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There’s something happening here…

Rosemary Joyce, professor of anthropology | November 27, 2011

and yes, what it is ain’t exactly clear.

Tomorrow afternoon, the Academic Senate of the University of California, Berkeley will convene a Special Division Meeting, in response to a request from 47 named faculty. The agenda consists of a resolution authored by three faculty which is formally a vote of no confidence in the top administrative officers here, sparked by the violent tactics used by UCB police on November 9 when confronting the Occupy Cal movement.

Three alternative resolutions have been offered, which the official meeting notice page informs us are

not on the meeting’s agenda.  They are provided for the information of the meeting attendees.  During the second half of the meeting, an attendee who has the floor may move these or others as substitutes for the primary motion, may move parts of these or others as amendments to the primary motion, or if time allows may move these or other motions as new business.

The alternative resolutions differ primarily in focusing not on a lack of confidence in university leadership (although each, in one way or another, can be read as an expression of at least dismay), but in turning their focus on the broader issues that provided the outrage fueling the call for the Special Division Meeting. They range from a concise condemnation of police actions to a detailed nine point blueprint for how to prevent this from ever happening again. One adds as a final note an explicit statement of “strong opposition to the State’s disinvestment in higher education, which is at the root of the student protests”.

I plan to be at the meeting tomorrow, one of the very few Academic Senate meetings I will have attended in my 17+ years as a faculty member here. I am not proud of not attending Senate meetings. I have good reasons why I often could not: they tend (like this one) to be scheduled late afternoons, and I tend to teach during those same hours. But I have to admit I have rarely felt compelled to go to these meetings, despite the fact that I have been active in faculty governance, serving on committees working on computing, curriculum, and graduate issues.

My sense of the efficacy of the Academic Senate meeting per se is well captured by my colleague Michael O’Hare, writing on The Reality-Based Community that

In the first place, the “Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate” is not a representative body but a committee of the whole 2000-odd of us, and its meetings are rarely attended by more than 100. Obviously it meets in a dense cloud of selection bias that obscures its legitimacy, so its resolutions and actions don’t seem to be taken very seriously by the campus authorities, who can easily say, “well, that’s what several dozen malcontents think, end of story”.

That would be more than an unfortunate outcome for tomorrow’s meeting.

What happens in response to the November 9 police confrontation with Occupy UC should matter to every member of this community. But I don’t want to predict how many of those eligible to be there and debate the issues will actually turn up. I continue to believe that if you opt out you have voluntarily given up your right to complain. I hope to be surprised by an overflow crowd in the meeting place, which the website I just checked tells me can seat 460 people. But I will not be holding my breath

And that really is unfortunate, because this is a historical moment when we have the chance to use our voices productively. I admit to being less taken by the ceremonial motion of no confidence than by the motions that call for the university to take concrete actions. I am especially hopeful that we might pass a resolution that actually calls, at a minimum, for implementation of the June 14, 2010 Brazil Report of the Police Review Board. That’s because for me, the issue is quite simply this: who is the injured party here?

Ceremonial resolutions of no-confidence are an expression of the distress felt by faculty about their leadership. While I do not dismiss this, it pales in comparison to the actual pain inflicted on those, including faculty, who were the targets of violence on November 9.

Changes in policing, unlike ceremonial censure, could change both the potential violence in future protests and the actual atmosphere of the campus that affects everyone, including those with no voice or vote in the senate.

Faculty perspectives differ. We have seen that in recent posts exploring the issues raised by Classics professor Michael Nagler, by History professor David Hollinger, by Sociology professor Claude Fischer, and professor of Molecular and Cell Biology Michael Eisen. But regardless of their differences, what faculty have to say is without exception informed by a sense of history, by a depth of analysis, and by an ethical concern for justice that is precisely what I see as at the core of the Occupy movement more broadly.

If we want leadership, it is time for us to provide it.

Comments to “There’s something happening here…

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with Daryl. At this point, the kids have learned nothing except that we will back down if they challenge authority.

  2. So we set rules for our kids and then we stand by and watch them break the rules without fear of consequences. What have we really taught them, and what about when they are out in the so called “real world”?
    Oh yeah, I forgot, then we apologize!!

    • If I understand your comment, you misunderstand my post. No one is arguing that there should be no “consequences” for engaging in civil disobedience. The tradition of civil disobedience includes a history of accepting arrest.

      What the Academic Senate resolutions that passed all argue is that the consequences experienced by students and faculty protesting were more than should have been expected; out of keeping with the culture of our community; disproportionate to the actions taken.

      What we hope we are teaching our students about broader society– which includes universities, institutions that in no way can be said to be outside the “real world”– is that police, in a civil society, are under the control of the people, and do not employ unwarranted force; and that the people who are delegated power accept the responsibility when something goes wrong on their watch. We are teaching them to be ethical.

  3. To finish the story that Prof. Joyce started so well, the meeting overflowed the room. There were more than 400 faculty present. All four of the resolutions she described were adopted by a 336 to 34 (no, that’s not a typo) vote.

    It was a strong statement.

    But this is not the end. Yes, the faculty made a strong statement of their opinion on events and the underlying direction of the campus that led to them. But it’s also our job to take on our share of the hard, long-lasting work to correct those causes and turn this campus back to what it should be. That part is just starting. As one colleague said while leaving the meeting: “we’ve crafted an expensive tool. Now we have to do the right things with it.”

    • Thank you for the update Bob, our greatest challenge today is to find scholars who will join together and implement solutions with the required sense of urgency to prevent our social, political, economic and environmental crises from overwhelming us, like ancient Greeks did when producing Democracy to prevent their social crises.

      The gravest threat today appears to be that our politicians are creating potentially calamitous crises that we do not have political leadership to prevent or overcome. We just don’t seem to have any more ancient Greek counterparts today like Washington, Jefferson, FDR and Churchill in our new era of globalization and climate change.

      Thus it is imperative for scholars to make the right things happen during our escalating siege of crises before chaos takes over.

      Scholars such as the Academic Senate must join together, taking the lead to protect and perpetuate acceptable long term quality of life for humanity.

  4. Thank you to the Academic Senate for Fighting Back for Civil Rights and Freedom of Speech, again.

    Most sadly this is history repeating, most recently the 60s and 70s movements involving SLATE, FSM, ERA (which still must be ratified), etc.

    Thus, once again we are forced to Fight Back for Democracy after far too many failures since Solon, Cleisthenes et al. created the first Democracy, proving democracy is always in jeopardy as long as We The People allow ourselves to be threatened by forces of greed, immorality and mendacity because they can still fool far too many all the time.

    What still remains to be achieved most importantly are educational opportunities that produce universal respect for the need to constantly protect Democracy, or lose it. We The People must continue throughout our lifetime to learn, think, discuss, participate, contribute, improve and perpetuate a Democracy in order to begin to guarantee quality of life for all future generations.

    One other new, Fight Back movement that requires support is:
    WINWITHWOMEN2012,especially because ERA must be still be ratified if we are ever going to be able to guarantee true Democracy, especially with increasingly tyrannical revocations of voting rights today.

    We must ALL work together or we shall most certainly keep failing to protect and perpetuate the legacy of our Founding Fathers, at our increasing peril.

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