Monday, December 20, 2010

CUNY's Culture of Protest

This article from the N.Y. Times highlights some of the challenges student protesters face today, from increased campus security to harsher penalties for various forms of civil disobedience on campus.  The author compares the relatively modest student response at CUNY to tuition increases to the recent protests in the U.K. regarding rising education fees.  The students at CUNY have tried public contention in years past.  They've now apparently moved on to forms of protest they think might be more effective -- specifically, legal process.  In a sense, this simply represents the steady institutionalization of protest.  What began "in the streets" ends up in negotiations with administrators and, when all else fails, in the courts.  I have seen too many examples, some quite recent, of robust student protest to conclude that the campus protest is a thing of the past.  There are still idealistic students on the nation's campuses.  But for a variety of reasons, some of which are examined in the piece, campus protests are not as a general matter likely to be as frequent or as effective as they used to be. 

This is an important change in the nation's expressive culture.  Whatever one might think of the efficacy or desirability of protests as a general matter, we ought to be concerned that a generation of students may be learning the lesson that public contention is a dangerous and wholly ineffectual form of expression.  If during these formative years students do not learn to test the bounds of authority, through various means, when if ever will they learn to do so?    

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