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UCLA

The University of California system’s United Student-Workers Union organized a strike on the UCLA campus last week, and it was a spectacle to behold.

The strikers, totaling in the hundreds, gathered in front of Powell Library on Thursday morning and proceeded to march around campus throughout the day, playing music, banging on drums, and shouting in unison.

Many of my friends had discussion sections canceled because their TA’s decided to get in on the action, as the UAW purports to represent “over 13,000 Teaching Assistants, Graduate Student Instructors, Readers and Tutors at the University of California,” according to its website.

I wanted to get in on the action, too, so I went down to the strike area to see what all the fuss was about.

When I first got there I was surprised at the strikers’ collective chutzpa. Many an exuberant face stomped by me vigorously brandishing the UAW demand sign. Notorious B.I.G. bumped in the background as one of the leaders kept calling for his strikers not to back down in their incessant inveighing.

Many protestors wore shirts with the UAW slogan, “educate, agitate, organize,” and logo, a muscular fist clenching a pencil (a literate iron fist, if you will).

The UAW has a specific list of demands that it presented to the UCLA and larger UC administrations and whoever was willing to listen.

The standard UAW sign many were wielding demanded:UAWposter

·      Equal access for all undocumented workers

·      All-gender bathrooms

·      Disability justice

·      Support for student families

·      Living wages and smaller class sizes

The apparent disjunction in and somewhat desultory nature of these demands notwithstanding, the majority of strikers, being graduate students and teaching assistants, were primarily concerned with large undergraduate class sizes and low pay.

One sign posted on the wall related the challenging situation one teaching assistant had found himself in: “I had a class of 93 students and had to grade 650 short essays with 7 questions each for the final.”

Another sign lamented the fact that grad students would eventually have to pay back their loans: “Government will garnish your wages if you don’t pay your student loans.”

One sign seemed to key in on the fact that the supply of PhDs in majors like sociology and history far outstrips the number of jobs that demand such training: “Because you pay a professional fee with no promise of a profession.”

Finally, a flyer “protested” the dizzying rate at which tuition has climbed over the last twenty years: from $2,761 in 1994 to $11,220 in 2014.

Other flyers had a more populist and classist flavor: one decried UC President Janet Napolitano’s $577,000 salary and $8,916 stipend for her car, and another lambasted some UC coaches’ $2 million salaries.

Of course, fringe-type characters came out of the woodworks to join the more focused protestors.

One pair of people handed me a flyer about “The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation.” The flyer invited me to a presentation to listen to some speaker enlighten me about communism because “the whole history of communism in the 20th century shows that IT IS possible to create a society and world in which humanity can truly being to flourish.” Where do I sign up?

I talked to one fellow who was particularly irked by the “disenfranchisement” of Central Americans in California. I pressed him a little bit as to what he meant by “disenfranchisement.” He told me of the Central Americans’ plight: they feel they don’t have a voice or “visibility” because there aren’t that many of them on talk shows and in the American media and also because there aren’t very many people teaching classes specifically about Central Americans in college these days. He pointed out the injustice in having so many classes about Mexican-Americans at UCLA, but only one about Central Americans.

Many people were holding homemade signs instead of the template UAW sign. My personal favorite was one girl’s sign, which simply read: “Labor is Unfair.” If I had more time I surely would have delighted in learning more about the ethos behind such a simple, yet elegant, phrase.

All in all, the UAW strike was a pretty typical strike. The overall milieu of the scene was eclectic: there were the commies as well as the people who just came out for the free sandwiches and an occasion to yell, but the majority of the strikers were genuinely peeved and seemed pretty sensible insofar as their central demands were fairly focused and consistent.

They actually honed in on some important points: grad students are taking on quite a bit of debt with little hope of securing a good job to pay off said debt, tuition has risen dramatically over the last twenty years, and college administrators are splurging at the expense of undergraduate class sizes (they didn’t need to tell me twice about that).

However, I didn’t see on the national news any grad students’ unions protesting in Washington D.C. against the Direct Unsubsidized and PLUS federal loan programs which have subsidized the grad student bubble (as I call it) and have ensured a steady, government-backed cash flow that has led directly to the tuition hikes and to college administrators spending on lavish new campus restaurants and administrators’ salaries.

Ah, perhaps if there were more economics students involved in these protests—I guess that would be wishful thinking.

Wait, let me rephrase: perhaps if there were more economics students involved who are not being educated by liberal economics professors. Wishful thinking indeed.

College Fix contributor Josh Hedtke is a student at UCLA.

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IMAGE: Main - YouTube screenshot; Inside: United Student-Workers Union screenshot

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Some news this week in a disturbing case out of UCLA.

According to TMZ Sports, UCLA’s former associate athletic director, Michael Sondheimer, has been charged for possession of child pornography:

The L.A. Couny D.A.’s Office says he’s been charged with one felony county of possession — and the porn was on his work-issued laptop.

