Faculty Voice Newsletter: February 2017: News in a Time of Troubles

 

by David Lau

CCFT Flex Week Events

On Tuesday January 17, the part-timers Solidarity lunch saw a great turnout. More than fifty faculty members and three governing board members shared mole enchiladas, salad, frijoles, and refreshments. The speak-out and discussion turned on the diverse inspirations and passions as well as the struggles of adjunct faculty from across campus, with board members Gary Reese, newly elected Leticia Mendoza, and Ed Banks chiming in with their visions for Cabrillo and some words about their respective backgrounds. Opposition to repeatability restrictions surfaced again and again in faculty comments.

Jonathan Lightman, executive of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, visited Wednesday’s CCFT Luncheon. His talk began with an account of the confirmation hearings of Donald Trump’s Education Secretary nominee, the billionaire mega-donor Betsy DeVos. A Christian zealot and school privatization advocate, DeVos has played a substantial role in the Detroit Public Schools debacle. It is hard to do worse than Ex-President Obama’s pick for Education, Arne Duncan, a man who infamously declared Hurricane Katrina was a good thing because it led to the complete privatization of the school system. Nonetheless, Trump has done it. For Lightman, DeVos, who married into the Amway Corporation family, showed very little knowledge of the U.S. Public School System. Her ignorant agenda includes pushing for vouchers and private charter operators. She is so dangerous that two Republicans (Collins and Murkowski) and the deplorable Eli Broad are opposing her on grounds of inexperience and incompetence. A fifty-fifty split in the Senate means that Mike Pence will vote to break the tie, an unprecedented development in the history cabinet confirmations.

Little was said in the Senate hearings about DeVos’s policies on higher education, though one can assume she’ll unharness for-profit private colleges, like the now-defunct Trump University. The Obama Education Department did reign in some of the most egregious practices of for-profit colleges. Lightman speculated that there may be even bigger pushes for online teaching and course offerings; he reminded the audience that just a few years ago the University of California attempted to launch the “New UC”; the assumption here is that the brick and mortar concept of the university is outdated.

Trump Era at the Outset

Lightman emphasized several things in his comments on the Trump era, beginning with academic freedom. The right-wing media and student groups have some clear targets, including pedagogical practices and research areas of faculty in the humanities and social sciences. Legislative and gubernatorial attacks on professors of attacks are now a kind of norm in states with Republican controlled legislatures. Trump’s election means they will find there way to states where the Democrats exercise control, a number that has drastically diminished.

Campus climate even in deeply blue California has begun to change. Emboldened right-wing Republican activists on campus have already welcomed Milo Yiannopoulos, the infamous know-nothing, right-winger and Breitbart News columnist. At UC Davis, that formidable redoubt of the student movement, demonstrators shutdown the recent Milo event by barricading the doors of an auditorium, while Milo’s University of Washington event saw altercations with one demonstrator shot in a melee. It is students along with faculty who will feel the brunt of any political chill on campus, which could include increased surveillance of student activists. Indeed, Lightman underlined the issue of guns on campus, an issue that Republican-controlled Texas knows well. Here he speculated that we may see gun-rights advocates push for Federal legal mandates that supersede state and local laws, which currently prohibit firearms on college campuses.

Jerry Falwell Jr. will head a Federal higher education task force that seeks to grant more leeway to for-profit colleges and accreditors. Expect changes to the landscape that benefit for-profit colleges (from degree mills to conservative religious “universities” like Liberty University, where Fallwell Jr. inherited the throne) and accreditors like the ACCJC, which have tried to impose a kind of private sector “outcomes” version of financial management discipline on California’s Community College system. One of the positive events of the New Year has been the renewal of City College San Francisco’s accreditation for a full seven. The fight against ACCJC was won by Local 2121 and CFT; CCSF’s victory over the rogue accreditor is a great example of our union dues at work.

Unions in the Crosshairs and Anti-Trump Protests

Trump’s nominee for Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch, 49, is yet another example of a Christian zealot in the Trump administration; a Federal judge appointed by President Bush in 2006 (while still in his thirties), the Harvard Law-classmate of Obama sided with Hobby Lobby in the case against the Affordable Care Act as a violation of religious liberty. On the Federal circuit he universally reasons with business against discrimination lawsuits, consumer litigants, and the National Labor Relations Board (another body where Trump will be making appointments). In a moment of unintended irony, knuckle-dragging Gorsuch once told an audience at Case Western that judges should strive “to apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward,” as though the legal past of the United States represents a viable alternative for the diverse multitude of families and workers who are the base of every urban area in the country.

