Students for a Democratic UC, an organization I am a member of, recently organized an action called “Blow the Whistle on Privatization,” where we all called in on the same day to the UC-wide whistleblower’s number to repeat on all the violations of ethics related to privatization. I gave a short speech for the occasion, and thought to include the text here — I’ve left in all the emphases I used to guide my delivery, because you know, it’s a speech, and as Nietzsche tells us, writing is only good insofar as it gets “the signs” right…*
*Or something like that. I can’t remember the exact quote at the moment…
Good afternoon everyone, it is awesome to be out here with you. My name is Robin Marie, I am graduate student of US History here, and I wanted to talk a little bit about what we are doing out here and why it matters. But I am going to start with a bit of an embarrassing story. About nine years ago, I wrote a story in the student newspaper at UC San Diego, where I went to undergrad. The story was about a recent student protest against rising fees, and I argued that while it was unfortunate that student fees were going up, the fact of the matter was that there was a budget crisis in California, and ultimately we all have to cut corners and sacrifice in order to get California out of the red. This, of course, is a common way of thinking about fee increases and budget crises and is often what we’re told when we demand that public education in California be made affordable for everyone.
But I was wrong. Because what I did not understand then, is that budget crises do not just appear, naturally, out of thin air. Budget crises are the result of politics – in short, the result of the struggle over resources and power that takes place every day. And right now, and for almost two decades now, public education in not only California but the whole country has been losing this struggle – less and less public money has been provided to the UC, while more and more private money has been supplementing this loss. All of you out here know this – a major source of this new private money comes from hiking up your fees. But what not everyone understands is that this has not just unfolded willy-nilly, the result of a million unintentional actions. On the contrary – there is a powerful coalition of people throughout this country, from bankers to manipulative politicians in both parties, who have an interest in privatizing the UC system. We are here today to blow the whistle on this bullshit. We are calling in to the UC-wide Whistleblower’s Number, which is 800-403-4744 to report on all the ways in which UC administrators and the UC Regents have been violating standards of ethics in the process of either encouraging privatization or refusing to stand up against it.
Let me give you just one example of such a violation. Richard Blum, a member of the Board of Regents, is the largest investor in two firms devoted to for-profit education. What this means is that Richard Blum has an invested interest in the death of public education – for the more people who are pushed out of attending the UC system because of rising fees, the more likely that they will be driven into the private education options he has an invested interest in. This is what is commonly known as a conflict of interest. Why should this man be on the governing board of a system of public higher learning? But Dick Blum is only one man, and the problem is much deeper than that. Almost everyone on the Board of Regents is a member of the 1 percent – these are not people invested in public education, these are people whose interests, associations, and ideology aligns them with the same forces which are leading to privatization. How the hell are they overseeing the well-being of the UC?
In case I am being confusing, let me be clear: this situation is seriously fucked-up. (SLOW DOWN) Public education in California is currently in the process of being destroyed. This is not going to happen all at once, and there will be set-backs to this process – I am happy, for example, that Prop 30 passed this fall; this will provide important emergency funds to the UC. However, do not think, for one second, that this means everything is fixed now; that the people and the power behind privatization have gone away or been defeated. Politics in California and in this country was not reversed by this single ballot initiative. So we have to continue to fight, and refuse to passively be a part of this process.
Let me close with a thought on why this matters. Why should we want to throw ourselves in this fight against privatization? After all, I know most of you right now are just worried about what the hell you are going to do once you get out of here – if you are going to be able to find a job, and if you’re going to be able to avoid having to take a job that will make you miserable. I know it’s frightening, and I know it might seem easier to keep your head down, get your degree, get out and enter the race. But here’s the thing : Every society needs spaces and institutions not dedicated to generating profit for private gain. Every society needs spaces and institutions where public goods, such as knowledge, citizenship, and democracy, are the purpose of the institution. Unless this is the case, there is no place in society where we can go where we will be anything other than commodities. You may think you just want to get out of school now, but where will you be headed to? What kind of jobs will you be getting? How will you be treated there? Are these jobs going to be enough to sustain a life of dignity for yourself and for your family and for your friends? In this time of rising inequality, these are serious questions which are seriously related to the question of privatization. Because here’s the thing – if you let them commodify you here, in this university, then there will be nothing to stop them from commodifying you out there, in every nook and cranny where you try to make a life for yourself. And is this what you want to be the rest of your life, a commodity? Is this how you wanted to be treated, as a product rather than a human being? Because let me tell you, I sure as hell do not.
So let’s do something about this fucked-up situation and refuse to hand over some of the last remaining public institutions of America – let’s stand up and say, I am a student of the University of California, and I will NOT BE COMMODIFIED.