05 / 14 / 2007
Critique in Action
For those involved in the D.O.C. controversy, active dissention comes with a price.
By Jim Casey
It was a bright, warm May day and the campus bells were striking 12 noon. Fifty or
so people milled about a "free speech zone" - the large sunken patio between Solis
Hall and the Media Communications Center - before they walked away from the campus's
center and deeper into Thurgood Marshall College.
Various signs floated in the air: "One Dimensional D.O.C.?" "STOP TA INTIMIDATION."
"What would Angela Davis say?"
Benjamin Balthaser, one of two graduate student teaching assistants recently denied
a renewed contract by Dimensions of Culture administrators for the coming 2007-08
school year, called through a bullhorn to begin the scheduled teach-in.
"This is our public meeting"
"The administration has repeatedly refused to meet with us publicly," Balthaser
said. "This is a problem because of the changes that have happened in D.O.C. behind
closed doors - without student input, without faculty input, without TA input. We're
here to open those doors right now. We're here to make this a public debate. They
refused us a public meeting, so this is our public meeting and we're going to have
Several former D.O.C. students expressed their personal dissatisfation with the
content of the writing sequence.
The lineup included representatives from many of the 15 campus organizations that
have supported the dismissed TAs - the collective endorsement represents enough
students to occupy all the lecture auditoriums in Solis and Peterson halls.
The undergraduate and graduate speakers also shared their space with professor Jorge
Mariscal of the literature department, who addressed the already heavy throng in
front of a steady stream of campus traffic filing past the teach-in.
Mariscal talked about the layers of the historic activism at Third College (Marshall
College's original moniker), including the process by which undergraduate students
tried to name Third College for a democratically elected CIA-assassinated president
of the Congo named Patrice Lumumba and a national hero of the Mexican Revolution
named Emiliano Zapata.
"We've been talking about what it was like back in the day, but we're still in the
day," Mariscal said.
Within the crowd and amid the speakers, professors bumped elbows with freshmen,
Muslims with United Auto Workers representatives and students in sandals stood among
UCSD founding figures, like literature department professor Carlos Blanco-Aguinaga.
Emeritus Blanco-Aguinaga, a literature department professor and a longtime supporter
of the original Lumumba-Zapata Coalition, also spoke to the crowd.
Blanco-Aguinaga talked about the early days at UCSD in the late 1960s.
"You know how many black students and Chicano students there were?" he said.
A woman in the crowd hollered out: "Ten!"
"There were approximately 40 black students, maybe 40 Chicanos, there were maybe
"Can you imagine 40 to 50 Chicanos, maybe 40 to 50 black students creating the idea
of the Lumumba-Zapata?" Blanco said.
Blanco finished with some advice for his audience. He said: "You are not very large
yet, but you can grow."
Many students chose to stop and listen to the event and by the end, the public
meeting's attendance more than doubled.
Meetings behind closed doors
On the eve of the teach-in, Balthaser told the Guardian the LZC had requested a
public meeting with the D.O.C. administration to no avail, and that the organization
seeks to end the meetings behind closed doors.
The LZC seeks an "oversight of D.O.C. from the constituency it is supposed to
serve." The group advocates that students should take up an active role in their
education and in their communities, and that a voice in matters of curriculum and
course materials for students is not something to be trivialized or discounted, but
welcomed in a public forum in pursuit of a transparent academic climate.
For this, Balthaser, Boehm and the LZC demand the formation of a formal student
advisory committee comprised of undergraduate and graduate students, staff and
faculty by the end of May.
Balthaser's own perspective has been influenced by his experience with D.O.C.
administratiors over the past year, especially during one incident in which he was
summoned to a private meeting with program director Abraham Shragge.
The private meeting was held amid a flurry of undergraduate activism within Marshall
College that notably voiced some public criticism of the program's faculty and
curriculum changes. Balthaser said that the D.O.C. administration expressed that
these undergraduate students couldn't have come to these critiques on their own.
"Call in a campus psychologist"
Balthaser is not the only D.O.C. TA in the recent past to have a disagreement with
Shragge, nor the first to react indignantly to a meeting he felt was unmerited.
In the fall of 2002, senior TA Margaret Fajardo met a similarly rocky end to her
time teaching D.O.C. Fajardo was not available for comment, but she spoke at the
LZC's teach-in and penned a public statement in support of Boehm and Balthaser, and
against what she called "continually increasing failure of the program
administration to adequately meet the radical history of the founding of [Marshall]
"The promise of the college's mission is to provide an intellectual and social home
for underprivileged, disenfranchised and minority students," she said.
Fajardo eventually transfered to another department's program after she articulated
her concerns about certain subjects being taught uncritically.
Fajardo found that her criticisms were met with an unenthusiastic response. D.O.C.
Assistant Director Pam Wright suggested to Farjardo that her wishes for a meeting
with the administration would certainly be met, but that she might benefit from a
meeting, as Fajardo describes in her statement, "without my union representative and
instead call in a campus psychologist to be present at the meeting."
"The administrators just came up to me after and said, 'Are you OK? Do you have a
problem? Are you having a bad week?' So I don't think y'all here are having a bad
week, right?" Fajardo said at the teach-in.
In 2002 Fajardo, like Boehm and Balthaser in 2007, had to consent to being
interviewed to keep her teaching position. She ultimately resigned from the writing
sequence when she "no longer had faith that my concerns would be heard by any member
of Marshall administration."
The lack of public dialogue that Fajardo felt forced her departure from the program
has also found traction in the current situation for Boehm and Balthaser.
Both said they were told that their teaching performance had nothing to do with
their dismissal. Further complicating the issue are their robust credentials. Boehm
received Teaching Excellence and Community Service/Advocacy in June 2006 from the
same administrators who currently preside over the program. Balthaser won the UC
Poet Laureate prize in April 2006 for his poem about George Winnie, a UCSD student
who immolated himself in protest of the Vietnam War in 1970.
Supporters of Shragge and the D.O.C. administration, like communications professor
Michael Schudson, have alleged that the LZC has engaged in campaigns of
Supporters of Boehm and Balthaser in turn maintain that the reasons Shragge has
cited for removing the TAs constitute wrongful dismissal for violating First
Amendment rights ("the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition
the government for a redress of grievances") or for willfully ignoring their
positive teaching records.
The recent conflict could become a lesson for current D.O.C. students, taken from
D.O.C.'s own program overview, which asks the question of how scholars, presumably
ranging from Shragge and Schudson to Boehm and Balthaser, move from knowledge to