New America Media, Op-ed, Behrouz Saba, Posted: Nov 21, 2011
From Universty of California, Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, to the campus police chief Annette Spicuzza, to the now-notorious Lt. John Pike of pepper spraying fame, the salaries, benefits and job security of these overpaid and ostensibly incompetent officials mean far more to them than the mission with which they are entrusted – ensuring students’ education and safety.
Katehi has been paid an unconscionable $324,406 in salary alone, with an additional $8,916 in “car allowance” and other benefits. Lt. Pike’s salary is a reported $110,000, more than many professors make.
Economic and political disparities on college campuses were brought into sharper focus after damaging images surfaced of UC Davis police using pepper spray on peaceful student demonstrators three days ago. The incident sparked outrage, and has resulted in the campus police chief and two officers being put on leave. Even more damaging than the one percent that the Occupy movement targets is an emerging oligarchy of police officers, university personnel and others on municipal, state and federal payrolls. Employed, well-paid and enjoying numerous benefits, they have come to regard the public they are supposed to serve with the kind of contempt that Katehi, Spicuzza and Pike have so brazenly displayed.
This contempt was obvious in Pike’s sauntering gait as he walked up to the students to assault them with military-grade pepper spray at a close range, which is prohibited even in warfare.
In a way, students on college campuses don't need to be on Wall Street. They can observe their own microcosm of inequality within a university system that financially punishes students with steady rises in tuition even as it rewards administrators, cops and private contractors with pay raises and bonuses.
The expanding class rift makes public servants masters of the public as they become increasingly delusional about their place within society.
Katehi, who ordered her goon squad onto the campus to wage chemical warfare against students, wrote in a letter in which she tried to explain her actions, “We were aware that some of those involved in the recent demonstrations on campus were not members of the UC Davis community and this required us to be even more vigilant about the safety of our students, faculty and staff. We take this responsibility very seriously.”
Yet nine out of the 10 students arrested after being pepper-sprayed were in fact UC Davis students. That said, a public university is a public space, open to all who wish to assemble for peaceful protest and debate.
Spicuzza was even more flagrant in placing the welfare of her officers above that of students. "There was no way out of that circle," she told CBS News. "They were cutting the officers off from their support. It's a very volatile situation."
How an army of riot police with guns could be threatened by university students who carried no weapons and made no threatening gestures toward them is beyond comprehension.
In California, taxpayers who struggle each day to keep up with mortgage, utility and health insurance bills, pay millions for the bloated salaries of university top brass and their support staff even as Californians face austere cuts to all manner of government services. Indeed across America, city, county and state governments cut services and struggle in an enduring harsh economic climate to meet similarly inflated payrolls.
It is now time to ensure living wages for those on the bottom rungs of the economy, while making dramatic cuts in the salaries and benefits of those who neither deserve nor need their huge paychecks.
America prides itself on its capitalist system, which allows people to amass as much money as they wish. There exists a vast private sector that supports and rewards such entrepreneurial ambitions. Those in the public sector, however, should have no greater ambition than serving the public.