October 12, 2011

Whose Side are You On? Part 2

Despite the danger of turning what should be a debate about the merits, effectiveness, and facts regarding the use of UNM property for the Occupy Albuquerque protest, into a frivolous tit-for-tat, I want to clear up some things in regards to Jason Graves' letter, "‘Occupy’ protesters hinder UNM’s academic mission, violate rights," in the Wednesday edition of the Daily Lobo.

First, faculty is usually defined as "an educator who works at a college or university." So, yes Jason I do teach at UNM.

Second, I want to address this statement, "I get the sense that the goal of the institution is to educate; nowhere do I see anything, read anything, nor was I told at orientation that being a UNM student required tolerating activism or protesters on campus." UNM is a public institution. As a public institution, they are required to abide by the Constitution. Thus, since the Constitution explicitly states, "Congress shall make no law ...prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech...or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," there is little UNM can do to prohibit it. The Occupy Albuquerque protesters are well within their rights to protest at UNM. So, Jason, get over it.

Third, you write, "the First Amendment as an excuse to occupy and intimidate just to get their point across." I argue that that is exactly why we have a First Amendment. If you feel intimidated by the protesters, then I suggest you talk to them. I believe at its most basic they are showing their displeasure with their Government. If you feel they are brow-beating you into hearing them when you just want to go on your merry way, then I suggest you find another way to class. When did freedom of speech have to be polite, convenient, or comply to everyone's definition? I hear things that make me feel uncomfortable every day, yet I will defend any one's right to say them. Indeed, that you are so cavalier in disregarding the First Amendment makes me a bit worried.

Fourth, I'm amazed that you invoke the Civil Rights Act. Perhaps you should review the conditions that made the Civil Rights act necessary? But if you feel that the mere presence of the protest violates your rights to an undisturbed education, I suggest you really think about what education really is. Education can be disturbing, can force us to look at our own assumptions, can point out how little we do know, and can, at its best, challenge us to engage the world critically. I suspect your professors would argue that being critical of the subject matter, however disturbing that may be, is exactly what you should be doing as a college student.

In fact, I was actually pleased that you were critical of my letter. As part of my lesson for today, I had my students go over some of the issues I found problematic in my own letter. Indeed, I felt sort of hamstrung by not being allowed to go over 500 words and had to take unexpected leaps to get my larger point across.

My larger point was in not in arguing for the merits of the protest, its validity and effectiveness, but in how UNM (by letting it persist for a week) should be called out on not enforcing its own policies if it is going to use those policies as justification for pushing for the protests to end.

Likewise, UNM with its large dependence on tax revenues to fund its operations, should be just as upset as the protesters and at the risky behavior exercised by commercial enterprises that caused our economy to nearly collapse. Every public institution has suffered because private corporations gamed a system for their benefit and basically tanked our economy. Perhaps you should investigate what a mortgage fund derivative is, how hedge fund managers make money, and how higher education is funded? Perhaps then you might understand why the protesters are petitioning "their Government for a redress of grievances?" Perhaps then you might understand why I insist that you are either for the banks or for us. So, whose side are you on?

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