With a heavy heart I am not joining many of my students and colleagues who are striking against classes and educational activities at UC Berkeley and other UC campuses across the state beginning tomorrow (and through Friday the 20th). We ought to be united in mobilization to save higher education in California. But in choosing to make the fight a convenient and ideologically satisfying (but for the most part phony) story about privatization, down-sizing, and pernicious, corporate minded university leadership, UC's unions and their student and faculty allies are missing a historic opportunity to engage our fellow citizens in a critical dialog about our state's future.
That future has been mortgaged to expensive dysfunctional prisons and a bipartisan law-enforcement establishment that is committed to mass incarceration at any price. But across three decades in which that project of exiling tens of thousands of largely poor and minority Californians to a prison archipelago of mammoth proportions (which yet remains grotesquely overcrowded) has been constructed, the supporters of higher education in this state have remained silent, assuming that the incarceration of people who don't go to college anyway is not our problem. Now the chickens have come home to roost.
A day of protest in Sacramento to demand an end to mass incarceration and a reinvestment of justice and revenue into problem solving in all our communities would be a cause worth canceling classes for, driving (in car pools) up 1-80 and joining in public debate and education of all our fellow citizens. But to waste three precious days of our semester to engage in self righteous, predictable, and largely irrelevant rites of denunciation against UC's administration? Not so much.
I would ask this of the unions who, having failed to achieve negotiation successes with the university administration, now seek to join grievances with disgruntled students and faculty (whose interests are largely quite different when it comes to dividing up UC's shrinking fiscal pie): where were you when the state built thirty prisons and enacted laws like 3-Strikes? Where are you now in mobilizing your supporters in the legislature to reduce prison populations by any means necessary?