Letters to the Editor: Activism Must not Interfere With Academics



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I am writing this letter shortly after the fire alarms were pulled in several of the lecture halls at UC Berkeley. This action was, as I have inferred from notes that were presumably left by the perpetrators, in response to the passage of Proposition 21. My reaction is one of disgust and shame at the action taken by those who committed this misdeed.

I believe that the passage of Proposition 21 is one of the greatest mistakes in the past 10 years on the part of Californians. There are many reasons for this, which have been seriously debated by those who have much greater grounding in political science than I do. I am sorry that the state of California has chosen such a direction for its future, and I have no doubts that later this fault will be looked upon with remorse by those who voted in favor of the proposition.

The stand I take, though, is one that is common to many of the students here at UC Berkeley - the desire for academic excellence. The laurels of the university rest in its academic excellence and its political and social activism, neither of which can be ignored the slightest amount. Beginning with the Free Speech Movement, in which many recognized that remaining within the bounds of state and federal law is not always the best way to get a point across, the city of Berkeley and the university have become very controversial centers, attracting many of the greatest minds to study here. Thus, the activism of the university plays a vital role in academics.

But this may easily be taken too far, as was, I believe, done yesterday. There are certain bounds within which activism must lie in order not to interfere with the very essence of the university's function: to promote academic excellence. When these bounds are transgressed, it is important for us to recognize that they are not healthy to the overall function of the university. The fire alarms yesterday not only prevented many from attending classes but they also prevented faculty members and students from working toward this common goal. This is a very important fact and should not be overlooked. I hope others will agree and in the future look at what consequences their actions may have. There are many ways in which one can get the attention of others without interfering with our zenith: education and academics.

David Matters


UC Berkeley student

Left Should Practice Political Tolerance

I am writing to express my great displeasure at an act of intolerance that I witnessed a few days ago. I watched a student proponent of Proposition 21 discussing youth crime with several students organized to oppose the bill. The discussion seemed fairly rational and coherent to me, but I sensed increasing hostility on the part of some of the participants. I paused for a moment to talk and pray with a couple of friends from church for an atmosphere of peace, civility and discourse. I prayed that God would help provide much needed mutual respect and love between the warring parties.

Suddenly I saw a female student, perhaps a leader of Proposition 21 opposition, walk up to the proponent and those with whom he was talking and said "Don't waste your time on this one." She said that he was stubborn and wouldn't change his views, then grabbed his homemade "Yes on 21" poster, tore it up, and threw it away, to the surprise of everyone there, to a bit of disgust from some of the gathered, to a bit of amusement from others. "You're a jerk," she said to him. "You're going to get jumped." One student mockingly said, "That was property damage; are you going to lock her up for that?" Nevertheless, the anti-21 group quickly dispersed, in accordance with her command.

I talked to this leader for a few minutes, asking that she show respect for a fellow human being by apologizing for what she did, that it was simply wrong for her to treat another person with this level of disrespect. She did admit that she went a bit far but muttered something about the "Youth coming together," and that "he really should expect this." He should expect hostile, borderline violent response? That "he has no right to go out here with a sign while (the anti-21 and anti-22) protest is going on." She ignored my pleadings that she apologize, and moved off with her group.

When did the public square become the private property of the left? At what point did leftist activists conveniently begin to insist that the right wing tolerate the left wing, but fail to respond in like manner? What we obtain is a strangely impoverished, diseased eagle for an American polity, unable to fly, unable to protect and sustain the very political discourse that keeps it alive.

I understand that the stakes are very high in this emotionally-sensitive Proposition 21. But the high stakes require a high standard of political wisdom and analytic rigor, none of which can survive in an environment of political fear, where one side can impose a forced silence on the other.

I don't know whether what I saw today is symptomatic of the entire leftist movement. But all the hatred that supposedly exists in the conservative right I instead see in the liberal left. I see a left that espouses the very intolerance that it supposedly fights to prevent. I see a left that shouts at the right, a left whose members will not engage in peaceable, honest discussion, even when those in the right try to do so.

What I ask for is prudent leadership from the left and the right that encourages true free speech and political tolerance of the right to speak and be heard in the public square. I still have hope for this liberal democracy, that it retains a basis in free political discourse. But the threat to free speech in Berkeley originates not out of a repressive regime but out of a repressive political movement.

Isaac Fong


UC Berkeley student

Rent Control is More Than an Expedient Tool

As a nine-year Berkeley resident and former tenant of Robert Cabrera's, I take exception to several of the comments in his recent opinion piece praising the value of vacancy decontrol ("Rent Control: Affordable Housing Program or Political Tool?" March 2).

Cabrera's statistical analysis is fatally flawed in two ways. First, he cites a 1970 figure that indicates nearly 70 percent of UC students lived in Berkeley private rental housing. He then goes to compare that to a 1988 figure saying that the campus and downtown subarea of the city contained only 28 percent student households, as if to signify that this represents a drop in the number of students living near campus. As any first semester statistics student could point out, this analysis is no more accurate than saying if 70 percent of your red socks are in one drawer, that drawer is 70 percent full of red socks, no matter how many socks are in the drawer.

Cabrera's second error is in representing a 57 percent increase in student households since vacancy decontrol as somehow being better for students. When rent control was strong, low rents meant affordable housing for everyone, regardless of student status. It made Berkeley an appealing place to live for students and non-students alike. Now that a $700 unit can go on the market for $1400, those who don't have a need to be near the campus turn to other cities, where the dense student population has less of an effect on free-market prices. This results in far more units rented to students, because nobody else is interested in such expensive units and the landlords know the students can be gouged. I hardly see this as "favoring students," as Cabrera claims. On the contrary, students with low-rent apartments do not want to leave, even after they graduate, because they know they would have to pay more anywhere else.

Lastly, I resent Cabrera's assertion that rent control is nothing more than an expedient political tool. In 1994, a friend and I moved into an apartment of Cabrera's, a one-bedroom. Before that it was shared by five UC students, because there was no other way they could afford the $900 per month rent. I shudder to think what living conditions are like in similar units all over the city that now have no rent ceiling.

There is no guarantee that the extra money landlords make now will be put in to improvements, especially in a university city, with a captive population. The only incentive landlords had to make significant improvements, the raising of the rent ceiling by the rent board, has been taken away by the very measure Cabrera supports. There is now less reason than ever for landlords to improve their apartments, and they are getting more money than ever for it.

"Vacancy decontrol," the sweet-sounding euphemism for the repeal of rent control laws, has only one friend, the landlord that gets the bigger checks.

Kevin Fox


Berkeley resident

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