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October 23, 2014
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After the Freeze: UC Privatization Since 2012

by Amanda Armstrong, Rhetoric Department, UC Berkeley.  5th of 5 talks from The Operation of the Machine panel, UC Berkeley October 1, introduced by Prof. Colleen Lye. Cross-posted from Reclaim UC  and posted by Chris Newfield on Remaking the University.

Video of presentation is available on this BFA website by clicking [HERE]

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I’m going to be talking today about the operation of the UC machine then, versus its operation now. But notthen as in 1965. More like then as in 2009.

I still have vivid memories from fall 2009—a semester when students, workers, and professors built assemblies, walked out of classes, and took direct actions to challenge austerity measures being imposed by the newly-appointed UC President, Mark Yudof. These austerity measures included a 32% tuition increase, furloughs for faculty and staff, and layoffs of over 2,000 service workers across the UC system.

At one of the first walkout planning meetings I attended that fall, people were talking about something called the “Meister report,” which I later learned was named after its author, UC Santa Cruz Professor Bob Meister. The Report talked about how UC administrators were able to take out low-interest construction bonds because they essentially pledged to Moody’s and other rating agencies that they would raise student tuition if necessary to pay back the bonds.

The Meister Report challenged the official story of the 2009 tuition hikes, which claimed that the hikes were necessary given the state’s defunding of public education. The report suggested that, in hiking tuition so drastically, UC administrators weren’t only making up for state defunding – they were also showing bond rating agencies that they had the political will and capacity to deliver steep fee hikes if necessary. And they were protecting their ability to carry on with construction projects, even if this meant trimming funds for basic instruction and saddling students with more debt.

In this way, the Meister Report opened up questions about how and in whose interests UC administrators were managing the money they did have, and about why so many construction projects were moving forward even at a moment of financial crisis. 2009 was thus defined by the politicization both of UC real estate development and of rising student debt levels; it was also a period of significant political mobilization. Even so, we did not succeed in stopping the fee hikes, or otherwise reversing austerity on a large scale. There were some minor victories though: at Berkeley, some of the demands of those who occupied Wheeler Hall on November 20thwere realized. The University renewed its essentially no-cost lease to the Rochdale co-op, and a number of custodial workers who had been laid off were rehired.

The larger political victory came in 2011 and 2012. Facing another round of steep fee hikes, students linked their organizing against privatization to the larger occupy movement. We set up encampments on the campuses, and, after acts of police violence, held massive strikes at Berkeley and Davis. The movement broadened through the spring, with people in all sectors of education marching to the capitol building in Sacramento and occupying it, in order to build support for progressive taxation and for the refunding of public education and social services. Ultimately, a ballot initiative for progressive taxation passed and, with guarantees of more state funding, the regents agreed to freeze in-state tuition for at least four years.

Since the political victory of 2012, some things have changed. In the aftermath of the in-state tuition freeze, the priorities and practices of UC administrators have mutated somewhat, which, I want to suggest, presents an altered political context, and some ambiguities, for those of us interested in challenging University privatization. To begin to get a sense of this new terrain, we can look at recent bond rating reports and UC financial documents.

This year, two rating agencies, Moodys and Fitch, downgraded the UC’s bond rating. In explaining their decision, Moodys noted that, while “The university’s debt doubled over the last eight years,…. Political and public scrutiny of the rising cost of higher education will constrain UC’s ability to grow net tuition revenue.” They continued: “The university’s relatively low cost compared to other market leading universities and expansive geographic draw of students help offset these pressures.” In other words, UC administrators aren’t politically able to raise enough tuition revenue to offset their debts, but at least they can make money on out-of-state tuition, and maybe sometime soon they’ll be able to raise in-state tuition as well.

These bond rating reports, in addition to vindicating Bob Meister’s analysis from 2009, help clarify and explain a couple strategies recently undertaken by UC administrators—strategies that are spelled out fairly explicitly in UC’s financial documentsFirst: In the absence of a political context conducive to across-the-board tuition hikes, administrators have nevertheless tried to increase tuition and fee revenues by admitting more out of state students and by increasing other costs students have to pay (including for housing and healthcare). And Second: In an attempt to decrease their debt levels, administrators have begun to aggressively promote the privatization of development. Instead of generally taking on debt to construct buildings themselves, they are now often working to rent out university-owned land to developers who are willing to build, and in some cases manage, dorms, labs, and other facilities.

In what follows, I will discuss these two administrative strategies, as well as some of their possible political implications.

First, on UC administrators’ recent attempts to salvage tuition and fee income. This really varies by campus, and I’m going to focus mostly on Berkeley. Following the crisis of 2009, Berkeley administrators started actively recruiting out of state and international students, who paid more in tuition. In the last couple years, as the cost of out-of-state tuition has risen to almost three times that of in-state tuition, administrators continued to admit progressively more out-of-state students. Last year, a third of new admits came from outside of California.

