sound and fury

below is the text of a speech gray brechin gave during the faculty/staff/student walk out in berkeley two weeks ago. it’s good, but i predict that mark yudof and the regents will blithely ignore it as they have everything else.

Republic of Dunces:  Why and Who is Dismantling California’s Public Education System, With a Sidelong Glance at How the New Deal Built It During the Last Depression

For its entire 142-year history, the University of California has served the state’s businessmen well as a taxpayer-funded R& D facility. Its graduates have gone out into the world to serve as their mining engineers, doctors, attorneys, inventors, weapons designers, and business associates. It was such a sweet deal for them that the question we must ask is – Why are they now destroying all of California’s public education system, including this university?

Because make no mistake about it, that’s what we’ve been doing ever since Howard Jarvis and Ronald Reagan began infantilizing Californians, persuading them that their government is their enemy and they shouldn’t have to pay taxes. That was 30 years ago, and California has now become like a car that has run out of gas whose driver can’t think of anything to do but kick the tires and scream at it. We’ve tried everything to keep it running, including encouraging gambling and then borrowing against anticipated revenues from gambling as well as from everything else. We shifted taxes onto those who could least afford to pay them, and we borrowed more – anything other than adding fuel to the tank, i.e. returning to the progressive taxation system we once had. We hoped that the Repo Man would never come, but now he’s not only here but he’s breaking down the door with an axe like Jack Nicholson trying to get at Shelley Duvall in The Shining.

 I called this talk “Republic of Dunces” for several reasons. Since we’ve destroyed our public education system, that’s what we’ve made ourselves: just listen to the Fox-instigated dunces at their tea parties screaming that they want the government out of their Medicare and Social Security, and presumably their unemployment insurance. They apparently want to live in a John Wayne fantasy with dirt roads and with outhouses and wells in the back yard and gunfights on Main Street to settle disputes since courts are – well – government.

But the Regents are a Republic of Dunces too, because they are destroying the very institution that has served them so well for nearly 150 years. This is how stupid they are: they just raised student tuition 32% all at once. Anyone knows that you must boil the frog slowly. But they got your attention, didn’t they?

So who are the Regents? This is a question you all should all ask since you write so many checks to them. They are supposed to represent the public interest and to keep the university insulated from politics, but that is bullshit. They are appointed by the governor for 12-year terms but, since the governors have been Republican for the past 26 years with the brief exception of Gray Davis before Republicans got rid of him in favor of a bionic action hero that Californians hoped would save them from their own irresponsibility, they are overwhelmingly Republican which is to say right wing to extreme right wing. They are also overwhelmingly rich; the going rate to be appointed a regent is apparently $50,000 paid to the governor’s campaign chest or his party. I suspect that most of you would not qualify. Few of them have any experience in public education. They have little patience for the kind of critical thought ideally taught at a university, especially in the humanities and social sciences and especially from their subordinates. And we are their subordinates; you can feel their contempt – or their disinterest and boredom – if you have ever attempted to speak to them at the exceptionally brief and pro forma public comments sessions before they vote on what they’ve already decided to do.

But more to the point, since many or most of them are true believers in the orthodox religion of neoliberal economics, many of them are ideologically opposed to a public sector at all – public education included. You know the drill: deregulate business, cut taxes for the wealthy, and privatize everythiig. Run everything more like a business; it’s more efficient that way. And the next profit center is education – for those who can afford to get one. It’s television, speed, and prison for everyone else.

Neoliberal economics has worked just swell, hasn’t it?  Those who so passionately believe in it nearly brought down the world’s economy last year, then they pulled their trucks up to the U.S Treasury and helped themselves to trillions of dollars to make good their losses. Anybody that smart is dumb enough to take down California’s public education system along with California itself – and that could very well take down the nation’s and the world’s economy. As if the recent cuts haven’t been savage enough, billionaire Meg Whitman said when she announced her candidacy for Republican governor a few days ago that she wants to cut another $15 billion from public services and fire 40,000 more state employees. That’s really smart!

So let’s go back to those regents. Just who are they? We used to study them when I first came here in the late 60s; it’s time to once again turn the university’s great resources like a huge and superbly crafted microscope to an investigation of just who these people are and how they are using the university to their own advantage, because my research revealed that they’ve always done that.

