On Tuesday, May 8, in the midst of final exam week, a group of female students performed a public art action at UC Berkeley to call attention to the UC Regents’ privatization of what was once the premier public university in the country.
A seated interventionist held an enlargement of one of the numerous bronze plaques set into the pavement demarcating the perimeter of the university. Behind her stood a half dozen cohorts, displaying hand painted signs which spelled out the threatening language of the plaque in white on black, all of them with their mouths covered by black duct tape.
“I feel this action was necessary because this is an issue that is relevant to everyone on campus, and people know surprisingly little about it,” one of the interventionists told us.
At the same time, spokespeople for the group engaged the public in dialogue and distributed flyers to prompt passersby to question the UC Regents’ corporate ownership.
What was it like for the students to do this?
Personally, this was my first public involvement in social action. I felt a bit tense at first, because I have never done this kind of thing before, and a little hesitant to be under speculation of strangers. But I soon got used to the stares, and soon I wanted more people to stop by and see us. It was fun seeing the “?” look on people’s faces — people walking by, people driving by, and people working at American Apparel…
All of this comes at a time when highly paid UC administrators push for yet another tuition hike, which if passed would mean that tuition has effectively doubled over the past five years, rendering access to middle and working class families increasingly out of reach, as national student debt breaches the trillion dollar mark.
It also comes in the wake of recent “Stay Away” orders issued to students who were retroactively charged with criminal offenses for their participation in protesting the privatization of the university (for which many of them were violently beaten, to national outrage, but not arrested), making real the Regents’ threat to revoke the right to pass.
The truth is that the UC Regents heavily invest public funds, and their own, in private for-profit colleges, and financially benefit from the construction of new university buildings which has continued despite all the administration’s lamentations of budgetary shortfalls, seemingly without any effective regulation of these apparent conflicts of interest.
All of which comes at the expense of the greater common good.
We at the Asians Art Museum applaud this handful of creative and courageous students for taking a stand through elegant, fierce public action.
The art action has since received institutional recognition from an organ of the university itself, appearing on the website of the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA), a statewide program dedicated to supporting and promoting arts practice and research across the University of California system.