Issue 7 (February 2014)


Undocumented “Undesirables” and the Privatization of the UC

Ricardo Gomez



The nomination of Janet Napolitano as UC President marks a shift away from the UC administration’s usual type: the well-meaning liberal with roots in the academy. She represents a movement toward another type of administrator, one who is a well-meaning liberal with expertise in the security industrial complex, or rather, one with intimate knowledge of the most “humane” techniques for destroying people’s lives.

In light of the (unconfirmed) release of other names on the Regents’ UC President short list, which included Colin Powell and Leon Panetta, we must consider the ways in which the nomination of Napolitano, a security specialist who oversaw the unprecedented deportation of over 1.5 million undocumented people by DHS,[1] fits within a larger national strategy to transform higher education in the United States.[2] While this subject is the topic of other pieces in this pamphlet, I will focus on the link between educational privatization--previously the domain of top-level higher education administrators like Mark Yudof--and the criminalization of undocumented immigrants-- which has been the domain of security masterminds like Napolitano.

The Regent’s appointment of a security bureaucrat appears at a moment when the Obama administration, the administration Napolitano hails from and for whom she performed her millions of deportations, is pursuing plans to change the nature of public higher education and the types of individuals higher education institutions produce. Across California, Democrat politicians and their organs are pursuing a new phase of austerity that includes but also surpasses the kind of restructuring we are used to seeing as a result of budget cuts. At the time of writing this article, President Obama is on a press junket outlining his self-proclaimed “aggressive” approach to reforming, or in his words, “shaking up,” higher education. [3]

The language of aggression and violence, which the Obama administration routinely uses, reveals more than most political metaphors. Napolitano’s nomination as UC president was perhaps foreshadowed in Obama’s “Plan for a Strong Middle Class & Strong America,” released after his most recent State of the Union Address. Under the section “Equipping Americans With the Skills They Need” he sketches out, among other things, both his planned reforms for higher education and immigration. Under the bullet point titled “Holding colleges accountable for cost, value and quality,” he proposes using the accreditation system to withhold federal aid from colleges that do not efficiently (in terms of time and loans) produce students who fit the needs of the market as workers upon graduation. In the bullet point immediately after titled “Fixing our broken immigration system so everyone plays by the same rules and we attract the best and brightest workers,” he proposes immigration reforms that put administrative and financial burdens on undocumented people while militarizing border and immigration enforcement. [4]

Across the state at different test campuses, community colleges have begun charging increased fees for access to enroll in high-demand classes, many of which are necessary to complete or transfer into degree programs. [5] The legislation, which was signed by Governor Jerry Brown in October and sponsored by Assemblyman Das Williams, a Democrat, will create a tiered system not unlike the kind of system that students at Santa Monica City College were pepper sprayed for demonstrating against in 2012. [6] It is also similar to a proposal for a multi-tiered UC tuition model floated by UC Berkeley’s previous Chancellor, Robert Birgeneau. In multi-tiered systems, students at different campuses within a higher education system, or even different degree programs or classes within the same university or college, pay different rates of tuition based on the perceived desirability or value of their campus, program, or course.

Before Napolitano’s appointment, Governor Jerry Brown used $250 million in Prop. 30 funds as a bargaining chip to get the UC Regents to more aggressively pursue the large-scale development of online credit-granting courses, an approach lauded by the Obama administration as a method of getting students through degree programs faster.[7] How the implementation of such a program will affect student academic quality and achievement, staff pay and workloads, ownership of academic and course materials, and student and faculty privacy, remains unanswered.

If the Democrats’ proposed reforms to higher education are what the future has in store, we can look across the Bay to City College of San Francisco for an image of the future as well as a case study for the strategies being developed by Democrat bureaucrats to control campuses that do not follow privatization models. Due to a decision by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), City College of San Francisco is set to lose its accreditation in 2014, at which point it will not be able to receive funding either from the state or through federal grant and loan programs. Among the problems that the ACCJC found at CCSF are too much faculty control of the operations of the college system, too few administrators, too many students, low student fees per unit, and too many facilities across the city.[8] In other words, CCSF is being punished for adhering too closely to the ideal of a public higher education system. To the chagrin of faculty, students, and employee unions, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors stripped CCSF’s elected trustees of voting power and appointed a special trustee, Bob Agrella, with unilateral powers to guide CCSF through the steps of adhering to ACCJ’s restructuring proposals.[9] More recently, mirroring Napolitano’s appointment to head the UC, Arthur Tyler, an anti-terrorism expert with 20 years of experience in the US military, was appointed Chancellor of CCSF. [10]

While the unelected special trustee and counter-terror bureaucrat at CCSF seems to push austerity and restructuring proposals mainly through accreditation woes, Napolitano will likely run the UC through austerity and cyber proposals, which make up some of the other reforms and higher education agenda items of the Obama administration. Given the national, state, and local context we find ourselves in, anti-cut activists at UC are right to fear what Napolitano’s tenure at UC might entail. Fee increases, multi-tiered tuition, the curtailment or elimination of degree or educational programs deemed not ‘valuable’ because they do not fit the rationality of the market economy, the punitive use of accreditation agencies, increased collaboration between UC and police, military, and other repressive organs, the increased support of the national government for austerity measures, are all either possible futures, or immediate realities.

Given Napolitano’s background, we must consider the ways in which her involvement in mass deportations, which she directed and which tore millions of families apart and terrorized entire communities, may directly relate to her new work as a higher education privatizer. Even if she conducts her tenure at UC in much the same way as her predecessors did, we cannot ignore the links that exist and are being forged between the state’s repressive organs located in the law enforcement, prison, and military industrial complex that directly incarcerates, deports, maims, and kills “undesirables,” and the side of the state that includes higher education institutions, like the UC, tasked with producing, certifying, privileging, and affirming “desirable” individuals.

