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October 13, 2014
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Free Speech and Free UC, a paper presented by Chris Newfield

Chris Newfield presented the 4th of 5 talks from The Operation of the Machine panel, UC Berkeley October 1, introduced by Prof. Colleen Lye, Co-Chair of the Berkeley Faculty Association.

Members of the FSM had to fight for free speech on campus, as we still must. But they did not have to fight for a free university.  They already had one. They succeeded at winning specific free speech protections.  The free university, they took for granted.

Watch the video of the presentation [HERE]

Read the full paper on Remaking the University [HERE]

 

 

 

 

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October 10, 2014
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Video of “The Operation of the Machine”

Streaming video of the Berkeley Faculty Association Presentation: “The Operation of the Machine: U.C. Then and Now” A Teach-in on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Free Speech Movement” (UC Berkeley, October 1, 2014) is now available:

Prof. Leigh Raiford (10:44):

Prof. Wendy Brown (12:10):

Prof. Chris Newfield (13:39):

Amanda Armstrong (13:28):

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October 10, 2014
by Admin 2
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Free Speech is not for Feeling Safe, by Wendy Brown

This is the third part of a week long coverage in Remaking the University which focuses on the Free Speech Movement.  Wendy Brown, former BFA Co-Chair and current Advisory Member of the Faculty Association, prepared this statement for the BFA sponsored event The Operation of the Machine: UC Then and Now. The statement is posted on  Remaking the University, a blog published by Michael Meranze and Chris Newfield.  You can access the full post on the http://utotherescue.blogspot.com/ by clicking HERE, and view the presentation on our website [HERE].

Free Speech is not for Feeling Safe

by Wendy Brown, Political Science, UC BerkeleyI want to make two brief points this afternoon, one about freedom and one about speech.If forced to compress into a few sentences the contours of student freedom and its limits in public universities 50 years ago and now, those sentences might go this way:

Then:  Because developing the next generation of Californians as educated individuals, citizens and contributing members of society was widely valued as a public good, the university offered a free, high quality education to qualifying (mostly white) middle class and working class students.  Faculty (also mostly white and male) had significant power over large domains of university policy– they determined what was to be learned and how, what counted as an educated person worthy of a degree, and much more.  But the university administration not only prohibited student political expression, it codified a panoply of restrictions as it sought to be a zone clear of politics, unmarried sex, illegal substances and, implicitly, non-whites.  Thus “the gears of the machine”—from racial exclusion to speech restrictions—were tangible controls that cast students as rightless children being prepared for educated participation in society, economy and politics.

That was Then.  And Now?  UC doors are open to anyone with the wherewithal, parental pressure or supplemental support structures to deliver the test scores, grades, and profile to compete for admission (or who have singular athletic ability, or are well-off non-residents). No longer a public good or publicly supported, UC is construed as a place to invest in oneself as human capital, and according to a set of calculations about what will appreciate or diminish this capital.  Courses are increasingly on offer like Walmart goods, and respond heavily to consumer demand.  And faculty power has receded to a few small corners of the plantation—students feel it most in the form of access to classes and grades.  In the domain of student political, social and sexual expression, just about anything is permitted.

However, the burden is on each of you to invest your time and effort strategically, not only to gain high return on your expensive investment but to develop the little speck of human capital that is you and that is yours alone to develop.

This burden is so great and so impossible to put down for anything —an alluring music class or other exciting course outside your major, let alone a political cause, or dwelling for uncounted hours with an idea, a question, a compelling bit of text. Thus, if there are few repressive rules or overt restrictions on what you can do or say, the conversion of the university from a public good to a private investment made by you and your family radically changes the coordinates of unfreedom faced by students today.  How much can you afford to think, learn, want or do that does not comport with enhancing your future value to employers, grad or professional schools?  What freedom to speak, protest or organize against injustice can you exercise that would not be suicidal for the human capital you are enjoined to develop here, into which you have invested family life savings or taken on debt, and which has become the supervening if not sole purpose of a university education?
Thus, today, the gears of the machine don’t clang and grind out there:  they are are soft, quiet, and deep inside us.  And throwing our bodies on them in resistance requires a complex contortion and commitment.

Ok, that was freedom.  Now speech, where I will also mark just one of many major differences between then and now, or between what we might call the repressive liberal era and the putatively emancipated neoliberal era.  This one pertains to the ways that the neoliberal assault on public things—a public sphere, public goods, public life–has led both university administrators and would-be activists into a certain confusion about free speech as a distinctly political right, one born from political struggle and secured historically for political life.  We have seen a bit of this confusion in recent months when “civility” or “respectful listening” have been mistakenly declared an inherent entailment of free speech or academic freedom. Certainly civility and respectful listening may be expected at a dinner table, a university classroom or a department meeting—it would be good if they prevailed more routinely.  But they have nothing to do with the exercise of free speech in public, where (barring threats, harassment, or dangerous incitements), anyone may say anything…and no one must listen or listen well.

