Juan Cole writes: The deliberate pepper-spraying by campus police of nonviolent protesters at UC Davis on Friday has provoked national outrage. But the horrific incident must not cloud the real question: What led comfortable, bright, middle-class students to join the Occupy protest movement against income inequality and big-money politics in the first place?
The University of California system raised tuition by more than 9 percent this year, and the California State University system upped tuition by 12 percent. The UC system is seriously contemplating a humongous 16 percent tuition increase for fall 2012. This year, for the first time, the amount families pay in UC tuition will exceed state contributions to the university system.
University students, who face tuition hikes and state cuts to public education, find themselves victimized by the same neoliberal agenda that has created the current economic crisis, and which profoundly endangers democratic values.
The ideal that California embraced in its 1960 master plan for higher education, that it should be inexpensive and open to all Californians, is being jettisoned without much debate. The master plan exemplified the thinking on education and democracy typical of Founding Fathers such as Thomas Jefferson. In 1786, Jefferson wrote from Europe to a friend:
Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [of tyranny], and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance. …
That is, Jefferson believed that the alternative to publicly funded education was the rise of an oppressive oligarchy that would manipulate the ignorant majority.