Open letter in response to this message from a socially unconscious Berkeley Professor as well as part of the reason why I went on strike as a GSI last Wednesday:
By Michal Olszewski, Graduate Student Instructor in Molecular and Cell Biology
Dear anonymous UCB Professor,
In your recent letter, you mentioned that you have been on the wrong side of political judgments before, unfortunately I am afraid that this might be the case again. Education is a process that also happens outside of classrooms. It is communal, it is complicated and it is impossible to achieve when we isolate ourselves and ignore what is going on with the rest of our society.
Your letter though extensive in length, does not contain any logic. From what I can gather, your argument is that we live in a world of developing technology and as students at UCB are part of an elite and exceptional group; therefore we don’t have to worry about the society we live in. I cannot condone this argument. In fact, I find it extremely disturbing that as a professor you are encouraging your students to embrace egoism and to focus on their own education and merit rather than be socially conscious human beings. Education and social justice are not mutually exclusive. Disturbingly, throughout the entirety of your long and disjointed tirade, you do not once mention any of the reasons behind Wednesday’s strike, which makes me believe that you have already made a choice to focus purely on what you refer to as the “technological life”.
I too believe that the education of young people is important, which is exactly why I went on strike yesterday. Unfortunately, I doubt if you are aware that your students have a right to a public education because others were fighting and striking for it in the past. I wonder if you or your students know that the AFSCME workers including custodians, cafeteria workers, gardeners etc. were striking with the GSIs to prevent the 81% tuition fee hikes on undergrads back in 2011. The same people standing in the pouring rain Wednesday protesting the University’s unfair labor practices are part of the reason why students, including your particular math class, are able to “be *obsessed* with [their] education”.
It is sad that many UC Berkeley students and professors have forgotten what has happened at the steps of Sproul Plaza decades ago. Yes, social issues are complicated, but that does not mean they should be ignored! In the not so distant past, students were arrested and beaten by police because they wanted to make their voices heard. Our right to engage in political discourse on campus has literally been paid for with the blood UCB alumni.
I am a graduate student in the Sciences, however unlike so many others in our field, I refuse to solely focus on just my own career and education. Students and universities are not isolated entities outside of the realm of society. The fact that we have had a chance to access higher education does not make us better or more deserving than those who have been deprived of this opportunity. We are the lucky ones. Our success doesn’t mean that we can turn our back on those who are less fortunate. We have a duty to pull others up alongside us.