Critique of University's Tree-Sit Response

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UC Berkeley seems to be moving further and further from its ideals of a public institution accessible to all and home of the Free Speech Movement. Its reckless and dangerous actions to attempt to remove tree-sitters last week is just one of many steps in this direction.

UC Berkeley has refused to negotiate with the community or work to develop an intelligent alternative to building dressing rooms in an oak grove that is beloved by the community and considered sacred to many. Instead it has used its massive propaganda machine and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to fence tree-sitters in and police them.

UC Berkeley, which touts itself as the home of the Free Speech Movement could have responded differently. It could have used the tree-sit as an opportunity to demonstrate what free speech and genuine public dialogue means. It could have supported the tree-sitters as a way for its student body to actively engage in struggle and dialog around issues that are passionate to them, to learn that education is about actively participating in creating a new world, not just receiving a society in crisis. It could have used the hundreds of thousands of dollars it spent policing the tree-sit to host community forums to develop a better solution than cutting the oak grove. More fundamentally, it could have used these forums to discuss what the role of a public university should be and why, in a state that spends far more on prisons than it does on higher education, that Berkeley is more and more unable to fill this role.

Berkeley did not seize the opportunity but responded just as the university did to the People's Park demonstrations in the 1960s. It responded with force. Perhaps this does not surprise us as community members. Berkeley more and more does not represent the ideals of a public institution. It has an atrociously low percentage of Black, Latino and Native American students and faculty in a state where people of color are a majority. Its tuition has made it far from the publicly accessible university it was created to be. It has been working to negotiate one of the largest corporate-university buyouts in history with British Petroleum-I mean Beyond Petroleum; it provides a safe haven for Professor John Yoo, who provided legal cover for the Bush Administration's torture regime; it continues to research and help in the development of nuclear weapons; it refused to offer timely tenure to Professor Ruthie Gilmore, a renowned African American scholar, forcing her decision to leave Berkeley, and the list goes on.

It is time that we as a state speak out for a new type of education system. An education system with adequate funding, that does not need to pimp itself to corporate takeovers and an education system that encourages dialog and thought, not fed ideas and forced deforestation. The university's actions against the tree-sit should be an awakening to us; a call to action for a new way of learning in a country that is falling behind.


Jonah Zern is a Berkeley resident. Reply to [email protected]



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