A far more treacherous instance of contemporary confusion about our political rights comes from the Supreme Court in recent years.  From Citizens United to Hobby Lobby, the Court majority has been busily granting political freedoms—of speech, of religious belief– to corporations who may now use their enormous wealth and power to overwhelm the last standing icon of democracy, elections, and withhold medical insurance for Constitutionally guaranteed reproductive rights.

This confusion, from high places, of whom and what our political rights are for, and what they do and don’t entail, would take hours to analyze properly.  But I want to consider one especially troubling version of it on college campuses today, one that we can do something about.  This is the effort to regulate public speech to protect certain vulnerable groups from offense, hatred, being retraumatized.

This protection racket begin, alas, a couple of decades ago with well-intentioned feminist and anti-racist efforts to outlaw hateful or offensive speech and images.  But this tool, which aimed to shield the historically hated or subordinated from being hit again in the present, has not remained in the hands of the Left.  Indeed, while it’s animating the contemporary “trigger warning” madness (a discussion for another day) it has also become one of the more potent instruments of illiberal American ultra-Zionism today.  It is what dignifies the fallacious argument that publicly criticizing Israel on campus creates an unsafe or offensive climate for Jewish students.

So what begin as a concern with subordinating or hateful speech has been appropriated to silence protest against power.  Of course any political argument can be flipped—Californians know this best from the legislation that ended affirmative action, which, you’ll recall, was called The Civil Rights Initiative.  But there’s something more troubling here, which is the confusion of the public sphere with therapeutic spaces or homes.  The domain of free public speech is not one of emotional safety or reassurance, and what you might hear in Sproul Plaza or up at this podium might be disturbing, uncomfortable, enraging, even offensive.

Public speech is one of the most powerful weapons ordinary human beings have, and even the most civilly uttered sentences can disturb or terrify.  Certainly the speeches of Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., or Malcolm X made neither white people nor many blacks feel safe.  Certainly the revolutionary slogan, “liberty, equality, fraternity” did not reassure either the French aristocracy or its minions in mid-18th century Paris.  Do you think Wall St Bankers felt safe when they walked past thousands of Occupy protestors decrying the obscene wealth, destruction of democracy, and carnage of public goods for which they were being held responsible?  Do you think closeted homosexuals felt safe when the Stonewall rebellion broke out? Do you think men who have pushed, drunk or drugged women into unwanted sex feel safe as women on campuses everywhere are finally speaking out against the commonplace of sexual assault?  Or that civil servants, police and other hired guns of regimes across the Middle East felt safe when citizens amassed in public squares to denounce them during the Arab spring?  Emotional safety is not what the public sphere and political speech promise.  It’s for cultivating at home if you are lucky enough to have one.  It is what you seek among friends and intimates where you expect your vulnerability to be taken into account.

A university education, too, ought to call you to think, question, doubt.   It ought to incite you to question everything you assume, think you know or care about, not because those assumptions or cares will be jettisoned.  Rather, because, as those wild-eyed radicals Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill insisted, there is no possibility of knowing what’s right, justified, valuable or true unless you question deeply and relentlessly…unless you’re willing to consider whether your attachment to an idea or principle is really just a teddy bear you cling to, a comforting familiar.  The public sphere and a university classroom are not for hanging onto your teddy bears.  Your bears have their place, back in your room where you’re safe and restored.   But when we demand—from the Right OR the Left– that universities be cleansed of what is disturbing, upsetting, enraging, “offensive” or triggering, we are complicit both with the neoliberal destruction of university as a place of being undone, transformed, awakened (rather than a place to get job training) AND with neoliberalism’s destruction of public spaces and the distinctive meaning of political rights, (rights that some in this room fought to bring onto campus 50 years ago).

Let’s demand something far more important, which is to be provoked and challenged, every day and down to our very toes in what remains of this extraordinary institution.  Let’s have the courage to stand for that, and to be willing to withstand it.

 

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October 8, 2014
by Admin 2
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The Free Speech Movement and the Unfinished Work of Civil Rights at UC Berkeley

By BFA Member Leigh Raiford, Professor of African American Studies

Fifty years ago today, Jack Weinberg, a student activist, set up a table outside of Sproul Hall in direct defiance of the campus ban on political speech. What followed is of course well-known: a campus police car drove into the middle of the plaza to arrest Weinberg, students surrounded the vehicle and occupied Sproul Plaza for the next 33 hours, Marios Savio climbed atop the car and gave a powerful speech….  And the Free Speech Movement was born.

