Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mayday at U of O

Folks gear up to take to the streets in Oakland today.
Source: The Guardian
In the middle of midterms, a struggle persists in the hallways of this school.

As the Oregonian reported recently, the University of Oregon Athletics Department has literally taken millions from the general fund (including tuition dollars) over the last several years, in unpublicized back-alley deals between Johnson hall and the Jacqua crowd. Diverted funds subsidize an annual budget of $78 million, and there’s no telling how many tuition dollars Athletics will decide to embezzle in the years to come.

Nike subsequently enlists the use of every student athlete, along with most of the sneaker-wearing student body, for prestigious roles as walking advertisements for its sweatshop-produced apparel. Nike uses human beings as billboards, thereby selling clothing made for pennies under inhumane conditions by other human beings.

In other news, the administration of the school continues to give itself raises while cutting the hours available to service workers on the bottom of the chain. Efforts by former UO President LaRiviere to privatize the University were dealt with severely by Governor Kitzhaber through the OUS Chancellor George Pernsteiner. The message was clear: this is a public business. No actions toward removing it from the clutches of the State of Oregon will be tolerated.

A professor I was talking with recently confided that he was sad to see the University treated more and more like a business, saying that instead he’d like to see schools retain value as communities of learning. But this ideal seems impossible at this University, whose goals remain winning Rose Bowl victories, keeping the Olympic trials on campus and somehow getting more people to come to the Men’s  Basketball games. New and bigger sports venues dwarf academic buildings where students pay more and more each year to attend classes.

The battle for autonomy and resource control rages on.  And there’s a clear distinction in this school between the values of the student body and the aim of the administration. For example, DPS has already bought guns and tasers for the “defense” of campus, even though this is overwhelmingly opposed by the student body (77% of students voted against it this term). [election results]

Similarly, the proposed EMU renovation, to be paid for to the tune of $100 per student per term, has now been voted down twice by the student body. Yet plans continue as scheduled for the multi-million-dollar renovation, which at initial stages included an enormous concert hall and a Nike store.

And mandatory reporting of sexual assault, opposed by 83% of the student body, continues to be the rule of law on this campus.

The list could go on and on. The suits at Johnson Hall maintain control almost completely un-checked by the wishes of the students and teachers at this school. Autonomy and access to education are being hi-jacked in alarmingly increasing increments by a small group of individuals and their corporate sponsors.

On this “public” land, where a group of men with badges decide who’s in or out, claims of liberty  and have been deferred to the market. Whoever can pay the most can earn the right to goods, services and the use of the land. This is far from a democracy.

Autonomy has been reduced to a market commodity, and resources are bought and sold without a thought of where they come from and how their extraction has affected the earth or its peoples. History can be read as a long list of all the ways that small groups of people justified taking away the rights and resources of the few.

All of us who attend this school are privileged in some way. Many can’t afford to be here with us. Some were born elsewhere, and find themselves in the nonsensical category of being an “illegal” human being. To a large extent, it is only through class privilege that we are able to even attend classes here.

But we don’t have to stand for this. We don’t have to cooperate with an administration that wants to raise tuition to pay for televised football games, that wants to make generations of students pay for a new money-making concert hall, that makes decisions that not only disregard but often directly oppose the voice of the student body.

We can demonstrate in the streets until our voices are heard. Yesterday, in solidarity with those who cannot afford to attend school or have been deemed “illegal” by the US government, students in schools around the globe refused to go to class and took to the streets.

In Eugene we went downtown to demonstrate against the banks that foreclose on folks illegally on a regular basis. Many people who supported our cause didn’t show, believing that they couldn’t change anything by protesting.

But what if achieving immediate change isn’t the only point? The pressures of the market have created a society that is solidly anti-humanitarian, both on and off campus. What if we have a moral obligation to stand in the way?







Updated: 2:01 AM, May 2, 2012