Cliff Kincaid interviewed UC Davis Professor Nathan Brown regarding Brown’s call for the campus to become a no-go zone for police. This is a new strategy being used by many Occupy groups and other protestors, who look to be beginning to migrate to college campuses now that cold’s setting in.
Universities and colleges tend to be more hospitable than city parks, because they are much more nursery-like: nice places to crash; built-in constituencies of the verbosely idle; anorectic girls willing to share their cafeteria cards; PR-allergic administrators . . . and protection from the more deranged homeless and/or criminal hoi polloi who harshed many a city-park-Occupy vibe by hogging the tofu loaf, among less amusing ironies.
Besides, universities are already occupied by herds of tenured professors dreaming nostalgically of their own big moments occupying the lunchroom at Columbia. And tenured professors have a superpower in the form of double-secret-protected speech, which they like to call “academic freedom,” a highly unusual title if you think about it, because, unlike other things labelled “free,” “academic freedom” is guarded very, very jealously by the very tiny subset of faculty who claim it for themselves.
So it would seem that college campuses are ideal places for the weary Occupiers to winter, except, ironically, if the faculty succeed in this throw-out-the-police thing. For, if excited gaggles of tenured professors like the ones occupying the English Department of UC Davis do get their way, then all the other perks of protesting on campus — warm dorm showers, landscaping for pupping tents, safety for females and other living things — well, all of that is going to go poof the moment every pickpocket, sex offender, and crazy homeless person learns that the post-structuralists over at U.C.D. have booted the campus cops to the curb.
The following is an actual statement by the entire UC Davis English Department demanding the disbanding of the school’s police force. It sure is going to be a highly stimulated crowd at the Department Holiday Party this year:
The faculty of the UC Davis English Department supports the Board of the Davis Faculty Association in calling for Chancellor Katehi’s immediate resignation and for “a policy that will end the practice of forcibly removing non-violent student, faculty, staff, and community protesters by police on the UC Davis campus.” Further, given the demonstrable threat posed by the University of California Police Department and other law enforcement agencies to the safety of students, faculty, staff, and community members on our campus and others in the UC system, we propose that such a policy include the disbanding of the UCPD and the institution of an ordinance against the presence of police forces on the UC Davis campus, unless their presence is specifically requested by a member of the campus community. This will initiate a genuinely collective effort to determine how best to ensure the health and safety of the campus community at UC Davis.
Hmmm, except, as Cliff Kincaid observes, UC Davis has an actual crime problem:
According to the most recent crime statistics, while crime on campus in general showed little change from 2009-2010, some serious crimes were on the rise. There were 88 burglaries on campus in 2010, compared with 84 in 2009, and 21 forcible sex offenses compared with 18 the previous year. There were 11 aggravated assaults compared with nine in 2009.
How much worse will that get, once the coppers get replaced with composition teachers or, God forbid, roving militias conscripted from Philosophy or Classics? Forget Occupy for a moment, and consider preoccupation, which ranks high among things that make campuses desirable for predators, along with stuff like:
- keeping odd hours
- living away from home for the first time
- spatial un-vigilance due to music devices wedged in ears
- public lugging of expensive consumer electronics on expensive bicycles
- distractions brought upon by big ideas and/or hormones
And that’s just the professors. Think of the students.
[T]he administration of UC campuses systematically uses police brutality to terrorize students and faculty, to crush political dissent on our campuses, and to suppress free speech and peaceful assembly. . . I am writing to hold you responsible and to demand your immediate resignation on these grounds. . . I am writing to tell you in no uncertain terms [emphasis inserted, to emphasize the hysterical tone] that there must be space for protest on our campus. There must be space for political dissent on our campus. There must be space for civil disobedience on our campus. [Why? He does not explain.] There must be space for students to assert their right to decide on the form of their protest, their dissent, and their civil disobedience—including the simple act of setting up tents in solidarity with other students who have done so. [Let me see if I've got this right: they need space to assert their right to decide on the form of protest, and then they need other space to do the protesting . . . wait, I'm getting confused, perhaps you could say more about that] There must be space for protest and dissent, especially, when the object of protest and dissent is police brutality itself. You may not order police to forcefully disperse student protesters peacefully protesting police brutality. You may not do so. It is not an option available to you as the Chancellor of a UC campus. That is why I am calling for your immediate resignation.
