Reflections on the Master Plan Reading

27 Jul

A duration performance reminding passerbys at UCI about the progressive history of free education in California which is currently being dismantled.

From: Eric Morrill (UCI – June 26, 2010)

3:25 AM. People coming and going. Flood lights on a solitary reader. Espresso. All of this is happening in the middle of the UC Irvine campus, on an outdoor stage by the Student Center. This was the 15th hour of a 24-hour reading of the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education in California, May 3rd-4th, 2010. We, a group of all ages, students and faculty, came and went, our numbers ranging from between 4 to 40 throughout the event. The purpose: encourage discussions about public education, publically funded education, raises in tuition, and politics generally. Thousands of people walked by, some stopping to inquire, contribute, or debate.

We selected the 1960 Master Plan, the first comprehensive plan for the UCs, out of curiosity. What, specifically, did this document contain? How have views of public higher education changed since 1960? Which aspects of the plan were realized, and which – positive or negative – were forgotten? How did they treat fees and tuition? (It turns out they resolutely confirm that California’s nearly century-long tradition, in 1960, of tuition-free education should be continued.) In the current climate of UC fiscalization, a climate of rising tuition (it’s a sham to call them “fees”) and increased private sector dependence, student engagement appears everywhere to be on the rise. This reading, as a public and theatrical event, was an opportunity to bring these issues to those who have not yet become concerned with the system-wide changes taking place. As the curious stopped to inquire, the Master Plan became the first step for discussing long-term consequences of our current situation, both cultural – as our concept of public education is redefined – and economic – as California now awaits increasingly debt-ridden college graduates.

Over the 24-hour period, from noon to noon, we had time to read the Master Plan nearly twice, having also read the 2010 Report by the Commission on the Future in the middle of the night. The reader’s voice was not amplified, as it was impossible to obtain authorization. As a consequence, there were times, near noon each day, when the speaker was hard if not impossible to hear. But there was something compellingly real about this material constraint: political thought and community engagement, after all, can’t be imposed, but require curiosity and a willingness to understand one’s environment. And the important exchanges happened during discussions that the reading generated, as those in the larger group introduced themselves to onlookers and struck up conversations. The event concluded with an improvised speech by J. Brook Haley, commemorating the anniversary of the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970.

The project was organized by PhD students D. Seneca Lindsay (Earth System Science) and Eric Morrill (Visual Studies), although the event evolved organically as those present contributed food (thanks especially to Professor Eyal Amiran), blankets, decorations, or voices. While this event hasn’t prevented one of my best students from dropping out of college due to increases in tuition, with any luck others agree that our 24 hours together have brought these issues one step further into the public space.

Eric Morrill is currently a PhD candidate in Visual Studies at UC Irvine, where he studies art leading up to 1968, Happenings, ideas of experimentation in cultural contexts, and modern art theory. Trained in photography and music composition in France, his works and critical writings have appeared in journals and alternative exhibition spaces since 2006. As a curator, he co-edited Objets Temporels, a French-language volume on artist Victor Burgin, published in 2007 by the Presses Universitaires de Rennes. His dissertation, “Experimental Art: Allan Kaprow and François Morellet” will explore the history of “experimentation” in the visual arts, and the effects this idea had on 1960s and subsequent art. He currently lives and works in Berkeley’s cafés.

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