Friday, August 29, 2014

Re-Thinking the Role of Administrators at the University of California

You might think that this would be an uncontroversial enough stance, and that disagreement, where it arose, would surround the manner in which college was made available to all qualified students.
But you would be wrong.  The commentators who leapt to attack Lee’s stance used primarily two different approaches.  One group deliberately misread Lee, claiming that she was saying that everyone has to go to college, or that somehow you’re only worthy if you went to college.  This is a favourite line of Republican party politicians—usually those who deliver the line have a BA, an MBA, and sometimes a JD—who claim that Democrats are “elitist” for saying that college should be an option for everyone with the qualifications and desire to attend.
It’s a tired, cynical, and mean-spirited argument, made by people who work assiduously to keep the poor poor and the gap between classes in the United States as wide as possible.
The other argument, although it was one that I’d heard many times before, made me think about the governance of public institutions of higher education—an the University of California in particular—in a way that I hadn’t before.
One version of this argument that I saw went something like this, “Berkeley’s chancellor has a mansion in the Oakland hills [he actually gets the upper storey of a house on campus] and there are too many administrators, so”, and here’s where the logic gets a little sketchy, “college isn’t for everyone and we shouldn’t be paying for it!”
What I found interesting was not the argument—if I can be charitable enough to refer to it as such—but rather the way that it made me think about this common critique of the University of California as an institution weighted down at the top by too many administrators.
My general reaction had been something along the lines of the confused commentator, although I drew somewhat different conclusions.  I thought that the growth of the administrative caste was not just generally an unfortunate thing, but that it had contributed to the mistrust with which Californians today view their University, leading them to grow more selfish about their tax dollars and less willing to commit them to the education of future generations because they have the convenient excuse that too many of those dollars would be wasted on bureaucrats.
But when I thought about this again today—and I doubt that this is a novel thought, so if anyone knows of anything properly-researched or better-thought-out on the issue, please let me know!—I realized that many of us might have the chronological and causal relationship backwards.  It’s no great insight, but it’s at least worth thinking about.
Proving this would require firm historical data about the timing and pace of the rise in the number of upper level administrators as measurable against other factors.
But Californians began the drawn out process of privatizing UC when Ronald Reagan introduced tuition in the 1970s.  It continued apace, quickening both during the ‘90s, but then most dramatically during the 2000s, worsening around the time of the recession.
My sense is that the growth in the number of upper-level administrators has been greatest and most egregious in the past ten years, particularly since 2008/9.  This timing suggests to me that this growth was a reaction to, rather than a cause of, Californians’ mistrust and divestment.
In other words, UC had been facing disinvestment by the state for decades, and that disinvestment was getting steadily worse.  Administrators and Regents, instead of staunchly defending the public nature of their institution and drawing a line in the sand, embraced the move to privatization, seen by many, particularly amongst the corporate-minded Regents as an opportunity.
Anticipating the absence of reinvestment by California in UC—an absence not helped by the favour with which they looked upon the prospect of privatization—they began to make changes.  As they began the task of re-organizing the University, its administration, and its cash-flow and –sourcing along drastically new, private lines, they had to build a new bureaucracy, staffed with greater numbers of new kinds of administrators.
From the outside, UC is still viewed as a public institution, and therefore this new caste of administrator is seen as wasteful and unnecessary.  But because the institution is being privatized from the inside because of external factors—voters, politicians, the gridlocked state of governance in California—the growth of this bureaucracy is in some respects understandable. 
If your ambition is to prepare Berkeley to be a private institution capable of competing with the Ivy League institutions of the U.S., you need the infrastructure in place to pull that off.  And that infrastructure is not going to be geared towards the public-minded education of tens of thousands of Californians, but rather towards building a brand, building a private mode of financing the university, and building new networks to manage the relationships of a private institution with its partners in government, in the corporate world, and the ballooning higher education industry which is increasingly not about students and public service.
And because these administrators are working towards such different goals than their critics and their state-wide audience, then you get the cyclical effect.  Osbscene salaries, bonuses, a swollen cadre of bureaucrats and other outward manifestations of privatization—which most Californians are thankfully still unwilling to countenance outright—offend the public’s sensibilities, leading the public to countenance further disinvestment, which of course leads to a quickening of the privatization process. 

So those of us interested in understanding and critiquing the privatization of UC and other public institutions should account for this different chronology—if in fact it works.  It was not the growth of an administrative elite that led to divestment by the public.  Rather, divestment by the public pushed the Regents and many administrators to re-tool UC for life as a private institution without state support, and one outcome of that reorganization is a growing caste of administrators whose existence and actions only make sense if we consider that they are there not to defend the public institutions we treasure, but instead to lay the groundwork for the privatization of those institutions, a process which will reduce the accessibility, affordability, and civic-mindedness of the University of California. 