58-year old Sondheimer resigned from his post at UCLA last year amid allegations he was having online sex chats with minors.

According to the D.A. the alleged offense occurred in April of last year. If convicted, Sondheimer faces up to 3 years in state prison…

Despite whatever public relations worries administrators might have, in the wake of Penn State’s unconcionable mushandling of the Jerry Sandusky crimes, UCLA will surely do all it can to cooperate with this ongoing investigation and the eventual trial.

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UCLA student Evan Moffitt, a student government representative, has tendered his resignation. He is sick of his peers on the dais worrying about everything but the own campus they’ve vowed to serve. He penned an exit letter that really hit the nail on the head.

It ran in The Daily Bruin on Wednesday and read in part:

Time and time again, I was disappointed by councilmembers’ misplaced priorities. In meetings, instead of being asked what students needed and how we could help them, we were lectured on military aid in the Pacific and Israeli policies in Gaza. Instead of focusing on how to improve our own university, members of USAC insisted we focus on global political issues over which we had no sway.

Many sitting members of council are self-described “activists.” While I applaud their activism, the council table is not the place for it. They were elected to be leaders, and that means making legislative decisions that will benefit all the students they represent. It does not mean reducing USAC to a soapbox from which to broadcast divisive opinions that divide campus communities and force students to pick sides against each other.

The recent debate over divestment from companies that profit from Israeli occupation is but one example of a startling trend in USAC: Councilmembers have repeatedly passed ringing declarations stating their positions on global politics, rather than working to create substantive change on real campus issues that affect the student body.

Where are we on increasing access to mental health resources? Where are we on helping homeless students? Where are we on improving workers’ rights on campus, or taking proactive measures to ensure our campus is safer for students?

It seems as if these tangible student needs are of no importance to the present council, even though it was elected to meet them; I’ve lifted those few examples from the platforms they ran on.

Instead, we’ve wasted countless hours of precious legislative time debating the job record of the former secretary of Homeland Security, the efficacy of statewide ballot propositions, Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action and peace in the Middle East.

Councilmembers should be reminded that they are neither U.S. Congress nor the United Nations. They are the sole officially sanctioned legislative representatives of the undergraduate student body of UCLA– providing students with lasting programs that affect real and much-needed change is their primary responsibility.

I must emphasize that my resignation has nothing to do with my position on divestment. I respect the views of all Palestinian and Israeli students. Nevertheless, the University of California has made it perfectly clear that not a single cent of UC funds will be divested from companies engaged with Israel unless the U.S. declares that the government is committing acts of genocide.

Since we can all agree that will not happen, we must be clear that Tuesday night’s divestment resolution is nothing more than an empty gesture that can only hurt the Israeli and Jewish communities on campus. Passing the resolution marginalizes Jewish and Israeli students; voting it down ignores the wishes of Palestinian students. There simply is no right answer with divestment– everybody loses. It is an issue, like many others the council has doggedly pursued, that promises only to tear apart a campus councilmembers promised, in taking office, to bring together.

Read more.

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IMAGE: Blued Harna / Flickr

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Legal Insurrection reports on the drama that took place last night at UCLA–the latest U.S. campus to attempt an anti-Israel boycott or divestment resolution:

After an all-night session, the UCLA student council defeated an ant-Israel divestment resolution by a vote of 7-5.

The vote received enormous attention, and was trending in the U.S. on Twitter.

This is a huge defeat for BDS on campus. Divestment resolutions recently were overturned at UC-Riverside and defeated at UC-Santa Barbara…

The video below shows one of the resolution’s supporters on a hysterical rant after the measure is voted down, crying out, “I’ve never been more f**king disappointed,” and “we just f**king blew it,” as the meeting descended into chaos.

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UCLA will foot the bill for its employees to learn to speak Spanish under a new program launched this month at the Southern California-based public university.

Employees can take the class during working hours as well as get the cost of the Spanish course – $177 – reimbursed by their department budgets, campus officials told The College Fix.

“It is important as a university and employer that we are on the cutting edge providing our staff with the necessary tools needed to meet the future,” Lee Walton, a UCLA diversity coordinator, said in an email to The College Fix. “The exciting opportunity for a staff employee to learn a language during working hours is priceless.”

The new class, offered by UCLA’s Staff Diversity and Compliance Office, is an expansion of its 10-year-old Spanish as a Second Language program.

“For the past nine years, 124 UCLA staff — from shuttle bus drivers to janitorial supervisors and department managers — have completed the basic ‘Spanish as a Second Language’ course,” UCLA Today stated. “The program began as a pilot project to enhance the cultural awareness of managers, especially those who led ethnically diverse staff members.”

According to campus officials, the program has allowed managers “to speak Spanish with their staff members” and they “have noticed improved morale in the workplace.”

