Bringing Democracy Back

“Do you support Democratizing Education?” Various forms of this phrase were scrawled across the ground in chalk and on posters along Ring Road early last Monday morning on the first day of winter quarter. By noon, some of the posters had disappeared and footsteps had carried away most of the chalk. But by then this didn’t matter because the rally had already begun. Students from a disenchanted student body vocalized this message of frustration. Diverse student groups joined together under the single cause of “de-privatizing” the public university. The rally expressed student outrage against the recent 32 percent fee increase, violations of campus workers’ rights, growing layoffs, furloughs and cuts in services that are leaving students paying more for substantially less. The rally also called on the UCI campus community to participate in the upcoming “Open Forum” with Chancellor Drake on Wednesday January 13 from 5-6 p.m. in HIB 100.

But what does the phrase “democratizing education” mean, exactly? The word “democracy” inspires ideas about free speech, public voting and a government run by the people for the people, rather than on the backs of the people. What I see is a system that has opted to use its students as a piggy bank on a rainy day, by imposing increasing fees without the consent of our votes. And while it is continuously shoved down our throats that the country, especially California, is in a recession, why is it that we are still seeing so much money being poured into prisons, into bailing out banks and into the never-ending quagmire of war in the Middle East and Afghanistan?

The message that this sends to students is that education is not a top priority. While an extra $2500 might not seem like a lot to students attending more expensive private universities, this recent wave of activism protests something a lot more serious: the death of diversity in higher education. The fact that increasing fees will eventually shut minorities out of the UC system cannot be ignored. As the government continues to rely more and more on the public university to bail out its mistakes, nothing will stand in the way of higher and higher fees. In the future, low-income students, mostly minorities, will no longer consider the UC as a plausible option for higher education.

The media has portrayed UCI student and union protestors as a group of disjointed rabble-rousers who don’t understand what they are fighting for. When one takes the time to read the comments left on articles written on this subject by the general media, a major criticism of student protestors is their supposed sense of “self-entitlement.” However, is it so unheard of for students to feel that they deserve quality and affordable education from a public university system that was founded on those very principles?

Back to the issue of democracy. What I want to see from this Open Forum on Wednesday with Chancellor Drake is a proactive and interactive dialogue between students and administration with both parties standing on equal ground. I want Chancellor Drake to face his students, stand behind his actions or lack of actions, and answer the pressing questions and concerns of his constituents. Because it is only when students, faculty and administration are able to sit down and discuss the hard facts behind the misinformation and assumptions that something concrete can be achieved.

By concrete, I mean more progressive action than wasting trees on easily ignored letter-writing campaigns. There is nothing more powerful than direct action. The last time students attempted to have their voices heard they were met with beatings, Tasers and arrests by campus police. And yet, it is through protests like these that students were able to see visible action, such as extra library hours or the abovementioned forum. But these changes are only band-aids on a gaping wound. The breakdown in communication between students, administration and faculty occurs when the actions and motives of each are misunderstood. It’s time for all students and administration to band together, cut through the bureaucratic lingo,and seek radical change. Do you support Democratizing Education?

Chinyere Cindy Amobi is a third-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at camobi@uci.edu. Ilgiz Khisamov is a fifth-year English major. He can be reached at ikhisamo@uci.edu.