A Statement by the Council of the American Studies Association
December 9, 2011
As educators, as scholars, and as citizens we have watched with horror these past weeks as University of California students, peaceably assembled in constitutionally protected protest, have been met with pepper spray and police batons. As educators, we insist that the university must remain a place where ideas are freely expressed and openly exchanged. As scholars of American society and as citizens we insist that police respect the distinction between peaceable assembly or civil disobedience and forms of public endangerment; we join colleagues and compatriots across the country in affirming and upholding the democratic expectation of our police that riot gear, force in any form, and weaponry of any description are instruments of extraordinary last resort. The force deployed by campus and municipal police in so many instances in recent weeks indicates the depth of precisely the rupture in the social contract that the “occupy” protests have been seeking to address since mid-September.
Given the escalation in student protests across the country, the potential for confrontation and incidents of brutalization may likewise be expected to increase in the days ahead. There is therefore a heightened responsibility on the part of university faculties and administrations across the country to use the force of their intellectual authority and the mechanisms of their governing structures to safeguard standards of free speech, assembly, and academic freedom on campus. We have a responsibility to monitor the pace and trajectory of events locally, and to act swiftly in condemning repression and in holding administrations accountable for instances of misjudgment or excess; a responsibility to foster open debate and to be available to counsel students through tense times and difficult moral decisions; a responsibility to safeguard the values of openness, intellectual honesty, and mutual respect upon which education depends.
While the violent clashes in Berkeley, Davis, and elsewhere in recent weeks are apt to attract our greatest attention, this is also a moment for educators everywhere to reflect upon, discuss, debate, and publicize the more general issues of democracy and education that have come to the fore so vividly. Regardless of where one stands on the specific question of the Occupy movement, beyond dispute is the extent to which a decades-long regime of skyrocketing tuition costs, decimated public budgets, institutional austerity measures, and predatory student loan practices has fundamentally altered the educational landscape in the United States, threatening the very idea of public education itself, and rendering the notion of free education—not so distant in a state like California, after all—a thing so strange that it has slipped from public discourse and very nearly from public memory. The time is now for educators of every political stripe, outlook, and opinion to speak up, to engage in and to lead a much-needed national discussion of the future of education in our society.