[Here comes the deconstruction part, so hang tight]Your words express concern for the safety of our students. Your actions express no concern whatsoever for the safety of our students. I deduce from this discrepancy that you are not, in fact, concerned about the safety of our students. Your actions directly threaten the safety of our students. And I want you to know that this is clear. It is clear to anyone who reads your campus emails concerning our “Principles of Community” and who also takes the time to inform themselves about your actions. You should bear in mind that when you send emails to the UC Davis community, you address a body of faculty and students who are well trained to see through rhetoric that evinces care for students while implicitly threatening them. I see through your rhetoric very clearly. You also write to a campus community that knows how to speak truth to power. That is what I am doing.
I call for your resignation because you are unfit to do your job. You are unfit to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis. In fact: you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis. As such, I call upon you to resign immediately. . .
And so on.
That’s not quite the same pedagogical coincidence as looking up at the sky whilst reading Wordsworth and suddenly thinking that you might consider “wandering lonely as a cloud.”
I quote The Coming Insurrection at length here because I think it’s important to see the point at which it is impossible for Dr. Brown to continue coyly insisting that he is merely teaching historical texts of revolution, as opposed to performing them step-by-step on the taxpayer’s dime while pretending to teach English:
In the subway, there’s no longer any trace of the screen of embarrassment that normally impedes the gestures of the passengers. Strangers make conversation without making passes. A band of comrades conferring on a street corner. Much larger assemblies on the boulevards, absorbed in discussions. Surprise attacks mounted in city after city, day after day. A new military barracks has been sacked and burned to the ground. The evicted residents of a building have stopped negotiating with the mayor’s office; they settle in. A company manager is inspired to blow away a handful of his colleagues in the middle of a meeting. There’s been a leak of files containing the personal addresses of all the cops, together with those of prison officials, causing an unprecedented wave of sudden relocations [emphasis added throughout]. We carry our surplus goods into the old village bar and grocery store, and take what we lack. Some of us stay long enough to discuss the general situation and figure out the hardware we need for the machine shop. The radio keeps the insurgents informed of the retreat of the government forces. A rocket has just breached a wall of the Clairvaux prison. Impossible to say if it has been months or years since the “events” began. And the prime minister seems very alone in his appeals for calm. . .
Liberate territory from police occupation. If possible, avoid direct confrontation.
“This business shows that we are not dealing with young people making social demands, but with individuals who are declaring war on the Republic,” noted a lucid cop about recent clashes. The push to liberate territory from police occupation is already underway, and can count on the endless reserves of resentment that the forces of order have marshaled against it. Even the “social movements” are gradually being seduced by the riots, just like the festive crowds in Rennes who fought the cops every Thursday night in 2005, or those in Barcelona who destroyed a shopping district during a botellion. The movement against the CPE witnessed the recurrent return of the Molotov cocktail. But on this front certain banlieues remain unsurpassed. Specifically, when it comes to the technique they’ve been perfecting for some time now: the surprise attack. Like the one on October 13, 2006 in Epinay. A private-security team headed out after getting a report of something stolen from a car. When they arrived, one of the security guards “found himself blocked by two vehicles parked diagonally across the street and by more than thirty people carrying metal bars and pistols . . .