If we consider, for instance, how both students and undocumented immigrants comprise parts of the reserve army of labor (those who are unemployed, underemployed, or precariously employed), as well as how Obama’s proposals seek to enforce the ways in which people in these reserves enter the workforce, we begin to see more clearly how his higher education strategy is directly related to his militarized immigration strategy.

According to the Obama administration’s rhetoric, undocumented people are undesirable and must be fined, detained, or deported unless they serve the needs of the economy as disciplined workers, who “play by the rules.” Additionally, the administration seeks to define more strictly higher education’s goal as the production of good middle-class workers who find jobs quickly after graduation, pay off their student loans, and purchase cars and homes. The failure of a higher education institution to fulfill the creation of such graduates would result in the withdrawal of state funding for that institution. It would seem that the decision-makers who have drawn up these plans think that they can strengthen the economy, which has been in sustained stagnation since 2008, by better modulating the production of proper working citizens.

It is important to understand that the Democrat Party’s strategy includes playing the field both ways. That is, the militarized treatment of undocumented people continues while a few measures and gestures by some Democrat politicians gives the public the impression that they want to ease up undocumented immigrants. The Obama administration extended deferred action to the “good immigrants” as a response to direct arrest and occupation actions by dreamers, or undocumented college students. Jerry Brown recently signed the Trust Act and legislation granting undocumented people driver licenses to ease up on the more egregious abuses by police agencies and ICE which had taken place through the so-called Secure Communities program. Nationally, Democrats continue to dangle the possibility of “immigration reform” to their constituents.

However, the limits of these reforms themselves prevent any radical proposals from being discussed, and for the most part the mistreatment and criminalization of undocumented people continues. Deportations under Obama are set, yet again, to surpass all previous records. This playing of the field can be seen in Napolitano’s own switch from being the top official responsible for the implementation of “Secure Communities” as the Director of DHS, to a supporter of the Trust Act, which sought to limit the use of the program in California. This is not mere hypocrisy, this is a strategy. Under the Democrats’ proposals, the best case scenario would be the transformation of immigration from the blanket militarized criminalization of undocumented communities at the hands of law enforcement agencies to a lower-intensity everyday terror and paranoia of the “good” worker/citizen under the eye of management. This switch will not achieve “freedom” for the “eligible,” but intensifies disciplinary effects upon them and produces more stratified forms of discrimination.

The recognition that there is a connection between higher education and immigration policy is not new. As mentioned, dreamers have for decades now done work articulating these links. Sparked by the passage of anti-immigrant and Ethnic Studies legislation in Arizona, in 2010 and 2011 Berkeley students, primarily from the undergraduate Latino and Ethnic Studies communities, staged mass demonstrations and hunger strikes to articulate the links between the privatization of the UC, attacks on Ethnic Studies, and the intensified criminalization of undocumented people. Administrators then tried to wash their hands of the legislation passed “over there” in Arizona by arguing that they had no part in such ugly bigotry. Today, no such posturing can refute the fact that they are collaborators with someone whose job it was to enforce such policies.

These aggressive proposals to discipline students and immigrants alongside Napolitano’s confirmation as UC President add new urgency to the need for networks of activists to connect and resist the instrumentalization and criminalization of students and immigrants. This intensification of labor discipline via its reserve army will not create more jobs, nor will it give relief to the millions of recent college graduates and undocumented people throughout the country who are economically and socially precarious. How university and immigrant populations react in the coming months to the Democrats’ education and immigration reforms could open up new possibilities for resistance, solidarity, and mass mobilization.




Ricardo Gomez is a graduate of UC Berkeley, where he was involved in anti-austerity, anti-racist, and occupy organizing between 2009-2012. He is currently a worker at UCSC.




[1] Dream Activist-Undocumented Students Action and Resource Network, “Don’t Allow Janet Napolitano to Lead the University of CA,” Petition, accessed July, 2013;

[2] Mark Levine, "Clear and Present Dangers of Janet Napolitano's Appointment as UC President," Al Jazeera, July 19, 2013;

[3] Renee Montagne, “Obama Promises ‘Aggressive Strategy’ For Higher Education,” National Public Radio, July 25, 2013;; Barack Obama, “Full Text: Obama’s Remarks on Middle-Class Prosperity,” Wall Street Journal, July 24, 2013;

[4] The White House, “The President’s Plan For A Strong Middle Class & A Strong America,”, February 12, 2013;

[5] Carla Rivera, “Brown Oks higher fees for high-demand community college classes,” Los Angeles Times, October 10, 2013;,0,5737329.story

[6] Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, “Bill on Brown’s desk to make two-tiered system of college tuition: for the rich, and the poor,” San Francisco Bay Guardian Online, September 18, 2013;

[7] David Siders, “Jerry Brown says UC, CSU leaders pledged to  pursue online ed ‘vigorously’,” Sacramento Bee, July 1, 2013;; Scott Jaschik, “‘Shake Up’ for Higher Ed,” Inside Higher Ed, July 25,

[8] Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, “Commission to Terminate City College of San Francisco’s Accreditation Action Effective July 31, 2014 – Pending Review & Appeal,” July 3, 2014;

[9] Kathryn Baron, “City College of San Francisco special trustee given broader powers in bid to keep accreditation,” EdSource, July 9, 2013;; Nanette Asimov, “City College of S.F. trustees lose power,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 9, 2013;

[10] Nanette Asmimov, “CCSF’s new chancellor is an antiterrorism expert,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 15, 2013;