While it is too soon to say what will happen with Roe v. Wade and any number of other decisions, our legal bodies are obviously drifting to the hard right. A number of Friedrichs-like cases are pressing their way forward in the court system; it could be that Janus v. ASCME will be the case to overturn Abood, once again prohibiting public sector unions from collecting agency fee from non-members, a development that would dramatically weaken the last bastion of organized labor in the U.S. Though Senate rules currently include a filibuster for the confirmation of Supreme Court Justices, Trump is openly encouraging Senate leaders to go with the so-called nuclear option, scuttling any filibuster from the Senate rules, and thus paving the way for the confirmation of Gorsuch. If agency fee is lost, the financial power of unions will be severely weakened. It is then that we should expect a renewed attack on public sector pensions in California, a point that Lightman noted in his talk. If we are substantially damaged as a union, even more working people will lose what little voice they do maintain in the political process.

But for the moment people power is very much asserting itself in popular anti-Trump demonstrations around the country and the world. The Friday of Trump’s inauguration saw unprecedented street protests across the country, with nearly 300 arrested on felony riot charges in Washington D.C. In Santa Cruz, “the people’s inauguration” united organizers on campus with a rally downtown that had the support of many local businesses. A march from UCSC arrived at the clock tower downtown, where several speeches criticized the political situation from the far left. The large group of students and locals later fragmented into several workshops and a General Assembly. Saturday’s Women’s March drew record participation across the country. There was also sizable turnout in California. I attended the very large march in downtown Santa Cruz with my wife and son; it was a family friendly affair. I saw several colleagues and friends with their spouses or children. There was also a large march in Watsonville that morning.

In downtown Santa Cruz, joy and exuberance hung in the air while the Saturday march took its time getting going. In two hours around and walking away from City Hall, down Pacific, and then toward Louden Nelson, we never heard a speech nor saw the end of the march. In Washington D.C. and San Francisco, very large crowds were effectively addressed, and on the whole of the mass uprising put the Trump Administration on its back foot during its first weekend in office. The writer John Berger once argued that mass demonstrations are “rehearsals of revolutionary awareness,” so even without effective demands it seems sustained resistance to Trump’s various plans and schemes is taking shape. Berger wrote: “The larger the demonstration, the more powerful and immediate (visible, audible, tangible) a metaphor it becomes for their total collective strength.”

The immigration ban effecting seven Muslim-majority nations is the latest example of Trump making good on right-wing campaign pledges. It too is being met by protest. The ban is emblematic of a right-wing neo-isolationist government; as Patrick Cockburn points out, the order reproduces the same disproportionate U.S. reactions that have turned the War on Terrorism into such a disastrous failure. “Al-Qaeda and its clones had been a small organization with perhaps as few as a thousand militants in south east Afghanistan and north west Pakistan. But thanks to Bush’s calamitous decisions after 9/11, it now has tens of thousands of fighters, billions of dollars in funds and cells in dozens of countries. Few wars have failed so demonstrably or so badly as ‘the war on terror.’ ”

Lashing out indiscriminately at Muslims feeds support for hardline jihadi groups, making attacks more likely, not less. Al Qaeda-like groups seek to produce an overreaction. Rather than being about protecting the homeland, Trump’s ban is consonant with US imperial strategy. Saudi Arabia—where 14 of the original 19 hijackers on 9/11 had origins—is not on the banned list of countries, but Iran is. Iran, a Shia confessional state, is on the opposite side of a war with Al Qaeda and Sunni jihadists, who have a war against Shia Muslims as a whole. Iran is thus very unlikely to be sending Isis-style terrorists, yet the Trump administration is already pursuing new sanctions against Iran.

Direct action protests of considerable scale and effectiveness greeted Trump’s ban, as activists flocked to JFK, SFO, O’Hare, and many other airports to force the release of stranded refugees with a direct action blockade. This was the atmosphere in which a Federal Court ruled against the executive order. Chanting “immigrants are welcome here,” demonstrators taking great risks snarled traffic and blocked escalators, impeding the ordinary operations of some of the most heavily policed zones in the U.S. I thought of John Berger’s essay “On the Nature of Mass Demonstrations” again: “This creativity may be desperate in origin, and the price to be paid for it high, but it temporarily changes their outlook. They become corporately aware that it is they or those whom they represent who have built the city and who maintain it. They see it through different eyes. They see it as their product, confirming their potential instead of reducing it.”

Postscript

Last night, a large crowd of demonstrators shut down the right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos’s event at UC Berkeley. The 1500 or so souls massed around Sproul Plaza. Yiannopoulos was being hosted by Cal’s College Republicans. The event was called off after some demonstrators disrupted all access to the building; they took down the barricade, set off fireworks and lit a fire amid broken glass, while the cops for their part fired paintball rounds and deployed pepper spray on the crowd. A celebratory dance party broke out on Sproul Plaza and the demonstrators refused to go home sensing that the event might still take place if they left the area.

January 30-February 2 2017

 

 

 

 

Posted in Accreditation, Elections, Feb 2017 Faculty Voice, Legislation, Repeatability, Struggle in the Courts, Student Equity