In the immediate wake of 9/11, the American people were united in their patriotism and sense of charity. Everyone gave what they could to the American Red Cross, the survivors’ fund, and even the local firemen on the street with a “fill the boot” campaign. People everywhere were talking about how to investigate terrorist cells without a foolish knee-jerk reaction of scapegoating the Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans among us. We were being generous, and most of us were being smart. Everyone wanted to know what they could do to contribute to recovery. But what was President George Bush’s answer? He didn’t tell us to band together and focus on our common humanity. He didn’t tell us to continue our charity and expand it beyond 9/11 victims and first responders, to take care of one another because we are all Americans and we rise and fall together. No, he told us to go shopping. The best way forward, he told us, was to stimulate the economy, to benefit the whole by increasing our own individual pieces of it.
We’re in a similar moment at UC Davis right now. (Please note that I’m not comparing November 18th at UC Davis to 9/11. I’m just noticing some disconcerting similarities in the post-crisis rhetoric.)
I’ve heard the phrase “crisis opportunity” multiple times in conjunction with the pepper spray incident and the issues it brought to light around de-facto privatization of public education, students’ rights to freedom of speech and expression, and increasing militarization of campus security. UCD faculty are lining up behind students in a “we’ve got your back” kind of way that I’ve never, ever seen before. People are asking smart questions about just exactly why public education has gotten so expensive in recent years, and how we might fix that. The desire for not just tweaks but sea changes is almost overwhelming. (You know it’s huge when even the Physicists are angry.)
So I attended the Academic Senate meeting where Chancellor Katehi responded to questions about looming privatization and questions about what faculty who want to take action can do to help. In answer, she could have asked for a faculty lobbying campaign to get back the State of California funding we’ve lost. She could have asked for faculty to become engaged in service efforts to make the university run more cheaply and efficiently. She could have asked for faculty to be more giving of our time to our students, so they at least feel they’re getting good value for the outrageous amount they pay.
But instead, Chancellor Katehi advised us to respond when our Deans ask for faculty to make presentations to potential endowment donors, and she asked us to bring in as much grant money as possible. (Coincidence that this was exactly the same strategy the Chancellor advocated before November 18th? I think not.) Now I understand the idea behind these suggestions is that the indirect returns from both endowment and grant revenue sources could theoretically be used to provide student scholarships or offset student tuition. But, in essence, she told us to go shopping. We are supposed to believe that we can best help the most endangered members of our community by increasing our own individual advantages.
To use a phrase that my students probably think I’m too old to use, I call bullshit on that.