Issue 2 (April 2010)
From in loco parentis to
the State of Exception:
Why We Need to Fight a Repressive and Illegal Code of Student Conduct (1)
Being involved in politics on this campus means that you spend a lot of time being angry and frustrated. And I’ve spent more hours than I can count feeling that way in the last 8 months. But I’ve never been so appalled and angered as when I sat in on a Code of Student Conduct Forum and saw Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard offer up little more than a bored “no comment” and the most intellectually and politically vacuous defense of this unjust policy that I could have imagined. I came out of that meeting pretty convinced that it’s Poullard and Tragester who should be spending more time in class learning critical thinking, not all of you.
But are we surprised that Poullard and Tragester and the rest of the administration cannot defend this policy? No—because it is indefensible. Poullard and Tragester have called this process “educational” and “developmental.” Is it educational to force students out of their studies for 7 months? Is it “developmental” to deny students due process and legal representation? By his own admission, Poullard’s “reform” of this process when he came into his current position was not to make the policy clearer, more consistent, more functional as a set of guidelines for students wanting to know the consequences of certain actions, but to make it vaguer: to take out any guarantees, to take out all that “legalistic” language that had previously protected students from unfair sanctions such as those being faced by hundreds of students on this campus today.
If we look at history, comrades, we know exactly what “educational” and “developmental” really mean. The main battleground of the Free Speech Movement was the university’s claim that it acted in loco parentis—that the university was a substitute parent and students were dependent children. Today, in 2010, to support a code of conduct whose injustices are justified by virtue of being “educational” and “developmental”—as if when you sit in the Office of Student Conduct kangaroo court you are actually “learning a valuable lesson,” are actually having your “development” evaluated like pre-schoolers—is to accept that the legacy of the Free Speech Movement is nothing more than a campus café. If we accept this, we accept that the battles fought by the FSM in the 1960s and by the Ethnic Studies movements in the 1990s to demand a fair and legal code of conduct and protections for students acting on their political beliefs have been completely undone by the policy of the last ten years. If we accept this, we accept a policy that is deeply and profoundly at odds with the political and intellectual values of this very institution, which at its best is an intellectual community that not only tolerates but encourages dissenting opinions. If we accept this, we accept the university’s claim that they are not only our parents, but also our lawyer, jury, judge, and prison guard—we allow them to place us and our comrades in a space entirely outside the equity and clarity of the law. But will we accept this? We will not. We are fighting back, and we will continue to fight back. We will fight back until all the charges levied this year are dropped. We will fight back until the university agrees to suspend and re-write its code of student conduct. We will fight back until the university restores to students their fundamental constitutional and legal rights. And when we fight back, we will say as we have said so many times this year, “Whose university? Our university.”
Annie McClanahan is a PhD Candidate in English at UC Berkeley. She is a member of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee.