Monday, July 23, 2012

Connecting University Privatization and Police Repression (by Beezer de Martelly)

Question: I’ve heard people mention that there is a link between university privatization and increased police repression of campus protesters, but I don’t really understand. How are they connected?

Answer: While they are definitely linked, this connection can be difficult to trace. It involves some knowledge about how public university administrators profit at the expense of students and what it takes to maintain this system.

The public money that supports institutions like state colleges and universities is “restricted,” meaning it comes with a host of stipulations about how it can and cannot be spent. A certain portion of the state funds must be used towards resources that directly benefit classroom instruction, such as learning materials and increasing the teacher-to-student ratio. Under state law, these funds cannot be used entirely towards things like increased administrative salaries and non-essential construction projects.

However, since the 1990s, public schools have shifted towards a corporate business model and have become deeply networked with banking institutions and financial investment through Wall Street. In addition, regents, trustees, and other individuals responsible for making critical decisions about the university’s resources often own, among much else, major stock options and firms for real estate development (for a compelling example, see this 2010 article on the UC Regents).  As a result, university administrators see huge personal profit potential in lucrative university construction projects, which cannot be legally financed principally through public funds.

In order to pay for these projects, top administrators have shunned restricted state money, relying increasingly on unrestricted tuition to finance the growth of the institution as well as their pocketbooks. In other words, in the form of tuition, students are now fronting the cash required to back the university’s bank loans for major construction projects. And because these same administrators make the decisions about tuition increases, the university is virtually guaranteed a nearly endless and rapidly growing cash flow as well as an impeccable credit rating.

Of course, as tuition skyrockets out of control, students must take out huge loans from the banks—the average college student in the U.S. now graduates into a dismal job market with around $26,000 in debt. Like the sub-prime mortgage crisis, these loans are being chopped up and sold off to thousands of creditors seeking to make a profit off of the interest--not coincidentally, the UC Regents also sit on the boards of many of these lending institutions. This year, student loan debt topped $1 trillion, and through the strange logic of late capitalism, speculators estimate the collective worth of this debt to be around $2.67 trillion. Furthermore, unlike other forms of debt, college loans can never be absolved, even in the case of bankruptcy. In sum, students are paying an enormous, often life-long price for an education that no longer guarantees a job while college and university administrators privatize their schools and profit from their debt.

However, as more students refuse to go into debt to pay for their educations and begin to question the logic upon which university growth rests, university administrators are finding themselves in a very precarious position. As such, many administrators, like the University of California’s Regents, have come to view their own students as barriers to economic growth, and they believe that these students must be disciplined into continuing to finance the expansion of the university. This discipline takes many forms, from student conduct policies that limit or eliminate First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly, legal repression through law suits and so-called “stay away” orders, to campus and local municipal police brutalizing protesters. The program of privatization depends upon these methods of silencing voices and crushing dissenting bodies. And as administrators increase the surveillance of and militarization against their own students, literally forcing them into taking on more debt, college campuses are starting to look and feel more and more like embattled war zones.


Brown, Nathan. 2011. “Five Theses on Privatization and the University Struggle.” 
Reclaim UC Blog, November 17. Accessed June 21, 2012.
Byrne, Peter. 2010. “Investor’s Club: How the UC Regents Spin Public Funds into
Gould-Wartofsky, Michael. 2012. “Homeland Security Goes to College: How College
Campuses Became a Homeland Security Battleground.” Mother Jones, March. Accessed June 21, 2012.
Harris, Malcolm. 2011. “Rising Tuition + Student Loans = Education Bubble.” The
Nance-Nash, Sheryl. 2012. “Student Loan Debt: $1 Trillion and Counting.” Forbes,
Rodriguez, Dylan. 2011. “De-Provincializing Police Violence: On the Recent Events at
UC Davis.” Reclaim UC Blog, December 9. Accessed June 21, 2012.

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