Like other public universities, Berkeley has started “leveraging” student aid to compete to enroll higher-income, out-of-state students. The new Middle Class Access Plan, the cutoff for which was just raised to include those from families making up to $150,000, leverages relatively small grants in exchange for the higher return of out-of-state tuition revenues. Berkeley has also selectively increased housing costs since 2012, raising rents dramatically on the most desirable housing options, while keeping other rents relatively flat. This follows a period of dramatic rent hikes; between 2001 and 2011, room and board rates nearly doubled. Finally, as part of the restructuring of SHIP in 2013, Berkeley raised healthcare premiums by thirteen percent for undergraduates and twenty percent for graduate students—a cost increase that mostly falls on grad students in professional schools, whose tuition rates have also continued to increase.

Thinking politically about this situation, it’s worth saying initially that a politics organized around the principles of racial justice, class equality, and affordable public education remain critical. Since 2009, the admission and enrollment rates of black students have declined even further than in the immediate aftermath of Proposition 209. Over this period, the class composition of the student body has also been shifting; there are relatively fewer low-income students but significantly more from the highest income brackets. Since 2001, the costs borne by all students have continued to rise, even for those receiving the maximum support from Pell Grants and the Blue and Gold plan. For these and other reasons, it’s critical that we continue to target the race and class exclusions that are only becoming more entrenched in the admissions process.

But I think we also should be thoughtful about how politically to address the fact that the bulk of new tuitionand fee revenues has been coming from out-of-state and international students, who now make up a greater percentage of the student body and have the potential to take on a greater role—as either protagonists or antagonists—of any student movement against privatization that might reemerge. Perhaps advocating for across the board rent and tuition reductions, including for out-of-state tuition, would be a generally compelling way to address affordability issues, which would push back as well against UC administrators’ post-2012 strategy for increasing tuition and fee revenues.

 

The second post-2012 administrative strategy concerns the privatization of development. In June 2012, right around the time the Regents announced that they would freeze in-state tuition if Proposition 30 passed, Berkeley housing administrators announced that, in order to limit their construction-related debt, they would begin seeking out private developers to build new dorms. This kind of privatization of dorm construction had been happening for some time at Irvine and Davis. And Berkeley had done something similar with the Blum Center, as well as in partnering with BP to fund the construction of the Energy Biosciences Institute building on Hearst and Oxford.

Just in the last couple of years though, the privatization of construction has significantly intensified across the UC system. The UC Office of the President recently posted on their website documents outlining the various partnerships, or rent agreements, the campuses are looking to make with private developers. At Berkeley, housing administrators announced that the Martinez commons would be the final dorm funded and built in-house, and they recently leased Bowles Hall to a private entity interested in redeveloping the building. They are working now on finding a developer interested in building and managing a new dorm on Ellsworth and Channing. The Berkeley rent stabilization board has expressed concern that such privately developed and managed dorms could further drive up student rents, especially when other privately-run dorms, such as the newly-constructed Metropolitan on Dana and Durant, charge rents higher than the cost of room and board. Construction workers’ unions have also raised concerns about the fact that, unlike building projects on campus, these development projects won’t be bound by state prevailing wage laws, and so could involve more dangerous and exploitative building practices.

UC Berkeley administrators have also been working to make arrangements with private firms for the development of portions of the Gill Tract, in Albany. So far, the efforts of Occupy the Farm have stalled this development, and have put on the agenda the conversion of the Gill tract into space for community-based farming, research, and education.

Berkeley administrators, including the newly appointed Vice Chancellor of real estate Robert Lalanne, are also working on coordinating a massive development project on 109 acres of land owned by the University in Richmond Bay. They are saying this project will involve private construction and management of some of the research facilities, and recently published an “Infrastructure Master Plan,” outlining ways for private companies to buy space and influence at the Richmond Bay campus.

A coalition of labor and community groups has issued a number of demands around this development project including the payment of prevailing wages to construction workers, the promise that all service workers employed in the facilities will be represented by AFSCME, the opening up of space for community-based and community-driven research, that those profiting from the project help fund affordable housing in Richmond, and that formerly incarcerated people be hired for some of the construction and other work set to occur. These are demands that students and workers on campus can help amplify. And in general, I think it’s imperative that we respond to UC’s efforts to privatize construction by building relations of solidarity with local communities and making the case for a kind of public knowledge making.

I can imagine some ambiguities and difficulties that might accompany such a project, aside from just the myriad practical challenges of coalition building and of building power sufficient to interrupt administrative agendas. It might also be hard to know when to oppose new development outright and when to try and direct it to less damaging, more accessible and public-oriented ends. And there’s a question as well about federal research money, which is public in one sense but is often linked to military or other state interests. In a power-point presentation last spring, Robert Lalanne, the Vice Chancellor of real estate, noted that drone development and testing is part of the research agenda for Richmond Bay. Given the entailments of much federal research, how can we envision and struggle for a kind of public knowledge making that is resolutely anti-militarist?

 

Any renewed movement against university privatization will need to work through these ambiguities and difficulties. But if the last six years have shown us anything, it’s that concerted action on the part of students, workers, and instructors can fundamentally shift the operations of the university, and can block the worst effects of university privatization, if not reverse this process outright. So there is reason to try, and to hope.

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October 13, 2014
by Admin 2
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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
by admin
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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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