Students, workers, faculty and community members came together today, at UC Santa Cruz’s Bay Tree Plaza, to voice opposition to privatization, fee hikes and pay cuts. This is the same site where, one year ago, dozens of students kicked off a year of occupations, strikes and teach-ins by seizing and communizing a study lab known as the “Graduate Student Commons.” Though the number of people in attendance today (estimated to be 100-200) was overshadowed by the massive rallies and campus shut-downs of the last academic year, enthusiasm was high in the plaza as students shared the stage with workers and local politicians. Participants vowed to continue the struggle against the corporatization of public education with further direct actions, legislative pressure and consciousness-raising.
The highlight of the event was a skit by faculty members that literalized the metaphor of “pie-charts” in order to make apparent the disproportionate allocation of funds given over to administration. Some faculty members – dressed as cigar-puffing fat-cats – wore signs identifying them as “executive compensation,” and “Yudof’s housing expenses,” while other faculty played the roles of “teaching budget,” “ethnic resources,” “graduate student support” and “language instructors.” As might be predicted, when dollar sign-inscribed apple pies were laid out before these competing sectors of the UC budget, it was the administrative concerns that wolfed down the lion’s share, while other players were left with crumbs and crust. By the end of the skit the crowd was roaring with boos and laughter at the expense of the good-willed faculty who, it should be said, had a great deal of pie on their faces.
Check out the video here:
Among the participating professors, all of whom are members of the Faculty Organizing Group (FOG), was Ben Leeds Carson. At UCSC, Professor Carson (http://bencarson.squarespace.com/) teaches music theory and composition for the Music Deptartment and graduate level courses in art theory and practice for the Digital Art and New Media program. He joined me for an informal conversation about the role of artist-academics in this social movement and the importance of arts divisions embracing struggle for public education. Carson’s analysis of how Arts divisions have been suffering the effects of privatization begins with the administration pulling a bait-and-switch. Departments were told a decade ago that when their enrollment increased, so would their funding. “Increasing enrollment was easy,” Carson remarked, “but the goal posts shifted; disparities in resource allocation continued.” The paradox that Carson emphasizes is that at the same time as class sizes have increased, there is ever more pressure on academic-artists to seek the sponsorship of private and corporate donors who sometimes value art as a kind of luxury. Voicing a common sentiment, Carson explained that “we’re left with an impression that our programs don’t deserve funding simply for their serious contributions to research and education.”
Such sentiments are reinforced by commonplace misunderstandings about UC budgets. “There is a widespread perception that engineering and biomedical research pay for themselves with corporate partnerships,” Carson explains, “but we (arts instructors) offer a disproportionately large amount of the teaching labor that generates the U.C.’s tuition revenue.”
Despite the palpability of these problems, Carson notes that there is “far from a consensus” about how to grapple with these pressing issues. At UCSC the struggle against privatization has been overwhelmingly led by educators from the humanities and social sciences; a lack of consensus as to what is to be done may one of the reasons for the relatively meager response of Arts faculty to the student movements. Carson asks, “why aren’t arts faculty angry about this subservient funding model? It doesn’t match the reality of our contribution to knowledge and learning at this institution.”
Though reluctant to make overarching claims about “Art,” Carson’s optimism for the future role of artists in social movements is grounded in his simple observation that almost all arts practitioners today are likely to agree that art has an important role to play in the production of social values. “I hardly think anyone would disagree with the idea that art is a provocation,” Carson explains, “when we distinguish ourselves as creative workers, or as producers of culture, we understand that distinction as something of an ability to echo society back to itself in a way that is illuminating or in a way that teaches.”
That sense of the imaginative capacity of creative workers was certainly bourne out by the faculty skit and in other events throughout the day in Santa Cruz. A critical-mass type bike ride, students dressed as zombies (in a now familiar reference to Yudof’s “graveyard”) and a rally to bring together K-12 students and teachers with higher education activists were each infused with a sense of good humor and possibility as Santa Cruz kicks off another year of actions in defense of public education.
Kyle McKinley is a student in the Digital Arts and New Media MFA Program at UC Santa Cruz. Read more at http://kylemckinley.com/