The introduction of research into the mission of higher education, a transformation which took place first in Germany and Scotland, had profound and lasting effects; principal among them was providing a means by which faculty in the United States (where the state was far weaker than it was in Europe) could professionalize, organize, and create a new institutional form – a hybrid of European and US higher education now hailed as the American Research University.
A standard feature of the hand-wringing associated with the crisis of the university is a fixation on the humanities. After all, for those of us in the so-called creative and critical fields, illustrating, visualizing and – dare we say it – branding the crisis is a new and unique opportunity to show off. This is what we went to school for, isn’t it? Take a recent event at Cornell University, which dramatized the question with the following thought experiment: after some sort of maritime disaster (details are scarce), a group of undergraduates commandeers a life raft. As luck would have it, they have a bit of space left – but, tragic twist of fate, the only people left to save are professors. Instead of giving up the seats to their elders, our clever young narcissists make the professors present a case as to why they deserve the remaining spot on the life raft.
Legend has it that the campus of the University of California, Santa Cruz was designed by a prison architect who, in response to student riots at UC Berkeley, created a campus grid without a central point. Lacking a major quad or lawn, demonstrations would be dispersed to the individual colleges, defused and controlled. While this legend is certainly not true – UCSC was conceived of as an experiment in “human-scale” education whose existence was to challenge the dehumanizing size of state universities – the layout of UCSC does present this challenge to student activists.
Following the recent four-day occupation of an empty bank building at 75 River Street in Santa Cruz and the attempted occupation of an empty warehouse in Seattle, the controversial tactic of attempting to seize and hold vacant private property has been taken up as a new front of a sprawling social movement. These actions move beyond protesting the enclosure of public space and stifling of free speech; they aim to expand the scope of critique to the role that private property plays in our current crisis. This change in scope has not been lost on the landlords. “I’m definitely not in agreement with this group taking over private property,” a local property owner told the Mercury News.
Occupy-related protests have steadily increased in number and militancy, and so has the resulting police repression. This has only made it more urgent to to identify and understand recent important steps in the transformation of the movement. These steps were most visible in the general strike in Oakland, and the later occupation of the Traveller’s Aid building, and they have begun to expand throughout the country.
Getting arrested, at least in my case, was slow and physically draining. Before continuing, I should note that I draw no analogy between my experience of political arrest and the constant harassment and detention that accompany life on the margins. I am not one of the mentally ill who are removed from public sight to make commerce safe; one of the drug addicts who sometimes pound their heads against the paddy wagon walls until blood flows; one of undocumented immigrants who now populate bank-owned, for-profit prisons; or one of those who attract the police because of the color of their skin. I was also not beaten by the police or held without charges. Arrest for political offense, in my case, meant sitting for a long time in Bank of America on November 16, having ABC Live literally watch my back, and waiting in a cold seat in an improvised pen for two hours. That day-after soreness from having my hands cuffed behind my back was my biggest physical or emotional complaint testifies to this difference.