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Damming overflowing reservoirs of knowledge

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MARCH 20, 2023

Universities serve as hubs for higher education, but often must operate like businesses to stay afloat. While it is important to acknowledge that these corporate approaches are often utilized out of a necessity to continue operating, it is also critical to ensure that college funds are allocated toward necessary resources for students. 

In its mission statement, UC Berkeley prides itself “as a center of higher learning, providing long-term societal benefits through transmitting advanced knowledge, discovering new knowledge, and functioning as an active working repository of organized knowledge.” To understand what this fully means, I think we should break down how UC Berkeley has found it difficult to meet all of these parts of its mission statement in light of recent financial decisions.

An institution that prides itself as the center of discovering knowledge now targets one of its very own repositories of knowledge: The George and Mary Foster Anthropology Library. This library is one of three university anthropology libraries in the nation and a gem to both the anthropology department and the curious travelers that stumble upon its doors. 

With a school of over 45,000 students, it is imperative that study spaces are made available. Especially those that are a rarity and serve as a connector between anthropology communities across the country.

For these exact reasons, many in the UC Berkeley community stand against the library’s impending closure, whether they are undergraduates, graduate students or faculty. These forces have joined together to push back against the UC’s blatant contradiction of its mission statement. 

While the administration claims closure due to budget deficits, recent financial decisions point toward a different reality a reality where other priorities stand to block the doors of the anthropology library indefinitely.  

In 2020, campus offered a $28 million contract to a new Cal football coach. Since 1937, the UC Berkeley football team has not won a single national championship. 

Let that sink in for a second.

The school which often claims to value education as the center of its institution is willing to spend $28 million for a football team with a lackluster record, but will not opt into our knowledge repositories. To add insult to injury, the UC administration spent $17 million to renovate the stadium for that same losing football team. 

Campus has its priorities: making expenditures where there is profit, and athletics are obviously that outlet. 

Sports aside, the UC argument for budget deficits also ignores a key factor: Chancellor Carol Christ and her raise. The UC system allegedly spent $800,000 giving different chancellors raises, ranging anywhere from 6%-28%. Percents don’t matter unless we know what they are out of, and the median earnings will likely put these chancellors anywhere between $522,000 to $640,000.

On Feb. 22, I attended a town hall on the eve of the library occupation. I heard speeches from faculty, graduate students and undergraduates recalling fond memories of the library. 

In addition to their moving anecdotes, I witnessed speeches from faculty discussing how this library does not solely serve anthropology students, but the greater humanities community on campus that often lack a library for their respective departments. 

This closure has additionally touched the members of the anthropology community across the country, such as Dr. Stephen Silliman, who is the department chair of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He recently commented that the “ease, convenience, and availability of resources make this library an invaluable part of research and teaching at Berkeley.”

Additionally, an article written by Nanette Asimov in the SF Chronicle detailed the widespread opposition to the closure. Asimov explains the severity of the situation, to the extent that the American Anthropology Society has become invested in halting the closure.

Currently, undergraduate anthropology students have created an Instagram page called @savetheucbanthrolibrary in an effort to put this closure on the grid. Other campus organizations such as Bears for Palestine, Brown Issues, Berkeley Student Food Collective, CAL Young Democratic Socialists of America and the Anthropology Undergraduate Association are also working to support the effort.

As students, we can support the anthropology library by attending the events that are announced on their Instagram page and provide them with volunteer efforts. We can sign petitions and spread the word about stopping the closure of this library. We can explore the library during its operating hours to experience its beauty and find other organizations that are doing work to protect libraries as well. 

Saving the anthropology library is the first step in furthering student advocacy for libraries at UC Berkeley. In March, the university also announced that they have plans to close the physics-astronomy and mathematics-statistics library by 2025. If the student population can rally to protect one student space, maybe there will be an incentive to halt damming more precious reservoirs of knowledge.

Oton De Souza is a junior transfer studying sociology at UC Berkeley. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

APRIL 23, 2023