KEEP DR. COWARD at UC-BERKELEY!
Defend academic freedom and intellectual and critical thinking!
Stop administration censorship and privatization!
Defend public education!
Students have a right to good professors and to a quality public higher education
BAMN supports UCB Mathematics lecturer Dr. Alexander Coward and demands that the UC-Berkeley administration continue his contract to teach at UC-Berkeley.
Dr. Coward is unwilling to go along with the privatization dogma of the UCB administration that insists upon excessive testing to rank students and force students to compete against each other, learn to passively absorb what we are told instead of think critically, and submit to authority. Dr. Coward is convinced that an endless series of tests-for-tests-sake distorts the real educational process and inhibits the ability of many students to learn math at all. Dr. Coward focuses on enabling and challenging his students actually to understand and use mathematics. His success is demonstrated by the large number of his students who are fighting for him now. Many students have declared passionately that they could not have learned mathematics without him.
Dr. Coward is one of the best teachers at Berkeley. He should be rehired and supported, not victimized. We need more, not fewer, professors like Dr. Coward. UCB students can only protect their right to be taught by creative, pro-student professors like Dr. Coward by building student power on this campus. UCB has become increasingly anti-intellectual and hostile to critical thinking as a result of the increased privatization and resegregation of the university. The ideology of “meritocracy” and the UCB administration’s use of racially-biased standardized tests to shut the doors to black, Latina/o, Native American, and other underrepresented minority students and low-income students, have made this campus more segregated and elite and has distorted the process of learning for everyone. While many students come to UCB because we love learning, we find here excessive competition, overwork, stress, and isolation, and we are made to lower our expectations for life and for ourselves. We defend Coward and everyone who encourages us to think critically and develop our capacity to be leaders to take on the social, economic, scientific, and environmental crises facing our generation.
Coward is also being targeted because he speaks his mind, and has been willing to question and criticize the decisions of the university administration. Academic freedom and critical thinking are vital to the future of public education at UC Berkeley.
As the university has become more reliant on corporate funding and contracts, the UCB administration has acted in the interest of those corporations by attacking academic freedom and censoring students’ free speech. On November 9, 2011, in an effort to weaken the student movement from gaining the strength to stop this deforming process of privatization, the University tried to prevent UC Berkeley students from joining the Occupy Wall Street movement and oppose fee hikes, restore affirmative action, and make UC Berkeley a sanctuary campus for immigrants. The UCB administration used police violence against students. Then, the student movement mobilized and forced former Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to leave. Today, our movement defends academic freedom and freedom of speech and demands that Chancellor Dirks reverse the termination of Coward.
The University is now attacking professors who defend the rights of their students and stand on the truth. Last year, the administration terminated the beloved Environmental Science, Policy and Management professor Carolyn Finney, the only black woman professor in her department who was loved by her students because of her research on racism and the profound inequalities in the environmental movement and itself. While her research was essential to building the environmental movement, the administration saw it as a threat to gaining contracts with corporate investors. This same administration decided to retain astronomy professor Geoff Marcy despite having found he had sexually harassed and assaulted female students for a decade, and their cover-up was thwarted by the courage of the survivors themselves and the national outcry over the administration’s protection of a sexual predator. The protection of Marcy and their attack on Professor Coward shows the UCB administration’s loyalty to privatization and its hostility to students and our interests.
The greatest enemy to UCB fulfilling its public mission of providing a world-class education to all the young people of California is the UCB administration. Students must take the lead and have the power to win. If we’re organizing mass action both on and off campus, uniting the student movement at Berkeley with the Bay Area’s black, Latina/o, and other minority communities that are now on their feet after Ferguson, if we’re prepared to be independent of the faculty and administration, if we’re telling the plain truth about the racism and sexism on campus and the role of privatization in this attack on Dr. Coward, we can force Chancellor Dirks to reverse this decision and extend Dr. Coward’s contract. It is up to students to make UC-Berkeley the great world-class public university that it can and must be.
***Two years ago, Dr. Coward failed to support a strike by the Graduate Student Instructors (GSI) union UAW Local 2865, teaching his own and other graduate instructors’ classes during the strike. Dr. Coward’s action weakened his union and strengthened the administration’s ability to victimize him and other pro-student, creative teachers at Berkeley. Despite this history, his union is rightly defending him. BAMN calls on Dr. Coward and the students supporting him to acknowledge his mistake two years ago and recognize the importance of the unity of the labor movement and labor-student solidarity.