“Managers start to see things differently,” Spanish teacher Susana Zarate told UCLA Today. “As they work hard to learn Spanish, they begin to understand what it’s like for their staff members to learn English.”

Under the program’s expansion, the class will now be open to staff and managers from departments campuswide – not just for “those who led ethnically diverse staff members.”

UCLA has about 21,757 full-time employees, and roughly 26 percent are Latino, according to Walton.

The new class has a capacity of 30, and it meets for 90 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from Feb. 18 through April 24. It includes basic vocabulary and grammar lessons on how to read and speak Spanish, as well as a cultural component.

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IMAGE: UCLA screenshot

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OPINION: It is important to meet such misguided opinions head-on and challenge them on the merits of their arguments. The fact is UCLA does much for diversity already and is a very diverse school.

Back in November, UCLA undergraduate Sy Stokes, a third year Afro-American Studies major, produced the following video. Since then, it’s been viewed nearly 1.8 million times.

The video is prefaced by a slide reminding or enlightening us of the assassination of two black students on the UCLA campus in 1969. It then jumps to black students standing in a group lodging their grievances openly on campus, behind their head spokesman, Stokes, who is currently working on a degree offered by an Afro-American Studies program that may soon become its own independent department at UCLA.

The video implies that current black students are as equally oppressed as black students on campus in 1969. Yet the video’s creator studies in a department wholly devoted to the study of black culture. Of course, only a thoroughly racist institution like UCLA would bother to offer Afro-American Studies as a major.

Judging from the anger in Stokes’s voice and in his peers’ demeanor (at the end of the video the group dramatically takes off their UCLA sweatshirts and drops them to the ground), one might think students and administrators maliciously and intentionally try to thwart black students’ attempts to be successful. That black students face brutality and brick walls everywhere they turn.

Alas, Stokes’s grievance is against something just a tad more tame than physical abuse: he claims black students are “underrepresented,” “marginalized,” and graduating at relatively low rates.

However, in reality, different groups of people are simply represented unequally in different endeavors. It’s what happens in a diverse society where people are free to pursue their own goals. Professional sports, such as basketball and baseball, provide illustrative examples of this.

The racial makeup of the NBA last year was: 76.3 percent black, 0.2 percent Asian, 4.4 percent Latino, and 19 percent white (funny enough, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics and Sport, which produced these statistics in its annual “diversity report card,” gave the overwhelmingly black NBA an “A+” for diversity).

Juxtapose that with MLB, which is only 8.3 percent black. Is there something sinister going on here, or do black athletes simply choose to play basketball at a higher rate than they do baseball? Or perhaps Michael Jordan was really a closet civil rights activist trying to break down the barrier of “misrepresentation” by taking a crack at baseball.

In 2012 in California, the total percentage of the black population was 6.6 percent, and the total percentage of the white population was 73.7 percent. In contrast, the percentage of white student at UCLA is 27.8 percent and the percentage of black students at UCLA is 3.8 percent.UCLABlackBruin2

In effect, white students are actually severely “underrepresented” compared to black students: the white percentage at UCLA is only 37.7 percent of the total percentage of white residents in the state, whereas the black percentage at UCLA is 57.6 percent of the total statewide percentage of black residents – a 20 point difference!

All that aside, let’s concede that attaining proper racial representation is an admirable goal: do we get black enrollment to exactly 6.6 percent to achieve perfect representation and then stop there? What if black enrollment goes above 6.6 percent, would that, too, be an injustice, because blacks would then be “overrepresented?”

To take the video to heart would lead one to believe that UCLA does not currently do much in the name of boosting diversity and increasing the representation of minority students. The opposite is true. UCLA and the wider UC system operate a multitude of programs aimed at increasing diversity, and have been doing so for a long time.

There is an entire UCLA website devoted to diversity, the aptly named https://diversity.ucla.edu, where you can find information on no fewer than 112 student organizations either explicitly or tangentially related to fostering diversity.

Many of these groups receive funding from the UCLA student government. We have 16 “___________ studies” majors ranging from Chicano Studies to Gender Studies to Israel Studies. UCLA has an actual written “Strategic Plan For Diversity.” In the 2011 “UC Accountability Report,” an annual report that addresses subjects such as “Affordability” and “Undergraduate Student Success,” the longest section, totaling 22 pages, is devoted to “Diversity.”

On top of the programs aimed at recruiting minority students, we already have many that address minority retention rates. We have the Campus Retention Committee that has been operating since 1969. UCLA students have voted six times since the CRC’s inception to increase its funding, the most recent vote occurring in 2009. The CRC specializes in “serving specific communities that have been historically damaged by low retention,” according to its website.

We also have the Academic Advancement Program that has been operating for 40 years and offers tutoring services, grad school prep courses, and community development programs. The AAP’s primary objective is to “ensure the academic success and graduation of students who have been historically underrepresented in higher education;” it is touted as the “nation’s largest university-based student diversity program.”

