Wednesday, May 14, 2008

News from the University of British Petroleum

So I passed! I'm ABD.

And then, afterward, meeting Anna for dinner, who should I run into in the restaurant? My 20th-cent. examiner, Charles Altieri! Oh, eternal return of the same!


I have a stack of grading to get through, but among my immediate projects is working with other graduate students to protest the truly devastating funding cuts to the English department and to other departments within the university (particularly French, German and the truly savaged East Asian Languages and Cultures). Graduate students at UC survive, and are able to complete their dissertations, by teaching sections of Reading and Composition courses (R&C). This year, the English department staffed 58 of these courses, and asked the university for funding to teach 65 next year, since undergraduates are required to take a full year of R&C and since these courses are already massively over-enrolled. Some students can't complete the requirement until they are in their 3rd year--fairly absurd for a course that's supposed to give them the core writing and critical thinking skills that they'll use in upper-division courses. But the tentative budget we've received for next year gives us funding to teach only 42 courses. Which means that close to 17 graduate students are without any support whatsoever. Many undergraduates will not be able to complete their degree in four years.

GSIs in the UC system are unionized, and we have a decent contract, even if we can't expect all that much from the rather feckless UAW. But our contract does not have any stipulations for job security. The Graduate School only guarantees us 2 years of teaching, despite the department's implicit guarantee of 4 years. This is barely enough, given that most students only have three years of fellowship, if that, and only go out on the job market in their 7th year, and increasingly stay on the market for 2+ years. For the most part, professors in the department have been really terrific in their commitment to try and find ways to keep students alive--giving up money from their endowed chairs, from research funds, etc., and yesterday at the department meeting, a few of them even suggested such radical options as a strike (although most likely the fake kind of strike that happens at colleges, where people continue to teach off-campus) and refusing to admit any graduate students next year. I doubt these options will find support among the majority of the faculty, but the professors who suggested them have earned my admiration. I'd definitely be happy to stand next to them on the barricades.

These cuts are the UC Regents' response to the brutal budget that Governor Schwarzenegger is proposing (he is the Terminator, after all), and because of the byzantine complexities of funding streams, another name for division of labor, and because professors' salaries are guaranteed, they hit hardest the people who are least able to support them--the already brutalized staff, GSIs and lecturers. Furthermore, the R&C courses are crucial for equipping the under-represented students who didn't get a great high school education with the skills needed to excel at UC Berkeley. The better-off students, who took AP classes and SAT prep courses in high school, could survive here without the courses. Given that the diversity in terms of class and race at UC Berkeley is already declining due to Prop 209, UC is essentially fast becoming a private university. The goal, I suppose, is to reduce guaranteed labor to a skeleton-crew and then rely on precarious, part-time labor to adjust the workforce as needed. As Marc Bousquet and others have been pointing out, this is the nature of the neoliberal, corporatized university.


It's worse in other parts of the California education system, and truth be told, I place more value on the funding of high schools, community colleges, and public assistance programs for those without food or housing (a growing number), all of which have been slaughtered by the Governor's budget, over support for the UC. If the talk that Robert Brenner gave last week is correct, these are the initial symptoms of an economic crisis on a scale equal to the Great Depression. Firing 100,000 California teachers (pdf!), cutting people off of public assistance, and spending money on Iraq and bailouts for investment banks, seems like a pretty good way to reduce the consumer demand that keeps the economy afloat. If there was ever a time for the left to get its shit together, it's now. Obama, it must be said, won't do a damn thing here. He's a democrat of the "balanced budgets" sort, where balanced budgets mean slaughtering the poor.

What might the governor do in response to our demands to diminish the force of the cuts? Well, since food prices are already skyrocketing, make the poor pay for it with an increase in the sales tax, of course! And build prisons to house all of the people that are driven to crime in order to survive or who, perhaps, might find in the use of illegal drugs some relief, however illusory, from their current predicament. Oh yes, and let the federal government round up immigrants like cattle . . .


Following are my proposals for dealing with the budget shortfall in the UC:

1) Socialize the university, of course! Make the university free for the poorest students, cheap for others, and as expensive as Stanford, Harvard or Yale for students who can afford it.

2) Turn the president's house into a sex club (for the meeting of mutually-consenting partners, of course), marijuana club, and delegalized drug zone. This could be staffed by Lacanians and Deleuzians from Rhetoric and Comparative Literature, who would offer seminars on becoming a body without organs and sinthomaticity.

3)Institute a white privilege and patriarchal privilege corvee. All male students, and all white students, would be forced to volunteer a nominal amount of time each semester (10 hours perhaps).

Any other suggestions?


P.S. We're interested in learning about what other graduate students in the UC system are facing. If you have information, let me know.


Tim said...


And then: while we're fantasizing legislation I'd vote, too, for mandating say 10 of staff's 40 hour workweek (since that doesn't seem likely to vanish anytime soon) be spent in seminars until such a time as professors, janitors and secretaries can rotate duties until the robots are ready to take over.

There's something false I suspect in the consciousness that desires to say it aint never been more perverse to spend the morning reading Descartes witnessing the cogito birth itself, but for all that might be objectively said on that front it's a hard frame to shake oneself free of, blessed by the poverty of philosophy. I'll see you in an hour for the Arrighi, whereat we will dine on the debt threatening the livelihood of our (not to say others') livelihood.


Anonymous said...

These are excellent links Jasper. Just to complement the Brenner, Michael Hudson has a great talk on the current crisis over at:

Also, I'd suggest free public group therapy for Stockholm Syndrome. All are welcome.


brian salchert said...

Mr. Bernes, PhD to be,

At 67, I am a writer who is
a ward of governments.
Had I been wise enough each time
I needed to be wise/
my situation today--assuming I'd be
alive today had I made different
choices--would be supremely better
than it is.
Took the now link in your post
and read the article and the comments
beneath it, one of which is about
to lead me into deeper thinking.
The days ahead seem dark & drear,
and I have only one life here.
From moment to moment I must go.
Does definitely appear
winner-take-all capitalism
is a failed and deadly ideology;
but the kings of it are not likely
to let it pass amicably.
Yet, does not their power depend on
The dead do not buy
what they have to sell. Further,
the idea that credit is the only
adequate measure of one's worth is
nonsense. What is the heart of
capitalism?: government-propped
usury. Talk about enslavement.
And that is merely one of the ways
the masses are controlled. I
how many humans the greed-masters
are willing to sacrifice?
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty was ten feet tall.
All the king's horses,
and all the king's men
couldn't put the wall
back together again.

Thank you.