Bernie Sanders' Support for Colonialism Betrays His Wider Vision

When the United States Senate voted last month to give its backing to the Israeli regime as it launched a vicious and disproportionate assault on Palestinians in Gaza, it did so unanimously.  No voices were raised against the injustice of a colonial occupation, against a military assault which targeted civilians, and against the deliberate bombing of United Nations facilities, an action through which the Israeli regime struck a calculated blow against the arbiter of world peace and justice.

Amongst those who joined the caucus of cringers, who yap “How high?” when AIPAC tells them to jump, was progressive Senator and supposed-Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont.  Sanders, who is mulling a presidential run, has many compelling things to say about economic inequality, the appalling state of our public services, and why other profiteering services should be made to serve the public. 
Butlike his colleague Elizabeth Warren, whether out of opportunism or conviction, he is unmoved by the political injustice and economic oppression which defines the lives of Palestinian subjects, ruled over by an Israeli state which only endangers its own citizens all the more by pursuing a mad, bad, and dangerous policy of colonialism.
Sanders’ backing for Israeli colonialism is all the more pathetic because it betrays the socialist tradition in which he claims to work.  In the twentieth century, it was the socialist members of Britain’s Labour Party who spoke out most consistently and compellingly against their country’s unjust rule in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. 
These socialists sought to create space in the imperial metropole for members of anti-colonial movements to speak to the British public and get a fair hearing before the Parliament which ruled over them but in which they were not represented.  It was the socialists in Britain who travelled to the colonies to build bonds with colonized subjects—and not, primarily, because they were ideological fellow-travellers.  Often they were not.  Rather, they were moved by the social and political injustice that colonized people faced, injustices which translated into gross economic inequality.
It was the socialists who sought to understand—if not always justify—the violent rebellions that colonized people mounted against violent colonial rule.  And it was the socialists who called out the colonial security forces when they tortured, abducted, killed, and imprisoned people en masse in concentration camps where they were subjected to physical and psychological indignities of the most terrible kind.
Not all socialists spoke out, and the cabinet of the Labour government that took power in 1945 was sadly hesitant when it came to backing decolonization, upsetting many of its members in Parliament and beyond, who had been elected in part by WWII soldiers who voted heavily for Labour not only to better their own lives, but because many had served in the Empire and witnessed first-hand its injustice to the colonial subjects who fought alongside British citizens.
Some of Sanders’ constituents were also upset at his inconsistency when it came to recognizing inequality and injustice.  Pressed at a constituency meeting, Sanders grew petulant, declaring, “This is a very depressing and difficult issue.  This has gone on for 60 bloody years.  If you’re asking me, do I have a magical solution?  I don’t.  And you know what, I doubt very much that you do”.
But of course no one is asking about “magical solutions”.  They are asking about concrete ones which recognize that the United States does neither Israelis nor Palestinians any favours when it provides ammunition and moral support to the colonial regime in Israel, ensuring that when the Israel Defence Force kills Palestinians in their thousands (and most of them had nothing whatsoever to do with Hamas), displaces a quarter of Gazans, bombs the United Nations’ facilities, and thereby ensures the continuation of a violent occupation and the violent wars that go along with it, it does so with utter impunity.
We should stop selling arms and giving aid to the colonial regime.  We should demand that Israel grant independence to its colonies—at which point, Hamas or whatever government came to power would have both more power to manage the affairs of its citizens, but also a greater responsibility to hold back from violence—and put a stop to its illegal settlements. 
These actions, which would restore some basic justice and equity to our foreign policy are not “magical”, and suggesting that they are somehow beyond the realm of imagination is disingenuous.

Sanders and his colleagues should think long and hard about their profound moral inconsistency, and the mounting deaths—Israeli and Palestinian alike—that are on their hands because of their decision to fight so wrong-headedly for colonialism, a form of government that should be a bad memory from the last century rather than one which continues to define the lives of too many people in our own. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Elizabeth Warren Comes Out Fighting...For the Colonial Bullies

