The Arizona Desert Lamp

The revolution will be slightly confused about its aims

Posted in Campus, Politics, UA Transformation Plan by Evan Lisull on 21 September 2009

“WALTER: Huh?  Oh, him, yeah.  Well I  don’t see, um– what exactly is the problem?

DUDE: Huh?  The problem is–what do you mean what’s the–there’s no–we didn’t–they’re gonna kill that poor woman–“

-The Big Lebowski

Perhaps they’re a little more media-savvy than their WorldNetDaily-inspired faculty peers, but the grad-student-led Arizona Student, Faculty and Staff Solidarity (ASFSS) still has a thing or two to learn about successful campaigns. For starters: never, ever, ever launch anything on a Friday afternoon – for I am News Cycle, Destroyer of Attentions. This is another way of saying that Your Working Boy was too drunk and too focused on 8-bit Big Ten Network online streams to possibly do anything productive. So it goes.

To the organizers’ credit, their event drew decent numbers – the “more than 50” number offered in the Wildcat‘s coverage seems like the responsible underestimation. Yet the organizers of the group savaged into the paper’s coverage for other reasons – specifically, ASFSS resented the earlier gist maintaining that the attendees were “enthusiastic” about a walk-out.

For all the indignation expressed in the comments at the initial coverage, is it possible that the reporter was confused because the rhetoric of the event was, err, confused? Swine flu may be the hit of the year, but the plague of logorrhoea continues to run rampant through graduate students and faculty. There definitely were students who wanted to walkout, and who expressed so vocally. There were also instructors who wanted a “teach-in” (ouroboros watch!), while co-organizer Jenny McCormack favorably cited a “mock funeral procession.” Meanwhile, co-organizer Conor Cash echoed the Facebook group in citing  “solidarity with the UC system,” which is staging a walkout. (By the way, notice how these graduate students had the cajones to release their names in a very public article.)

Rather than leaving with a clear sense of purpose, this outside observer was left wondering: “What, exactly, is this group protesting?” Take the picture featured ASFSS Rally Flieron the Wildcat’s article: “HAY: WE ARE MORE THAN MARS AND MIRRORS.” Here we have a reiteration of many of the complaints found at the Defender and at last Wednesday’s GPSC meeting – differential cuts are unfair, Hay is an ineffective/impolite provost, and more transparency and “awareness” are needed in the Transformation process. Yet if you look at the flier that has just been released for the group’s next event (see right), the rhetoric instead echoes the rhetoric of the ASA “DETH March” of last term, with its aims directed at the state legislators and budgetary cuts. By tying the event in with the UC system, this focus of the protest becomes solidarity with other disaffected university members  – call them the Deux-Mille-Neufers – who want to see “change” in the system. Luckily, though, the organizers of this event won’t fall into the trap that ASA did, organizing a multi-campus field trip to Phoenix that ended with an even deeper cut to higher education than was being considered at the time. This is because the higher education budget, for all intents and purposes, is a moot issue. No new cuts are in the works, because the state government is focused only a few issues (such as the sales tax), in an attempt to finally come to a budget agreement.

The only common thread between these issues is the fact that (some) graduate students and faculty don’t like what his happened so far in this New Era.  No one has at made it clear what Meredith Hay has to do with California’s budgetary EPIC FAIL. If the issue is the lack of money devoted to higher education (never mind the rising appropriations since 2002), then these members should be pushing for higher tuition and fees to fund their priorities. Instead, rising tuition is cited as one of the problems, and that this particular revenue stream needs to be slowed or frozen. This requires the state to increase its own revenue – which means more taxes. Now, it would at least be intellectually honest – perhaps, transparent – to see a rally supporting higher taxes in Arizona. Yet unlike walkouts and “national solidarity,” this proposal was not offered at the Friday meeting.

Like the Dude, that archetype for the 60s Leftist out of time and place, these organizers are probably right in asserting that something has gone amuck. But also like the Dude, the Deux-Mille-Neufers find themselves incapable of packaging a message, of spelling out exactly what is wrong, and what specific remedies should be implemented in response. One attendee argued that the organizers “need to build [their] case from the courtroom backwards.” Unfortunately, this strategy has been nixed in favor of what is sure to be yet another ineffectual pseudo-rally on the Mall. Meanwhile, the GPSC President David Talenfeld – whose organization opted instead for a letter stating specific, identifiable demands – got himself a face-to-face meeting with President Shelton.


2 Responses

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  1. Amber said, on 22 September 2009 at 9:32 pm

    The meeting that Talenfeld had with President Shelton wasn’t even a stab at transparency. Let us also have a discussion about the intention of that meeting.
    First, Talenfeld and Shelton had already decided to set up a committee to discuss the Grad Student Bill of Rights…it wasn’t a spontaneous and brilliant insight but rather a planted idea that existed BEFORE the meeting took place. To be a fly on that wall…
    Second, invitations to the Shelton meeting went out 24-hours before the first meeting time…how is that reflecting a student centered agenda that seeks to include students from a broad range of disciplines? Friday organizing may be ineffective, but Saturday night organizing is a shady business practice. A 24-hour window leaves very little room for organizing, disseminating information, or advertising the event. I wonder who that would benefit?
    Let’s have some reflective & investigative journalism rather than gun-slinging-shoot-from-the-hip reporting…that’s why people read the Daily Wildcat

    • Evan Lisull said, on 23 September 2009 at 7:53 am

      And, what, pray tell, will emerge from Thursday’s demonstration on the mall? A complete equalization in cuts? The dismissal of Provost Hay? The dawning of a new age of Aquarius? Demonstrations may make people feel empowered, but their effectiveness is greatly overstated – I would urge you to look back on the effectiveness of the ASA-sponsored rally last spring.

      The broader point of this essay still stands – that for all the flaws that may or may not exist in Talenfeld’s approach, it has accomplished something tenable: the preservation of tuition remission and health benefits as they currently stand, a promise that was aired very publicly. Should Shelton renege on this, grounds for legal action become far more solid than they currently are.

      Frankly, at this point Mr. Talenfeld and the GPSC have done far more for the well-being of graduate students on campus than any other group on campus. I’ll make a gentleman’s bet that this meeting – for all its faults – has done far more to benefit graduates than the upcoming “solidarity” movement ever will.

      Finally, I must express a bit of pleasant surprise at the praise of the Wildcat, seeing how supporters of “solidarity” savaged the paper’s coverage in the comments. But yes, the Wildcat is an excellent paper of record.

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