Get Off My Lawn

Peter Wood

The curious story of the Occupy movement is getting more curious still. In the early morning hours of November 15, Mayor Bloomberg had the police shut down the encampment in Zuccotti Park. He held a press conference at dawn that morning to explain that he remains a friend of the Occupiers and values their right to protest, but because “health and safety conditions became intolerable,” he had been forced to send in some well-armed evictors. He offered the evictees assurances that they could recover their camping gear at a depot in mid-town. And while he would have been personally happy to welcome them back to Zuccotti for some diurnal speechifying and drum beating, a New York judge, Lucy Billings, had issued a temporary restraining order, which requires the park to stay closed.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the University of California Board of Regents decided to postpone meetings it had scheduled for November 16 and 17 at the UC San Francisco campus, “citing a real danger of significant violence and vandalism” from Occupy-inspired protesters. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, this is only the fourth time in thirty years that the Regents have canceled a meeting. A war, the 9/11 attack, and a major earthquake prompted the previous delays. This one is officially blamed on “rogue elements” within the Occupy movement. The protesters are now protesting the Regents’ decision to cancel the meeting. A student who serves on the Regents, Alfredo Mireles Jr., opposed the cancellation as eliminating students’ opportunity to “make their voices heard forcefully.”

Meanwhile Robert Birgeneau, chancellor of UC Berkeley, announced an amnesty for the students who rioted and resisted the police when Alameda County sheriff’s deputies tried to clear the Occupy Cal protest at Sproul Plaza.

Meanwhile. Other protesters are attempting to launch a lawsuit against the University for “violent police brutality.”

Meanwhile…this gets better.

Meanwhile, Bob Samuels, a lecturer in the UCLA Writing Programs and president of the University of California American Federation of Teachers, sent an e-mail to “UC-AFT represented lecturers and librarians” noting the student strike scheduled for Thursday, November 15, “to reject the excessive police force used against our protests to make Wall Street — and the corporate elite on the boards governing our universities — pay for refunding public education.” Samuels encourages the union members “to support the strike in any way possible that does not violate the no strikes language in our contracts.”

Supporting what is ostensibly forbidden requires some hair-splitting, and Samuels the writing instructor is up to the task:

One option for lecturers is to teach their courses outside on November 15th and to tell students about the meetings on the 16th. While lecturers and librarians cannot withhold their labor, they may arrange to hold classes in alternate off-campus locations, and they may join the pickets and strike activities during break time or other non-work hours. For more suggestions on how you can support the November 15th strike, and some limitations on our involvement set by our contracts, please follow this link.

Holding class out of doors so that one can evade the restriction on supporting the strike in the classroom is sort of cute. I wonder, however, if union members would be amused if the University of California decided to exercise similar creativity in its interpretation of the contract?

Meanwhile, the New York Times declares on the front page that “Occupy Wall Street Protestors Shifting to College Campuses.” This has numerous advantages. College quads aren’t far from restrooms and laundries. Dining halls and dorm rooms are nearby. And college officials are typically reluctant to call in the police if things get out of hand. Many would do what Chancellor Birgeneau did: issue a pre-emptive amnesty.

Baffled Resentment

Mayor Bloomberg, of course, is not alone in moving against the Occupiers. Municipal authorites in a variety of cities have decided they have had enough and have sent in the police to carry out evictions. In a sense, the Occupy movement is coming home for the winter. It was always, deep down, about the concerns of college students. The overlays of “community organizers,” socialist schemers, anarchist utopians, and hangers-on of all types didn’t define the character of the protests. The dominant note was the distress of students and recent graduates in the midst of realizing that their educations are drastically misaligned with the world in which they will have to live.

Their bafflement has made them an easy target for satire. What did they think they were doing when they took out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to pursue college degrees in fields that equipped them mainly to be “citizens of the world?” Their dreams of becoming well-paid consultants for UNESCO and prosperous sustainability advocates have gone the way of Solyndra investments. Victor Davis Hanson has caught the spirit of thing:

Many are furious that they have or soon will have very expensive degrees, bought at the price of either exorbitant loans or near insolvent parents who paid the $100,000-200,000 for today’s BAs.

But Hanson also sees the psychological dilemma: the students now huddle back at the university, unwilling and unable to recognize it as the real source of their distress. They rage, but not “against the modern corrupt, but ideologically sacrosanct, university [where] diversity czars outnumber French professors.”


They are consumed with contemporary furor as the education bubble of nearly a trillion dollars in debt is about to burst. They are mad at the system that they were taught oppresses them, but also at themselves. Who would not be after spending so much money for something of so little value? Nothing is more embarrassing to watch than arrogance coupled with ignorance — and spiced with occasional glibness and the slow realization that they’ve been had.

 Hanson may be a beat ahead of some of the students. For many of the protesters in California, that slow realization is at this point no more than a furrowed brow. They are upset about the rising cost of tuition, and they are bursting with indignation that they cannot get what they want at the price they want to pay. If only they were willing to bear down on the actual costs that underlie the price of UC education, we might witness a student rebellion against those diversity czars, and the rest of the administrative bloat and ideological claptrap that is rolled into the package.

As Heather MacDonald pointed out last summer, UC may declare it is “near penury,” but it still finds the resources for the things it counts as really important. UC San Diego, for example, this year created a new full-time “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.” This position:

would augment UC San Diego’s already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisers, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center.

Faculty union president Samuels calls for those alfresco classes to gin up support for the student strike over tuition increases. He is no doubt safe in his assumption that the protesters will never get near the question of how much of their tuition is spent on activities that contribute a sum total of nothing to their education. The students want to blame the banks that are loaning the money, not the administrators who are burning it.

The Occupiers repatriation to the campus quad probably marks the moment when this movement will begin to fade from public prominence. Colleges in their own view are microcosms of society, but the public more judiciously rates them as sideshows. The main issues—insupportable student debt, a mal-educated generation that has yet to come to terms with its folly, a system of higher education built on an obsolete financial model—won’t go away. But we will deal with them now in venues other than public sleepovers: in bankers’ offices, boardrooms, and small businesses willing to give some sadder but wiser college grads a second chance to start where they are, unfortunately, really qualified: at the bottom.

This article first appeared at the Chronicle of Higher Education's Innovations blog on November 16, 2011.

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