One regent in particular needs to go under the microscope because ever since Gray Davis appointed him in 2002, he has largely dominated the others. That is Richard Blum after whom the university has named the Richard C. Blum Center for Developing Economies now going up on the North Side because Blum donated $15 million for a center for the study of the causes and remedies of poverty OUTSIDE of the United States.

$15 million is $1.5 million less than Blum and his wife, Senator Dianne Feinstein, paid for their Pacific Heights palazzo just below their good friends the Gettys. By my counting, it’s one of their six mansions, lodges, and condos, but I might have missed some.

I have a suggestion for the Richard C. Blum Center for the Study of Developing Economies. Study devolving economies. Study poverty in this country; there’s lots of it. Moreover, study how Blum became a billionaire since his wife became Senator, and study her voting record closely. Study whether the way that Blum has made his multiple millions has not contributed to poverty in this country, by doing such things as raising your tuition so that you and your family will be bankrupted or in debt for years, paying interest on that tuition to Blum’s financial institutions or those of his very wealthy associates on the Board of Regents and elsewhere.

Mark Yudof has been crying about how much it hurts him to raise tuition and otherwise wreck one of the world’s great universities. If it hurts him so much and he had any honor, he’d quit. He can’t run this place anyway since he’s so effectively lost our confidence and respect.

But he won’t leave because he’s doing precisely what he was brought here to do. It was Richard Blum who fired his predecessor and who then selected Yudof and gave him a salary double what President Dynes had gotten. The Chronicle on June 6 did an article on how Yudof was beefing up his public relations apparatus by hiring some very slick people at salaries of over $200,000, probably to handle this very crisis. It quoted Regent Blum as saying that he and Mark disagree on almost nothing, and that if he had to grade Yudof, he’d give him an A+.

So Yudof is doing what he was hired to do. He’s the very well paid lawyer whom you bring in to liquidate the old family firm and strip it of its assets so that what remains can be run more efficiently, more like a business that returns a higher rate of profit in the short term, because that’s the only way you can think.

We’re constantly told that there is no alternative. That’s bullshit, too. During the last Depression, FDR’s New Deal built thousands of schools and entire college campuses. It hired tens of thousands of teachers and research assistants. The National Youth Administration made sure that young men and women got through school by giving them work so that they did not graduate to prison or commit suicide. We’ve been riding on that long-term investment for the past 75 years without knowing it. That’s the model we should be looking at to get us out of the economic washout the neoliberal dunces drove us into; we should be hiring, not firing people except for those at the very top of the food chain who have demonstrated both their stupidity and callousness. Mark Yudof, Richard Blum, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Meg Whitman are driving us straight towards another Great Depression.

Finally, I had to ask myself how Roosevelt managed to do so much for public education at such a terrible time in our history. The best answer I’ve been able to come up with is that at that time we did not have the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower tried to warn us about. Since then, the military has grown to be the monster in the living room that few want to talk about, even as it has absorbed our universities and a complicit mass media s as well. The military is now by far the largest item in the federal budget, shoving all other domestic expenditures against the wall and out of the room, and it has been extraordinarily lucrative to generations of regents, regents such as Richard Blum. This university has been an integral cog in that complex since at least the Manhattan Project, developing and promoting ever newer generations of superweaponry with which to terrorize us all and to destroy life on planet Earth. (The U.C. actually has twelve campuses in addition to the ten we usually hear about – twins at Livermore and Los Alamos designed to compete against one another.) That military-industrial-academic-media complex, with all its ongoing wars, is now breaking the back of California and the United States. And that – combined with tax cuts and loopholes for the very wealthy – is why there is no longer any money for the social services that government once provided. Until we can rein in that monster, we can all expect to go deeper into debt in every way imaginable.

Let’s get out that microscope and start now. And while we’re at it let’s rebuild our public education system from kindergarten on up to our graduate schools.

And Mark Yudof – go back to Texas and wreck a university there. Leave this one alone.


Gray Brechin, Ph.D.

Project Scholar, Living New Deal Project

Department of Geography

U.C. Berkeley


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