Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Learning from History

Higher ed figured somewhat in the presidential election campaign, largely related to tuition issues and student debt. But in the past, when there was a shift to the right in the political world, it did play a significant role. In 1966, Governor Pat Brown - Jerry's dad - was running for re-election to a third term. (There were no term limits back then.) Brown had three problems:

- A state budget crisis, which created the image of mismanaged government.

-The Watts Riot of 1965 (race issues, law and order).

-The "mess" at Berkeley, meaning student demonstrations and protests (law and order).

Brown viewed Reagan as an improbable opponent - a mere actor. (Who could take an actor seriously?) Moreover, Reagan was supported by extremists (the John Birch Society). Brown was cheered that Reagan defeated a more conventional GOP rival in the Republican primary, since surely he could be easily defeated. And the rest - as they say - is history.

After the election, the student protests and demonstrations at Berkeley spread to other campuses (and throughout the country). And Reagan drew support from the public reaction against it. Among other events was the firing of UC president Clark Kerr. Reagan was re-elected as governor in 1970.

History does not necessarily repeat mechanically. California is decidedly different politically from what it was in 1966. But UC, as noted in a prior post, has become a federal university in many respects when funding is considered. So national trends matter more to it than in the 1960s.

There isn't an immediate "solution" for UC. Time will tell, etc. However, it would be wise to choose battles carefully. There is broad public support for UC when folks think about access. But there is also the perception that - as Gov. (Jerry) Brown phrased it last January - "normal people" can't get into Berkeley (or UCLA or other competitive campuses).* It's not clear who the "normal people" were, in the governor's mind. Someone might ask him, however, what he was trying to convey.

In the meantime, UC can do things such as reassure immigrant students, without using inflammatory language such as "sanctuary campus"** that needlessly antagonizes the "normal people" to whom Brown was likely referencing.

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