Democratize Education

A troubling editorial on the student movement recently appeared in the New U (“The Times They Are A-Changin’” Mar. 8, 2010). Not only did the Editorial Board treat student-activists like rowdy children, emboss facts (a shopping cart pushed off a sidewalk became a shopping cart pushed off a bridge), and condescend to the entire student body, it totally misrepresented the Council for Democratizing Education (CDE) and its role within the larger student movement.

By discussing our demands in a review (actually a blithe dismissal) of the March 4th protests, the Board made it seem like we led the protests and that we speak for the entire student movement. In doing so, by making our one group representative of the entire movement, they did a huge disservice to the spectacular diversity of people and views in the movement. And make no mistake, the diversity of dedicated students and workers is the movement’s greatest strength. So, allow us to make clear what the CDE is, what we do, and why our demands are what they are.

The Council for Democratizing Education is a loose-knit coalition of undergraduate and graduate students at UCI responsible for the Feb. 24th sit-in at Aldrich Hall during which 14 students and three union organizers were arrested while presenting our demands at the Chancellor’s office. We are made up of students from different on and off-campus groups, working alongside the service workers’ union to ensure the rights of all people to affordable higher education, to be safe on campus, and to have a meaningful say in how the university is run.

Although we formed in the wake of the 32 percent fee increase, and while we fully support the efforts to repeal the fee increases, we are not solely concerned with the fee increases. We recognize that the 32 percent fee increase is only the latest in a long history of actions that have closed the university off to poor, Black, and Hispanic students, and that the budget crisis is only the latest pretext for laying-off and cutting the wages of the most vulnerable workers on campus while protecting the jobs and wages of unnecessary and overpaid administrators.

We also recognize that the university is still an unsafe and hostile place for undocumented students, queer and gender-nonconforming students, dissenters, and students of color.

Finally, we recognize that students and workers have no say in how the university is run. ASUCI and the New U have proven themselves, time and again, to be either incapable or unwilling — probably both — when it comes to standing up to the administration, and the student movement, including our own small group, has stepped in to fill the vacuum left by our “official representatives.”

Our demands (available at www.democratizeeducation.wordpress.com) speak to these interrelated issues. When we demand changes in how financial aid is awarded, for financial aid for AB540 (undocumented) students, and for a recruitment and retention center, we are demanding a more affordable and inclusive school — better yet, a public school!

When we demand gender-neutral bathrooms and amnesty for the Irvine 11, we are demanding that the university commit itself to the safety of its students, safety from gender policing, and safety from police action against protestors.

When we demand fair pay and full benefits for service workers, or for the administration to disarm campus police of Tasers, to publicly disclose its connections with the military and with private security contractors, and to end contracts with companies that use prison labor — in fact, even in the very act of making demands — we are demanding that students and workers have a real say in the decision-making process.

Our demands are neither unreasonable nor impossible, we demand little more than actions already taken by universities across the state and country. We would be pleased — though definitely not satisfied — if the administration would just publicly support, in both word and deed, our dozen simple, yet interconnected demands.

However, we understand that whether students and workers make one demand or a thousand demands, the administration will always respond with a cold shoulder and a line of police. And no matter our demands or our protest strategy, the New U will mock, dismiss and misrepresent student-activism under the guise of being “concerned” for the movement.

Now, we must say again that we do not speak for the entire movement; we speak only for ourselves. Our demands are only one approach to the problems facing students and workers in the UC, but it is heartening to see so many students supporting and engaging with them. We support free association, so if you disagree with our approach or our demands, we welcome you to start your own group and make your own demands.

Finally, let us not forget what is at stake here and what we, as students and workers, are working for: safe campuses open to all students, where everyone on campus has a say in policy-making, because the only way for us to enact lasting, positive change — to save our university — is to democratize it.

Ryan Davis is a fourth-year political science major and can be reached at rsdavis@uci.edu. Saron Ephraim is a fourth-year African-American Studies major and can be reached at sephraim@uci.edu.