Public Universities Join Attack on Progressive Activism


randy shaw

 The Santa Monica OutrageThe worst example of administration efforts to squash activism may well be occurring in the city often described as the People’s Republic of Santa Monica. Here, administrators are actively suppressing a CALPIRG chapter that would primarily comprise Latino and African-American students.

Activist/author Randy Shaw chats with invited guests during lunch following a lecture and book signing at Santa Monica College on the main campus in Santa Monica, California on Thursday, March 25, 2010. Nati Vazquez (left) is the faculty advisor for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) and Isis Enriquez (right) is a student member of California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG).

Last spring, the school’s student government voted to fund a CALPIRG chapter. But the administration did not want this chapter, despite the training, internship and ultimately post-college employment opportunities it would provide for the school’s many Latino and African-American students.

So, as occurs in many campuses these days, administrators “worked” on student representatives to change their vote. As is almost always the case — student governments attract ambitious people who see an opportunity to get recommendations and job referrals from influential school administrators — they succeeded, and last December the support for CALPIRG was revoked.

The racial and class impact of the administrator’s action is disturbing. Because CALPIRG has faced staunch administrative opposition throughout California’s community and state college system, it is not on the campuses where most of the state’s Latinos and African-Americans are enrolled.

CALPIRG is sometimes unfairly criticized for not including such racial minorities (it includes many Asian-American students), when the fact is that the campuses where they have a presence — such as Davis, Berkeley, Santa Barbara and UCLA — include few Latino or African-American students. These students are among those most desirous of becoming community organizers and nonprofit service providers, yet cannot get the training and experience because administrators place barriers to opening a CALPIRG chapter at their schools.

As public universities increasingly depend on private donations to make up for federal and state budget cutbacks, administrators see CALPIRG, which mobilized student opposition to the Chevron and corporate-backed Prop 23 on California’s November 2010 ballot, as bad for business. Business donors like Phil Knight want schools to be free of progressive activists (Knight vowed to cut off funding when U of O joined an anti-sweatshop consortium, leading the school to quickly change course), so ridding the campus of groups that train and mobilize progressive student activists serves this agenda.

randy shawIn a few months, college administrators will be hosting graduation ceremonies and urging the departing class to always remember the value of community service. But in between graduations these administrators are stifling student efforts to make a better world, though they try to avoid leaving their fingerprints by having their student government allies — whom they can help with jobs and references — do the dirty work.

Is it a coincidence that these broad attacks on progressive student activism followed soon after young people voted in record number for progressive candidates in November 2008? Whether there is a provable connection or not, public universities should be under a greater microscope for their suppressing progressive student activism while increasingly privatizing their institutions.

Randy Shaw
Beyond Chron

Randy Shaw’s most recent book is Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. Shaw is also the author of The Activist’s Handbook.


  1. Lauren Steiner says

    Thanks for publishing this. I was totally unaware of it. Well, cross these colleges off my son’s list. I’m not paying to support these tactics.

  2. Don Duitz says

    Wouldn’t it be nice if someone started spinning the truth. Progressives need someone with the charisma of a Kennedy, the gumption of a T. Roosevelt, and the character of a Lincoln to counter the lies imbedded in the gop strategy of fear.
    Why aren’t we hearing more from the opposition to the hateful and self serving immoral tactics described above?

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