• August 26, 2021

Back to school, Berkeley style

One of the things I’ve been wondering about is what the college campus scene will be like this fall, after a year of students staying home and doing all their classes online rather than in person on campus. Imagine what the BLM-George Floyd protests on campus would have been like if they hadn’t closed and emptied in the spring-summer-fall of last year. Perhaps there will be a pent-up demand that campus protests catch up?

Well here’s an early indicator. I’m back in a live classroom this fall in Berkeley, teaching a basic political science course on the presidency. Yesterday was the first day of classes of the semester, the campus is bustling with student life, and lo and behold, a protest at Sather Gate in Sproul Plaza (scene of the famous Free Speech Movement in 1964). What is it about? People’s Park!

Yes, you would think that we have fallen into a wormhole since 1969, because that was the first major protest in the People’s Park that included riots and a large presence of the police and the National Guard. The problem then, and now, is that People’s Park is owned by the University of California and, as everyone knows, student housing is very scarce and expensive here. So the university has once again announced plans to develop student housing at the People’s Park site. (The 1969 protests caused Berkeley to abandon construction plans. The current administration decided it was time to move on.) We will see if this protest continues and reaches the dimensions of the 1969 riots. I doubt it.

Furthermore, a California state judge has blocked the construction of a major new building on the north side of the campus on Hearst Avenue, where existing facilities and housing are inadequate for the program growth of the academic units housed there, with the argument that the environmental reviews of the universities are insufficient. For now, the judge says Berkeley cannot increase its student population until these reviews are satisfied and the impacts “mitigated.”

Don’t hold your breath for the resolution of any of these proposed developments on campus. The north side project has been in the planning process for several years. What’s another decade in California planning hell?

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