A letter from a professor to student protesters at Berkley after the occupation of Wheeler Hall on the 2nd of March (https://reallyopenuniversity.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/us-students-occupy/).
Those of you who tried to come on Thursday, I apologize – the police let several of us in and we were inside the building until police came and told us the chancellor was closing the building at which point we had to leave.
A question this course should lead you to ask is: by what right does the chancellor get to close Wheeler Hall? Whose property is it?
Know that this university exists because the land was donated by the state to the university in exchange for it providing free education to the citizens of California. In terms of labor theories of value, if the labor of teachers is part of the educational mission, at what point do teachers get to decide what happens on school property? If you believe, as I do, that students labor is also part of education – helping create what is learned by all in the classroom, what right do students have to make use of the spaces that were given as sites of education? If there is disagreement or diversity of opinion, who or what should arbitrate these rights?
I later got an email from the chancellor saying there was a “health and safety issue” in Wheeler which necessitated closing it. This seems odd to me. I also heard from a friend who was stopping by Wheeler (a volunteer medic) that police had pepper-sprayed and beaten protesters with batons while attempting to remove them from the area. (was that the health and safety issue? if so, I can think of a few ways short of closing the building that could have protected people)
I encourage you to think about the primacy of property rights in what happened at Wheeler Hall. Property rights in objects were supreme over rights over people’s own bodies. The rights to bodily integrity of the students were not as important as the rights of the chancellor to control what happens in Wheeler Hall. Its true there may have been a concern about damage to the building – but during the first occupation a police officer smashed the hand (and nearly took off the finger) of a student who was participating in the protests (nonviolently and not causing property damage), and yet police are still allowed on campus. The costs and the harm of batons and pepper spray are not as much concern to the university as the right of the university to control property.
Whose rights are being protected by this? (note that we were carrying on our section without a problem until this happened, it was the police who were limiting access).
Of course there is the question of students right to pursue an education without protest. As above, who should be the arbiter between those different opinions about educational priorities in situations where protesters ARE disrupting classes?
But also, what happens if you include the rights of the students and former students, and also the janitors (speaking of keeping the building in good shape) who are no longer on campus because of the policies like fee hikes and the layoffs dictated by Operational Excellence? Did they have any rights? Milton Friedman (whom we read this week) would say no. But what about the founders of the UC system and its mission?
Also, the rights of nonprotesting students to pursue an education are affected anyway, because even despite the massive fee increases the resulting funds have not gone to education: class sizes are increasing, labs are cut, teaching resources are cut, class sessions are cut ( this course has four fewer classes than usual because of the cuts), libraries are closed, construction disrupts the campus as much as protests..
I hope this is food for thought and future discussion!