The UB Archives are home to 63 boxes of files relating to campus unrest. One even includes a tear gas canister blasted off by police in response to a series of student-led rallies, sit-ins, walk-outs, and occupations that led to 300 state police in full riot gear to confront a group of 2000 students, faculty, and staff.
Richard A. Siggelkow, Bruce Jackson, and Dean & Pruitt’s archive files stitch together the anatomy of this disruption: the 1970 riot was the result of a series of university-wide communication breakdowns that are startlingly similar to the miscommunication that stews on campus today – if you were surprised by the new disbursement dates for financial aid, you know exactly what we’re talking about. The tension and frustrations stacking up here and throughout the SUNY system about our supposed financial dire straits is tumbling toward unrest again.
We’re seeing tuition hikes and claims that there isn’t any money to be had, but there are cosmetic campus upgrades, new buildings, and administrator pay is topping out close to $1 million. Students are struggling with the delay in our much-needed financial aid packages. MyUB links to a policy change memo dated from Nov. 2010 that few students saw in their inboxes. Those in charge seem to think that this is ample notice and explanation; however, many students didn’t find out about the new policy until Aug. 19. when they expected to receive loan & grant refunds.
Today’s miscommunications are not the dissimilar: student complaints then, as now, were about the lack of student input in decision-making, concern about the rising cost of education, and a sense that the administration doesn’t care much for the real needs of students. In coming to terms with these facts, what can we learn about UB’s past?
In 1974, UB social psychology professors Dean G. Pruitt and James P. Gahagan, together with students, faculty, staff, and administrators who were uninvolved in the conflict, fleshed out a comprehensive and holistic deconstruction of the 1970 riot. The case study, “Campus in Crisis: The Search for Power,” unpacks the escalation of blame through three behavior models. The aggressor-defensor model examines perspectives where both the administration and the student body can be seen as aggressors. The conflict-spiral model perceives blame-passing in a deterorating spiral of mistrust. The structural change model identifies key moments where attitudes within each group change.
There’s a chronology of events leading up to this climax online. It leaves out numerous attempts at direct communication with the administration on the part of student groups, faculty, and staff that expressed a clear need for dialogue and open discourse. Students didn’t wake up one morning and decide to occupy; tension had been building as students tried to communicate their needs to the administration since at least 1964. The absence of a response, or a miscommunicated response, led students and faculty to lose faith in the administration.
The current administration believes in its right to sell once-affordable public education out from under our feet. They have taken bold steps toward upgrading our campus in order to make it more attractive as a saleable asset, but also has shown that it assumes it can bankroll these upgrades on the shoulders of the students. The university is now modeling the kind of behavior that the corporate-controlled state would like us to learn: after we graduate, many of us will be let loose into a deserted job market with in excess of $20,000 in student loan debt. And they’re conditioning us (and some of our parents) to think that this is okay, and there’s not much we can do about it anyway. What the university is teaching, outside the classroom, is apathy.
This is not what public education was founded to nurture, or an environment that creates leaders. If we discuss together first, we can begin to communicate clearly about our needs and demands as students at a public university. Miscommunication is a two-way street. By having conversations about what’s happening and why, and what we think should happen versus what we’re seeing, we begin to build an environment where clarity can prevail over frustrated misfirings. Against the bets of the corporate buyers who are eyeing UB, we can become the leaders we deserve.
Let’s begin now. Talk to your classmates about what’s going on with you, your finances, and how you (or your parents) expect to pay it back. Find out what they wish would change, too. Come to a general assembly on Wed., September 7 at 11:30 AM on the lawn between Clemens, Slee, and Baird Halls. And join us on Wed., October 5 at noon for a university-wide teach-in and walk-out, to seek clarity together.