One of Elizabeth Warren’s great strengths over the past several years has been the consistency with which she assailed the sources of economic inequality in the United States, and the deceptively simple messages with which she did so. 
The economic game was rigged to favour powerful interests, meaning that no matter how hard they worked, those without access to power and influence were going to see their share of the national wealth stagnate or decline, their opportunities dry up, and their ability to influence the political process diminish.
Rather than asking people to wait, bereft of their dignity, hands outstretched for the crumbs to topple from the plutocrats’ table, Warren insisted that it was possible to build a better, more just, and more equal world.
Her appeal stemmed from her consistency, and her oft-made pledge that she would always stand up for those without power against those who had it, and wielded it with impunity and without regard for the collective good.
But a week ago, Warren joined so many of her political colleagues in explaining that her most cherished ideals end at the water’s edge.  In this case she was articulating her support for Israeli colonialism, more specifically, “her vote to send $225 million to Israel in its ongoing conflict with Hamas”.   
You would think that this would be a clear-cut case for Warren.  Palestinians live as colonial subjects, ruled by a colonial power that uses deliberately disproportionate force to subdue those people in the colony who fight against colonial rule.  People in that colony are subject to indignities including a debilitating blockade, attacks by the colonial military, and calls for ethnic cleansing by Israeli politicians.
Warren’s explanation for her vote and her support for arming Israel was typically vapid, but all the more pitifully so because it came from someone who at her best is more than capable of issuing a moral call to action
 “I think the vote was right”, she explained, “America has a very special relationship with Israel.  Israel lives in a dangerous part of the world, and a part of the world where there aren’t many liberal democracies and democracies that are controlled by the rule of law.  And we very much need an ally in that part of the world”. 
We do indeed have a special relationship with Israel.  It’s akin to that of a dealer and an addict.  We supply the moral and material support which permit the colonial government to behave in a violent, illegal, and irresponsible fashion, doing no end of harm to the long-term safety of its own citizens, no less the Palestinians.  We encourage a culture of impunity that allows the Israeli regime to know that it can engage in mass murder, bomb United Nations facilities, and flout international law without repercussions.  That is a very special relationship indeed.  But it is one which is poisonous and immoral and destabilizing.
Israel does indeed live in a dangerous part of the world.  But its colonial rule is calculated to ensure that it remains a target and that the region remains destabilized.  And that part of the world is far less dangerous for Israelis than it is for the Palestinians who live as subjects rather than citizens.  One might think that Warren would be moved by the fact that Israel’s latest assault on its colony displaced over 25% of Gaza’s population, killing over 2,100 people, 70% of them civilians, as against seven Israeli civilians and 64 Israeli soldiers.  
One reason why there are so few liberal democracies in the Middle East is that the United States executive, with the support of Congress, props up so many dictatorships.  That aside, I’m not sure if you can really call a nation that possesses colonies a “liberal democracy”.  Can a “liberal democracy” exist alongside such unconscionable imbalances in power?  Can a country that denies people over whom it holds such power their self-determination really be called a “liberal democracy”? 
Warren can talk all she wants about the threat posed by Hamas—never mind that like Hamas, Israel launches its weapons from amidst densely-populated civilian areas—but she can’t address the fact that if Hamas stopped launching its rockets tomorrow, forever, Palestinians would be no closer to securing their citizenship. 
The Israeli regime simply isn’t interested in relinquishing control over its colonies without prodding.  Too many illegal settlements have been constructed, too much of the national security apparatus has been committed, and too many shots in Israel are called by dangerous fundamentalists. 
I hope that Warren continues to fight for the rights and welfare of the disadvantaged and disenfranchised majority in the United States.  I hope that she continues to call for regulating the economy in a way that distributes wealth and access more equitably.  And I hope that as she does so she thinks a little bit harder about her dangerously simplistic view of the international stage, so far adrift from the moral vision she promotes at home.
But whatever Warren does in the Senate or on a wider stage, her insistence that to do right by people you have to get them on their feet and give them a chance will always ring a little bit more hollow, knowing as we do that she is an apologist for a colonial government which denies its subjects their rights to govern themselves and instead pulverizes them with the money and weapons Warren sent their way.

Her cynical support for colonialism denies others the opportunity to make that better, fairer, more just and equal world about which she speaks so compellingly at home. 

European History, Day 2

In spite of the impending long week-end, there was a good turnout for Day 2 of European History Since 1648 at UNLV, so far un-derailed by my efforts to use classroom technology.
Frans Hals, Archers of St Hadrian's*
We began with introductions, which will allow me to begin the slow process of getting to know the very diverse group of students in the room who were drawn to the course for diverse reasons—both utilitarian and intellectual.  There are students from Computer Science, Biology, and Anthropology Departments, to name but a few.  Most, however, are history or secondary education majors. 
By way of orienting students to the 17th century, our starting point for the course, we had a conversation about beginnings.  After all, narratives are shaped by their starting points.  A conventional rationale for 1648 is the Peace of Westphalia, which concluded the 30 Years War and created a new framework for European power relations.  
But other moments in 1648—the independence of the Dutch Republic; the resumption of the English Civil War which culminated in the execution of a king; a treaty with the Omani imam which led to the expulsion of the Portuguese from the Persian Gulf—provide us with different snapshots of a formative year for Europe, and different starting points.  Each of those allow us to say very different things about where Europe was "coming from", and where it was "going" in 1648.
For the remainder of the class, we discussed what Europe looked like in the 17th century, in terms of geography, demography, and economics.  My organizational skills leaving much to be desired, we ran out of time to discuss the political and religious realms, but we’ll pick up with those on Tuesday, and they should serve as a good introduction to our conversations about Locke, Hobbes, and other theorists of states and societies. 
The first two days have involved me doing a lot of talking, but next week, when students begin reading primary sources, we'll start what I hope will be the more exciting part of the class.

Stay tuned, and happy Labor Day!
* One of many civic groups which claimed credit for freeing the Netherlands from Spanish rule