The power of “The Man,” as they used call the establishment in the 1960s, is its ability to control and change the narrative. In Arizona, the Koch Brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) bought politicians, the media and Tea Party activists. They wrote anti-immigrant bills, lowered taxes and privatized Arizona.
But the truth be told, political struggles politicize only a few activists. The vast majority sit on the sidelines picking up a lesson here and there. For instance, in a recent two-year struggle with the California State University Northridge administration over the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) scheme, only a small circle of faculty and fewer students were directly involved. Learning a lesson takes more than just sitting in the classroom or watching a game from the sidelines.
Few comprehend the full meaning of privatization. This lack of understanding makes us vulnerable to The Man and allows him to manipulate the narrative. You can see this played out in the present impaction struggle that will decrease freshman and transfer enrollment over a four-year period by 1,200 students.
Impaction goes much deeper than just being racist.
Administrators have seized on our lack of analysis and are trying to absolve the institution of its role in the privatization of the university. They ignore why few students can afford to attend CSUN, and less who live in the dorms.
The failure to politicize students is the fault of the leadership – myself included. As spectators, students learned the definition of privatization but did not learn how UNAM and the university are part of neoliberalism. We failed to expose the administration’s role in the privatization and the role of its Latina/o minions in maintaining a system that makes students commodities and relieves corporate interests from paying for the costs of social production. The truth is that corporations are the main beneficiaries of an educated workforce.
Absent critical analysis, something that Chicana/o studies is supposed to teach, the narrative is easily changed. It is easy to distort reality and claim that CSUN was forced to go along with impaction because, like a bad tooth or constipation, the infrastructure is impacted. Blame it on the governor and the legislature, and not privatization.
The story goes back to Gov. Ronald Reagan and his plans to privatize public education. California corporate interests backed Reagan’s plan because — like the Kochs — they did not want to pay taxes. Many also saw the growing access to public higher education of minorities as a waste of money. According to them, the poor were poor because they did not want to work.
Presently not all faculty, staff or students are against impaction, which limits the size of incoming freshmen and transfer students. Even sympathetic administrators resemble developers favoring pro-growth because for them growth means higher salaries, more staff, and more buildings, while non-friendly administrators believe that by cutting enrollment it will keep the cash flowing for the education of a selected few.
The response of students to impaction has been minimal. Demonstrations and sit-down strikes that make them feel good for a day are planned. They point to huge demonstrations in Mexico, Spain and Greece. But they forget that those student movements brought out massive numbers of protestors because they were planned and sustained. In contrast, American campus strikes are lucky if they draw 500 students.
There is an apparent disregard for planning. It is already mid-April; the last day of instruction is on May 8. After that final exams, commencement and summer vacation render the university dead until late August. This will allow The Man to further control the narrative. Already we see the defenders of the UNAM accord moving in.
Political education is tedious, it is hard work. Chicanas/os are well acquainted with strikes, i.e., the massive school walkouts of 1968 in California, Texas and throughout the nation as well as the Civil Rights and Vietnam protests. These strikes had a common denominator: they were planned.
Spain, Greece and Egypt followed a similar pattern. They had large consolidated and politicized constituencies as well as leaders. They effectively used social media to mobilize these constituencies.
According to Jerry Ceppos, a former executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News, “Leadership tells you a lot about a movement …” He points to the lack of leadership in the Occupy Wall Street movement as a limitation.
In other words, successful movements are not spontaneous. At the college level students are decentralized and the challenge is to keep them informed, keep them moving. Strategies such as live blogging give updates online throughout the day.
Impaction kicks in when the number of applications received exceeds the number of available spaces. In the case of majors, campuses are authorized to use supplementary admission criteria to screen applications.
Let me be clear, impaction should be opposed, but it should be remembered that the administration bears a major responsibility for the current crisis. A Huffington Post headline is an example of a distorted message: “California Is In The Middle Of Its Worst Drought In 1,200 Years, And These People Are Doing Something About It.” The “something” was don’t water your lawns or remove the plants – don’t shower and be smelly.
Few talk about the fact that a single almond takes one gallon of water to grow. I remember hearing about Dr. Ben Yellen in the 1970s, suing the government to enforce the 1903 Reclamation Act limits on farms using reclamation water to 160 acres per individual. Dr. Paul S. Taylor believed that this was the best way to democratize agriculture. California’s mega-ranches were just too wasteful and powerful.
Students are making a similar mistake in fighting impaction; they are not searching for the almond that takes a gallon of water to grow. They are not critical of CSUN’s statement that it cannot do anything about impaction – it is the governor and the legislature. However, there is enough guilt to share.
According to the CSU System, there are 2,662 non-residents at CSUN. That low estimate makes a difference since In-State Tuition is $6,525 and Out-of-State Tuition is $17,685. In a meeting, Provost Harry Hellenbrand stated there are 4,200 International and Out-of-State students on campus. I could not find statistics for the Tseng College, a for-profit college that belongs to CSUN.
The plan is to reduce undergraduate enrollment by 1 percent — approximately 300 students — for each year for the next four years beginning fall 2016. Given the push down from the University of California, there will be additional competition to increase grade point averages and added requirements for those wanting to get into impacted majors.
It is time to search for academe’s almond. Again, more than 10 percent of our students are international and out-of-state students. They are encouraged to enroll not to bring about diversity but because it makes money for the administration, not because it improves teaching but because it creates a slush fund for administrators.
The California Faculty Association says that the number of full-time professors has declined in the past ten years with more classes taught by lecturers who are paid less. At the same time, administrators are proliferating to the point that former dean Jorge Garcia says that the staff of the College of Humanities has grown threefold since 2000. In my forty-six years of teaching at CSUN, I have seen a similar pattern throughout the university.
Perhaps it is time to dissect the almond — it is consuming too much water.
Rodolfo Acuña, Ph.D, is an American historian, professor emeritus at Cal State University Northridge and one of various scholars of Chicano studies. He is the author 20 titles, 32 academic articles and chapters in books, 155 book reviews and nearly 200 opinion pieces.