Strikers hungry no longer as protest comes to an end

Kevin Foote
Ethnic studies majors take part in the hunger strike in front of California Hall.

Last Monday morning, remnants of chalking efforts on the pavement in front of California Hall were the only tangible indicators in the area of the 12-day hunger strike that had concluded the evening before.

By the time of the strike’s termination on May 8, the remaining hunger strikers had not been given any of their demands, which were first stated by the original group of about 12 demonstrators who had sworn themselves to empty stomachs on April 26 to protest the staff consolidations in UC Berkeley’s departments of gender and women’s studies, African American studies and ethnic studies.

The strikers demanded the campus reinstate the full-time staff positions cut in the Ethnic Studies Department as a result of the Operational Excellence organizational simplification initiative, end the current process of Operational Excellence, support a California legislative resolution advocating for ethnics studies in the state and “publicly (acknowledging) the unfulfilled promise of the creation of a Third World College at UC Berkeley.”

But after two groups of five representatives for the hunger strikers met with Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Gibor Basri and Dean of the Division of Social Sciences Carla Hesse and failed to have any of the demands met — and only the last two being deemed by the administration to be the “most feasible” to address — hunger strikers eventually tapered off in front of California Hall.

“To agree to symbolic gestures without solid actions to back up your investment in our departments is to make empty promises,” a May 3 letter from the strikers states. “We will continue striking until we see acknowledgement that all four demands which are both well within reach of the UC Berkeley administration and are acted upon in good faith.”

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that the campus made itself available for discussion with those involved in the demonstration throughout the duration of the strike.

“We were moved by the concern students have shown for the consequences of the current budget crisis on campus staff and staff in these academic departments in particular,” she said in the email.

Marco Amaral, a student organizer for the strike, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Other protesters that were contacted were not able to comment as of press time.

According to Gilmore, staff reductions and “other efficiency measures” result from cuts in the state’s budget.

“Operational Excellence is designed for our campus to manage the budget challenges in a strategic way that helps us handle these cuts without destroying access, excellence and core services, especially those affecting students,” Gilmore said in the email.

Over the past few years, the campus has faced a deteriorating budget, impacted by severe state cuts to higher education as well as the economic downturn. Though the campus has attempted to combat the budget crises, students have still felt the impacts of the cuts in reduced library hours, reduced class offerings and increases in tuition costs for the UC system.

Most recently on March 24, Gov. Jerry Brown approved a $500 million cut each to both the UC and CSU systems. Brown has warned that more cuts could follow if other measures are not taken to further close the state’s budget deficit.
Gilmore added that so far, only one full-time staff in the ethnic studies department has been laid off and that the individual had been temporarily placed in another position on campus.

Additionally, there has only been one elimination of a part-time staff member, though the person still maintains another part-time job on campus, and there have been some positions that had their working hours reduced, Gilmore said in the email.

Overall, all those affected by the cuts are still employed on campus in other positions, according to Gilmore.

“The (UC) Berkeley campus has one of the earliest and strongest Ethnic Studies departments,” she said in the email. “We value that history and intend to maintain and increase its intellectual stature.”

J.D. Morris and Katie Nelson are assistant news editors.