We have the largest diversity program in the nation, yet we’re simultaneously racists!?

On Jan. 14, Dr. Charles Alexander, assistant vice provost for student diversity and director of the Academic Advancement Program, announced construction of a brand new Learning Pavilion on campus where minority students will be able to take advantage of expanded tutoring services. We also have many scholarships provided exclusively for “underrepresented” students.

On top of the many legal channels by which we are promoting diversity, a 2012 report by UCLA law professor Richard Sander propounds that UCLA may actually be violating the 1996 California ban on affirmative action by accepting minority students at higher rates than their similarly qualified non-minority (Asian and white) counterparts, due to UCLA’s two-tiered holistic admissions process. Sander claims, somewhat controversially, that an independent report produced by UCLA Sociology professor Robert Mare corroborates his results.

Stokes actually addresses Sander’s report in the video—he chooses to ignore Sander’s facts and instead lobs an ad hominem attack at him. Stokes attempts to refute the report by slandering Professor Sander as someone who thinks UCLA has “far too many black kids.”

Speaking of faculty, we currently have a “vice provost of faculty diversity and development” to address faculty diversity. And, much to my non-surprise, I received an email from the UCLA chancellor in December informing students of the creation of a new administrative position, the “vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion.” Keeping count, yet?

Additionally, the chancellor created a new position dubbed “discrimination officer” who will henceforth investigate “incidents of racial discrimination and harassment.”

Interestingly, this email came out in early December, just after the Stokes video was posted on Nov. 4 and after an alleged incident of “racial discrimination” in mid-November.

What sort of terrible racial event could have prompted the university to respond with the inauguration of a brand new administrative position? A group of students staged a “sit-in” in Professor Val Rust’s dissertation course offered by the UCLA Graduate School of Education in an attempt to highlight Professor Rust’s racially underpinned “microaggressions” toward this particular group of students.

Among the 81-year old professor emeritus’s alleged transgressions are repeatedly requiring students to write “Indigenous” in lowercase form instead of uppercase form (consistent, by the way, with its not having proper noun status as can be discovered readily in any standard dictionary), requiring students to capitalize “white” if they also choose to capitalize “black,” and my personal favorite: requiring the students to use the Chicago Manual of Style instead of the style standards of the American Psychological Association.

Oh, the horror! Have you noticed our descent into the Twilight Zone? I had to read past the first article just to make sure this “sit-in” episode wasn’t an elaborate parody on diversity.

Given everything UCLA already does for underrepresented students, which includes blacks, it is difficult to understand where all the anger in the Stokes’s video comes from. UCLA is currently doing everything it can to increase minority enrollment and retention, short of traveling to underrepresented neighborhoods, abducting minority kids, and forcing them to attend and graduate from UCLA.

In an interview with MSNBC, Stokes decries the fact that there is “a consensus within the black community that you either become a rapper, a basketball player, or football player to become successful” and that “the stress on academics isn’t there anymore.”

How exactly is this the fault of the University of California, Los Angeles, and why exactly is the onus on a public institution that by law must be color-blind to change this “consensus?”

Stokes then goes on to say that this (he is non-descriptive of what “this” is) is “used against us [blacks] to keep us at that low point.” Used by whom exactly?

Normally I wouldn’t care whether a small group of particularly vocal students voices their opinion on campus or not—people can say what they want. I do begin to care when these groups of students’ (Stokes et al. and the students involved in the sit-in) protests help result in the formation of an interminable administrative money-pit, like the “Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion” will undoubtedly become.

Chancellor Block boldly assures us in his email that the new position will “have the resources and authority necessary to succeed and carry out this critical mission,” which of course is a euphemism for “we’ll throw money at some career bureaucrat as long as it boosts our reputation as a particularly diverse institution.”

I actually agree with Stokes that UCLA administrators are more interested in UCLA’s reputation as a hub of diversity than anything else. I blame administrators such as Block for capitulating and creating extraneous administrative positions more than I do Stokes for inviting the capitulation by voicing his opinions (be they misguided).

But it is important to meet such misguided opinions head-on and challenge them on the merits of their arguments. The fact is UCLA does so much for diversity already and is really a very diverse school: it is 18 percent Hispanic, 3.8 percent black, 35 percent Asian, 28 percent white, and 12 percent international students.

Stokes claims that black UCLA students “feel like Rosa Parks on the bus” while in class and that the only possible solution to this “marginalization” is to “rewind time with role-reversal as our [Stokes et al.’s] revenge.”

Is he actually saying that modern blacks should deny civil rights to whites as the solution for past and perceived current injustice? The people who espouse these kinds of combative opinions must not be allowed to dictate university policy unchallenged.

College Fix contributor Josh Hedtke is a student at UCLA.

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