Editorial: Occupy UCR’s demands fall short

Irin Son/HIGHLANDER
Irin Son/HIGHLANDER

Last week, after over a month on campus, representatives of Occupy UCR released their demands.  The list, which is designed to “make UCR a place of greater integrity and equity,” is as ambitious as it is lengthy.  But with demands varying in scope and complexity from free wifi to the introduction of a new Activist Studies minor, many are concerned that Occupiers may have bitten off more than they can chew.The demands are not without their appeal.  It is unlikely that any UCR student would be opposed to 15-student discussions, increased library hours, the return of UCR’s campus trolleys or the restoration of course offerings to their 2005 levels. All of these items appear on Occupy’s list of demands, and though they are theoretically very exciting, they are also a bit of a mess from a practical perspective.

The first and perhaps most formidable issue with the demands is funding.  Creating new programs, hiring new faculty and extending the hours and functionality of existing on campus organizations (all of which are called for in the demands) are not cheap endeavors.

Occupiers claim that the demands will be paid for by capping all UC employees’ salaries and benefits at $150,000 a year, but nowhere in the demands is there an analysis of how much money this cap would actually save the institution.  Nor is there ever any estimation of how much the implementation of each individual demand would cost the UC.  There is a chance, then, that the proposed cap could provide enough extra capital to pay for some of Occupy’s demands, but the list offers no clear evidence as to how.  Without a feasible funding model to back them up, many of Occupy’s demands lack viability.

And the cost of Occupy’s demands isn’t the only unrealistic thing about them—their sheer volume is also disconcerting.  There are nine different sections of demands, some of which contain as many as five specific sub-demands, and many of them have daunting implications.

In one section, Occupiers demand that UCR generate 100 percent of its total power “from renewable sources and usage reductions achieved through retrofitting existing buildings and replacing inefficient heating and cooling units,” a move that would require the institution and administration of an entirely new apprenticeship program on campus.

This proposal, in and of itself, is laden with so many extra overhead costs and complications that it would be hard pressed to garner much serious attention from any of UCR’s governing bodies.  As it is, it has been issued in the context of an ultimatum, and it is accompanied by at least 15 other demands that are to be answered in tandem.

The notion that the administration would ever consider approving the changes necessary to implement all of Occupy’s demands at once is idealistic to a fault.  They are too far-reaching, too complicated and too expensive; and at times it isn’t even particularly clear how they benefit students.

For example, a $150,000 cap on UC salaries would seem to be a sure boon for the campus as a whole—it would save money and create a stronger sense of solidarity between students, staff and faculty.  But we must remember that if the UC can’t pay professors and administrators competitively, it is going to have a hard time keeping the most renowned of them from leaving.  And the last thing anyone wants is to increase the already high rate at which full-time, non-tenure track instructors are replacing faculty that have left the UC system for higher pay at private institutions.  If this demand were enacted, it could end up backfiring on students.

Other demands, like the demand that UCR fund free public wifi for all users within a one mile radius of campus, don’t even seem particularly relevant to students, who already enjoy free wifi via mobilenet.  In fact, the increased number of users on UCR’s network could lead to a decrease in download and upload speeds, inconveniencing students all over campus.  Students’ welfare may well have played an important role in determining some of the demands on Occupy’s list, but it certainly didn’t influence all of them.

Occupy UCR had a significant opportunity to engage UCR’s students, professors and administrator’s in a serious dialogue about the University’s economic practices.  Instead, they decided to release a list of demands that are so unrealistic in their breadth and gravity that it is unlikely any administrative body will take them seriously.

Perhaps if the group had stayed focused exclusively on the issues that directly affect students’ lives on a day-to-day basis—tuition increases, class availability, and etc.—and backed their demands with a pragmatic source of funding, they might have been able to accomplish more, to turn their protest into progress.  Unfortunately they spread themselves too thin, got too taken up with the notion of spurring a UCR-wide revolution; and their efforts have consequently fallen short.

It doesn’t help that, just days after releasing their demands, Occupy UCR packed up their tents and disbanded in response to a letter from Chancellor White, who warned them that they were violating the law and asked that they leave.  Evidently the movement had no intention of staying on campus until their demands were met.  In truth, it’s probably for the best; chances are they would have been waiting for a very long time.

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