Sunday, November 22, 2009

Attention Cal Alumni: Your alma mater is being gutted

(Photos are of me in college in the 1960s, Wurster Hall today, a protest sign saying, "Yes we can take back our university," a future Cal student trying to save money for college the hard way and CBS News interviewing an engineering graduate student who has just been charged with felony burglary for participating in a Cal students' non-violent protest)

I am a life member of the University of California alumni association, having graduated from UC Berkeley in 1966. I put myself through college by working in the Millbrae post office during summer vacations. My tuition was $220 a year. I paid $75 a month for an apartment that was four blocks from campus. I lived on fish sticks, Cheerios and the occasional enchilada from La Fiesta, but I did it. I put my own self through school without accumulating any debts -- except for the huge philosophical debt that I still owe the University of California for giving me such a fine education.

Due to a long line of huge fee hikes and tuition raises at UCB since that time, no current Cal student could ever possibly manage to do what I did.

If you want to graduate from the University of California today, you must seriously face the possibility of putting yourself in financial peril for the rest of your life.

As a Cal alumna who was able to receive an affordable high-quality education, I strenuously object to any kind of new tuition raise or fee hike -- especially the gargantuan new 32% hike.
And if you are a Cal alumni like me, you should be strenuously objecting as well.

Cal gave us an education, gave us a profession, gave us lasting memories -- so let's not just stand around doing nothing while the very viability of student life at Cal is being threatened. Let's fight for our school!

Why? Because higher education in the United States is fast becoming an unreachable American dream. Because monies that used to go to schools now go to line the pockets of weapons manufacturers and Wall Street billionaires. Because there's a pretty good chance that even your own children and grandchildren won't ever be able to afford to be a "Cal Bear".

Why? Because professors are now being paid less. Because inmates incarcerated for drug use are having as much or more money spent on them than we are spending on America's best and brightest students.

Why? Because students who might have been on the college prep track a few years ago now join the military instead -- following the money -- and they risk of coming home in a box. Or if they do survive Washington's various unnecessary wars and do finally get go to college on the GI bill, does this mean that we are requiring our youth to kill someone as a prerequiste to get enrolled at Cal? It used to be that perspective students only had to pass their SATs.

Why? Because America risks becoming even more of a country of "Haves" and Have-Nots" than it already is now, as an even more dumbed-down population gets created because institutions of higher learning such as Cal have become priced out of the market for even America's middle class -- let alone for working class students who want to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Attention Cal alumni! Your old alma mater is currently being gutted -- if not downright raped. Remember Sproul Plaza? Remember Sather Gate? Remember your all-night study sessions, your favorite professor, the good times, dorm life? Fight for these things so that the students of today and tomorrow can have them too!

We Cal graduates are California's intellectual leaders. Let's use our hard-earned influence to put pressure on UC regents and the governor and force them to stop making these horrendous budget cuts to our children's education. And let's also put pressure on our congressional leaders and president to get out of Iraq, get out of Afghanistan and get out of Wall Street!

PS: In America's current "jobless recovery," approximately 17% of Americans are unemployed, approximately 18% of Americans are on disability, 51 million Americans (one in seven) receive Social Security and who knows how many Americans have dropped out of the job market altogether and are now living in boxes and cars. Our workforce is rapidly sliding downhill.

What to do? Isn't it obvious? The feds need to stop printing all that "monopoly" money that they now throw at banks and wars. But if "monopoly" money is going to be printed at all, let's print it out in order to pay for things that actually make America stronger -- like jobs, healthcare and infrastructure. And the University of California at Berkeley.

Even in tiny little poverty-stricken Cuba, almost everyone who wants a higher education or to become a doctor is given access to top-quality universities and medical schools. Is America is being educationally out shined and outdone by some tiny little "communist" nation? Yes. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

PPS: The famous 1964 Free Speech Movement here at Cal was all about having free speech on campus. This current 2009 protest is simply about being able to be on campus at all.

PPPS: My friend Robert just e-mailed me and said that the weapons industry in America is just about the only manufacturing industry that is still growing. And my friend Joe Thompson just e-mailed me about some returning Iraq vets he just met who are now unemployed. There's a moral here somewhere. Perhaps it's that that if the weapons industry wants a leg up in designing new weapons, then they are going to need to keep colleges and universities affordable? Or that unemployed Iraq vets who have been carefully trained in the art of war might be able to get hired by the Mafia when they get back home? Who knows. Not me. I am at a complete loss as to explain why America keeps eating its young.

PPPPS: Here's a video of me returning to my old alma mater -- forty years later. That's Wurster Hall in the background, where I studied city planning for two years. You never know when you're gonna get called upon to plan a city -- so now I'm prepared.