There’s no ideal form of action. What’s essential is that action assume a certain form, that it give rise to a form instead of having one imposed on it. This presupposes a shared political and geographical position – like the sections of the Paris Commune during the French Revolution – as well as the circulation of a shared knowledge. As for deciding on actions, the principle could be as follows: each person should do their own reconnaissance, the information would then be put together, and the decision will occur to us rather than being made by us. The circulation of knowledge cancels hierarchy; it equalizes by raising up. Proliferating horizontal communication is also the best form of coordination among different communes, the best way to put an end to hegemony.
Sound familiar? Watch the whole creepy Dr. Brown repeato-video, and read his entire manifesto, and then as much of The Coming Insurrection as you can take without needing a nice long walk, and then let me know if you believe this guy has a snowball’s chance in hell of calling himself a mere scholar and not tactician of Marxist revolutionary tactics . . . anywhere but in academia, of course, where wishes are horses being ridden by beggars.
Furthermore, mustering all the authority of a former graduate student who involuntarily took a snootful of Marxist theory courses myself while expecting them to be about stuff like poetry or literature, I sincerely doubt Dr. Brown even grasps at feigning academic objectivity in his classroom.
I doubt it precisely because of the way he stood ranting in public about the relationship between his scholarship and the protests in which he was engaging.
I, too, have been schooled to interpret texts and see through rhetoric, and my take on Nathan Brown is that he stood in his own public square quivering precisely at the frisson of un-objectively teaching while doing — all the while feeling the ghost of the soapbox in Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner creaking beneath his Birkenstocks.
Or perhaps, his expensive Italian shoes.
But the main point here is not the class politics of footwear, and I apologize for presumptuousness on my part. The point is whether Dr. Brown is being truthful when he says that his scholarship is one thing and his activism another, or whether the actual content of the former might not raise some troubling questions regarding both his academic professionalism and his current ascendence to spokesperson for the entire U.C. Davis English Faculty on the subject of overthrowing the police.
Let’s set aside, for a moment, the fact that Dr. Brown fails to include in his fascinating survey courses any viewpoint contrary to the assertion that communism is the inevitable and right endpoint of all history, shades of Fukuyama certainly withstanding. Such is the minutiae of crabbed minds. Or, the discipline of teaching history as once practiced (not performed) by modest intellectual giants in short-sleeved button-collared shirts humanly striving above all else to preserve the protocols demanded of them by the creed of professional objectivity.
Let’s set all this . . . traditionalism . . . aside, this outré neutrality, cast it into the depths of extreme relativism from which Harold Bloom, who is responsible for so much of it, somehow rises every morning inexplicably smelling as if he has just washed both his hands, as we instead contemplate one detail — the detail of how Dr. Brown’s oddly-named survey course on communism ends precisely where his public persona begins — with cries for bloody, absolute revolution in the streets, and not-too-veiled threats towards any and all “authority figures” but especially the police.
To borrow an ugly from the current argot, I’m just trying to problematize these things.
And now, to this — the true story of what happened on the UC Davis campus in the hours leading up to the use of pepper-spray on a few systematically threatening, definitely not passively-resisting students and non-student professional agitators. Here is the video you won’t see on the evening news, although it ought to be the one that is being seen, because it shows precisely what these protestors intended for the police they surrounded, and jeered at, and threatened. Put yourself in the police’s shoes.
The video also shows a great deal about Professor Nathan Brown, although he is not in it. It shows that despite papering his accusations with overwrought claims about his own special rhetorical perspicacity, he is just an average, even sophomoric, dissembler. He wildly exaggerated what the police did; he threw a tantrum at his bosses, and he lied about the behavior of the protestors. Even the best excuse that could be made for him is a particularly pedagogically unfortunate one: he just didn’t do a close enough reading of the text.
And now he is encouraging others to similarly misapprehend, and this makes for a demoralizing spectacle — an entire department of people claiming to be specially trained and insightful readers-of-texts, eagerly signing up without bothering to fact-check an inaccurate, premature, and presumptuous manifesto.
And these are the people getting paid to teach the art of reading. Reading. Remember that?