What perhaps is not so well-known about this moment is that Jack Weinberg was the head of UC Berkeley’s CORE chapter. CORE—the Congress of Racial Equality—was a frontline civil rights organization, that along with SNCC—the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—had organized the massive black voter registration and education effort in Mississippi that year, known as Freedom Summer.

Read full article on Remaking the University [here]

And view the presentation on our website [here]

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October 6, 2014
by Admin 2
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The Operation of the Machine: UC Then and Now

This is the first of several papers that Remaking the University blog, by Michael Meranze and Chris Newfield, is  publishing  on the implications of the Free Speech Movement.  Colleen Lye kicks off the week with these questions.  More are explored by Leigh Raiford, Wendy Brown, Chris Newfield, and Amanda Armstrong, whose talks will also be published this week on the http://utotherescue.blogspot.com/

THE OPERATION OF THE MACHINE: UC THEN AND NOW

By Colleen Lye, English Department, UC Berkeley, and Co-chair, Berkeley Faculty Association.

This fall marks the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) at UC Berkeley, a student movement that since Mario Savio’s death in 1996 has gained increasing institutional acknowledgement as part of the campus’s celebrated history. The 50th anniversary commemorations, however, got off to an unexpectedly rocky start with Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’s campus-wide message on civility. The free speech rights won by students in 1964 became the basis for time, place and manner regulations governing student conduct. It appeared to some that Chancellor Dirks’s comments suggested a misunderstanding of those rights, or a new policy reversal of them. With media attention already trained on campus because of the FSM anniversary, combined with the fact that the Salaita case at the University of Illinois had, over the course of the summer, turned “civility” into a hot-button word in a debate over faculty academic freedom, an avalanche of negative publicity required the Chancellor to quickly drain the force of his initial remarks in a follow-up message. In a meeting with the staff of The Daily Californian, which had run a critical forum on the Chancellor’s message on civility and his subsequent clarification, Dirks talked about how his own scholarship on colonial India had once analyzed the ways in which civility had been used by those in power to restrain the freedoms of the disempowered. Breathing a sigh of relief, Berkeley faculty, staff and students returned to the business of commemorating the FSM, in light of which a large number of events have been planned for the fall. From the perspective of the Berkeley Faculty Association, FSM-50 represented an opportunity to take stock of the distance traveled since the time when the co-author of the Master Plan and the avatar of student free speech had once been primary antagonists in a drama that kicked off the Sixties as that period in which universities came to be conceived as a base from which to organize for broader social change. Is the increasing sympathy many feel for the position of Clark Kerr—as embattled liberal caught between a reactionary Sacramento and an insurgent student demand for their First Amendment right to express politically consequential speech on campus—indicative of the extent to which we are still fighting the battles of the Sixties but on ever weakening ground? Racial segregation is still with us, feminist reproductive rights are under siege, corporate power has seized extensive control of our democracy, preventing even modest government amelioration of growing economic inequality. The dismantling of the notion that higher education is a public good rather than a consumer choice, and the degradation of the link between democracy and education that follows from that, is something that our UC administrators—scrambling to patch public deficits by all available means on a short-term basis—seem unwilling or unable to combat. Thus since 2009 it has fallen largely to UC students, staff unions and faculty to diagnose our structural situation from the standpoint of the public interest, with this blog serving as a primary outlet for expression. As part of this tradition, the Berkeley Faculty Association organized a teach-in entitled “The Operation of the Machine: UC Then and Now” on Oct 1, in commemoration of the day that thousands of students surrounded a police car on Sproul Plaza that held FSM activist Jack Weinberg, and refused to allow his arrest and removal. At our event last week, UC faculty and student speakers addressed a packed audience on some of the most crucial topics relating to the question of the changed relationship between freedom and the university since the 60s. How does the heavy burden of tokenism placed upon the few African American students left at Berkeley since Prop. 209, and the fact that student athletes are constrained by their scholarships from participation in political protest, combine to rob underrepresented minority students especially of their freedom of speech?  How is the conservative seizure of a therapeutic discourse of a safe campus climate functioning to regulate academic and campus debate in a way that fundamentally departs from an understanding of the university as a place of intellectual provocation and challenge?  How is it that a free university education for Californians can seem so far-fetched when our current high fee/high aid model is contributing to relentlessly increasing student debt, and persists because of a lack of political will rather than an economic necessity?  How is UC Berkeley’s increasing privatization of its real estate holdings likely to raise the cost of student housing and diminish campus community access to facilities and resources previously understood to belong to a university commons?  Finally, what is to be done?

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