians.

We can hardly expect the state to invest in our institution if we aren’t even willing to come to its defence.  Unless the UC community regains some sense of proportion and prepares to invest some time and energy in trying to roll back the regressive measures of the past years, we’ll be left with a very nice logo in a shell of a gutted institution, wondering how we allowed a public right to be turned into a private commodity.  We’ll have to explain to ourselves and those who come after why we permitted a place dedicated to the promotion of learning and the construction of citizenship into a mercenary marketplace serving those citizens who can afford it and catering to the short-term desires of the state’s corporate community rather than respecting the long-term interests of the public.

There is no explanation for such a transformation that would do credit to the generations which inhabit California today.

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