Media Coverage 10/16/17

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law this weekend which imposes strict new budget transparency rules on the University of California, a response to a highly critical state audit that argued UC hid $175 million in reserves. The UC system disputed the audit’s framing, conceding the budget may have been hard to read, but resisting the characterization that money was concealed. In response to allegations UCOP interfered in the audit, the bill also prevents campuses from coordinating with UCOP when the state auditor’s office requests information.

In a follow-up to a piece from last week, Fox News reported on the harassment of conservative students on Berkeley’s campus. This week’s article frames such students as a persecuted minority, writing, “(Conservative Berkeley undergrad Jonathan) Chow is not like most of his fellow students. He’s part of a small minority of seemingly marginalized students at one of the largest universities in the U.S. He’s a conservative.” The article quotes Steven Hayward, a senior resident fellow at the Institute for Governmental Studies.

“It’s certainly not easy,” Hayward, a conservative, told Fox News. “There are not many conservative students — and those that are conservative are, many times, afraid to speak for fear of being mocked or trolled by their fellow students.”

In other news, UC Berkeley’s endowment office hired a new chief investment officer, who comes to campus from the University of Washington. At UC Davis, a professor was forced to return $1,000, which he had received as reimbursements for limo rides.

In the realm of free speech, Wendy Brown and Judith Butler both published reflections on the path forward in the Trump era as part of The Big Picture, a symposium organized by Public Books and NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge. Brown considers what the definition of freedom promoted by the right conceals, while Butler explores the repercussions of Antifa’s tactics on the broader left community. Meanwhile, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra was prevented from speaking at Whittier College by right-wing protestors, flipping a script that usually pits left-wing campus activists against conservative thinkers. Meanwhile, the White House suggested UNLV investigate a professor who linked the shooting in Las Vegas to Trump’s election. And at Drexel, a professor whose outspoken positions have earlier attracted controversy was suspended for what the university claims is his own protection.

UC News

10/14 – After scathing audit, UC will have to be more transparent in reporting costs (LATimes): The bill will further require UC to “use publicly available financial information when it publishes its biennial report on the costs of undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees.”

10/12 – Conservative students at UC Berkeley face everything from insults to threats of violence (FoxNews): The article ends with a nice glimmer of productive introspection:

(“Free Speech Week”) also highlighted a divide among the school’s conservatives that some blame for the ramping up in the harassment aimed at the group.

Chow, who has been a member of BCR for two years, said the organization’s new leadership is taking the group in a different direction – now it focuses on bringing in provocative speakers with far-right views and creating pet projects like the Berkeley Patriot. He said the group now seems more interested in sparking controversy than making positive changes.

“They are all about creating outlandish remarks and trying to pull off these outlandish events,” Chow said, “… there is hypocrisy on both sides.”

10/11 – UC Berkeley Finds New CIO at University of Washington (Institutional.Investor): The Berkeley Endowment Management Company oversees $1.8 billion.

10/12 – UC Davis professor charged school almost $1,000 for limo trips, audit says (SacBee): The audit report into the matter does not name the professor.

Free Speech

10/10 – Wendy Brown – The Big Picture: Defending Society (PublicBooks): UC Berkeley Professor Wendy Brown argues that the political right’s embrace of a neoliberal conception of freedom  has obscured the connection between the broader social good and freedom. In particular, she is critical of the right’s move to cover white nationalism and patriarchy in the guise of free speech. In response, she argues:

…we may still want to extend to all the right to speak and assemble. Or we may want to consider that the West’s first known democracy, in ancient Athens, did not feature free speech but isegoria, equal speech, the right of every citizen to be heard in assemblies concerning public policy. It did not feature freedom from state interference but isonomia, equality before the laws of the state. It did not feature managed and bought elections, but isopoliteia, equally weighted votes and equal access to political office. Democracy in its cradle was not rooted in individual license but in freedom resting on three pillars of political equality.

If we cannot afford stupidity about how profoundly neoliberalism has stripped freedom of the context and culture that make it an element of justice and popular sovereignty, we also cannot cede freedom to the right, to neoliberalism, and to the white nationalism daily attracting new recruits in the Euro-Atlantic world. Plutocrats, nativists, and fascists have grabbed freedom’s mantle to attack democracy, but we cannot fall into the trap of opposing it in the name of other values—security, safety, inclusion, or fairness. Rather, our task is to challenge the neoliberal and right-wing discourse of libertarian and market freedom with a discourse that relinks freedom with emancipation (and thus with social justice) and with democracy (and thus with political equality).

10/13 – Judith Butler – The Big Picture: Protest, Violent and Nonviolent (PublicBooks): UC Berkeley Professor Judith Butler argues that debates over the appropriateness and effectiveness of Antifa’s violent tactics fail to consider the “radical exclusions” from American democracy that contributed to Trump’s rise. As Butler contends:

A minority elected this government, which means that the electoral result signifies a crisis in democratic politics. Violence only compounds the sense of hopelessness and skepticism about the possibility of practicing democracy, when that is precisely what we need most: the exercise of judgment, freedom, and power within the sphere of politics that can activate the true majority to drive Trump and his crew out of office.

Again, one can argue against violence both on principle and on practical grounds. It is of course ironic, if not appalling, that the members of the Black Bloc, a group of mainly white men emphatically able-bodied, decided to turn the police barricades into instruments of violence and destroyed part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union on the UC Berkeley campus last spring. Did they think in advance about how painful it would be for many people to witness an attack on the building on campus that symbolizes and honors the struggle for civil rights?

10/10 – A college professor criticized Trump. Now the White House wants an investigation (Salon): The publication accuses the Trump administration of hypocrisy for criticizing the professor while also promoting free speech on campus.

10/15 – Who’s Exercising a “Heckler’s Veto” Now? (Academe): The hecklers have frequently sought attention by disrupting appearances by Democrats.

10/15 – On Missing the Point About Academic Freedom and Free Speech (Academe): The post wades into a debate about the suspension of a Drexel professor who was threatened after expressing views on the Las Vegas shooting. The AAUP weighed in to criticize Drexel for suspending the professor without due process.


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