by: Amber Losey
John Bruning is a graduate student at University of California, Irvine. After the budget cuts were announced he stepped up to make sure the students would have a resource to learn the issues. He became the press contact for defenduci.blogspot.com, a blog dedicated to news and issues regarding the budget. He graciously agreed to an interview.
Q. How did the blog come about?
A. In June when the faculty was being introduced to the furloughs they wanted to create an “informational clearinghouse.” It was spearheaded by Catherine Liu, an associated professor for the visual studies department.
Q. What is the main purpose of the blog?
A. Originally it was for the schedule of events for the walk out and subsequent rallies, then we started posting articles and letting the students see things from the point of view of a faculty member.
Q. I know you stated that the blog was originally for the schedule of events, articles and for students to get a faculty's point of view so what made you want to get involved and agree to be the press contact?
A. I got involved originally, along with a number of other graduate students, because faculty was the only constituency on campus talking about the budget cuts. We got involved because we supported the faculty and we felt the need to start building bridges between faculty and graduate students, undergrads, and campus workers. I later became a press contact because Catherine Liu, who was heading up the media work, was getting overwhelmed. I had some experience writing press releases and talking to the media as an activist during my undergrad, so I was able to contribute in that way.
In the week between our first and second interview John informed me that Adriana Campos Johnson had joined the blog coalition as well.
Q. How long have you been at UCI and what is your major?
A. I’m a second year graduate student in the sociology department majoring in American Studies.
Q. Where did you complete your undergrad studies?
A. I spent four years at the University of Wisconsin. Irvine is a bit different!
Q. How so?
A. A large factor is the layout of campus and its relationship to the community. UW was very open and integrated, whereas UCI is very closed and insulated from the surrounding community. UW is also an older school, circa 1850's, and has a certain architecture and aesthetic. UCI, like most campus buildings built post-1968, has a social engineering program embedded in its walls; that is, the campus is designed to prevent mass gatherings and particularly protests.
Q. How do these cuts affect you personally?
A. As a graduate student, I’m a little insulated because there are no furloughs, pay actually went up 1% and tuition wasn’t raised. However, the social science department where I am a teacher’s assistant is becoming limited. The copiers and printers are not as easily accessible. In addition, the anthropology classes I am a teacher’s assistant had half of the sections cut. There are only two Teacher Assistants for the remaining sections.
Q. Where does the information from the blog come from?
A. We gather information as a coalition, not so much research but the faculty does do research. We also find information from other blogs like http://www.utotherescue.blogspot.com/.
Q. What has the response been to the blog?
A. There honestly hasn’t been very much response. We turned off the comment feature but a few students have sent us articles to post.
Q. Do you think there hasn’t been much response because the comments are turned off or due to student apathy?
A. I don't have access to the blog's stats, so I can't say how much it is viewed. There is some contact info on the blog, particularly for Catherine and me, so if there is some feedback they can contact us (and have). We turned off comments because we want to avoid the anonymous firestorm as can be seen on the OC Register website. Instead, we encourage discussion at our meetings because that is a much more meaningful and productive venue to raise issues. We're also developing a presence on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=198602897208) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/defenduci) to try to diffuse more information.
Q. What would you say to the people that are saying UC schools could stand to cut a few "frills" such as theaters, symphonies, research libraries?
A. For theaters and symphonies, these are part of what makes the University what it is. It's a shame that they are undervalued and under attended by the UCI community and the Orange County at large, and there's a number of reasons why this is the case, partly due to administrative decisions and the civic planning of UCI and Irvine. But the University has traditionally been a hub of cultural production, and the cutting of these programs would seriously undermine the mission of the University. And for research libraries, I personally don't see how it can be justified to cut them. Students in the past have fought for longer hours, even forgoing a football team in order to build the Science Library. It's hard to imagine a university without libraries.
Q. What response would you have to the opposition saying that UC students are still paying thousands less than private schools and therefore should be thankful and not raising such a fuss?
A. One of the misconceptions about private schools is that everyone pays that high tuition, when in fact many private schools, especially the more prestigious ones, grant free tuition to students coming from lower-income backgrounds. But the missions of the universities are different: Private schools are run privately, for profit; while the UC system was built to provide affordable education to all of California's residents. The 1960 Master Plan makes this clear, and this is why, up until 1972, there was free tuition at the UCs. Most importantly, public universities serve not only their students but also the public good. Think about all of the advances in sciences and the arts that have been made in the last century, many of these have come from the public universities. The public benefits from the education that each of us receives at UCI--for every dollar that the State puts into public higher education, there's usually a return of 3-4x into the state economy--and that's the best reason I can think of why higher tuition is bad in the end run for everyone, whether students or taxpayers.
Q. How did you personally prepare for the activities of the 24th? I'm really trying to get a picture of an activist at work. What sort of planning went in to the walkout and how much dedication was poured into it?
A. A lot of time, many of us were sunburned from tabling and flyering all week. Fernando and Raul, two other graduate students in Sociology, did a lot of the legwork in getting the speakers arranged. Groups like RSU and WSA spent a lot of time on Ring Road and at the Involvement Fair talking to students about the walkout. Media hype helped a lot though, as most students already had some information about the walkout. I also wrote the press release and one of the fliers we passed out; a good amount of my time went into those. I'm never really sure where all my time goes, I assume I spend it doing something productive.
Q. What's up next for the blog? Now that things are slowing some, is there less to talk about it or are faculty members gearing up for more demonstrations?
A. Faculty members are slowing down now that the quarter has started, but graduate students have picked up a lot of the slack. I've personally gotten lazy about updating the blog. However, there are actions coming up. There was a teach-in this afternoon. There's also a zombie-themed protest on the 29th and a few others that are tentative; we don't have any firm plans but we're talking about targeting the reduced library hours, possibly along the lines of what was done at UC Berkeley and CSU Fullerton (we happen to have friends involved in the organizing at both schools), and another one targeting Drake. There are also the Regents meeting in November, which we're working with students at UCLA, SB, SD, and Riverside to organize.