Monday, February 6, 2012

Notes: "On last Friday"

By Tetsuro Namba

On Friday, February 3rd, a group of us went to KUCI hoping to have our voice included on Countdown UCI’s radio interview with Chancellor Drake. We weren’t invited, but we had heard that the host, Dmitriy, was someone who does not shy away from conflict and controversy. The chancellor is making an active effort to address student concerns and the student body, we thought. The chancellor is willing to have a conversation. The radio show that invited him had a reputation for controversy. Perfect, we thought, a perfect opportunity to address the administration, to ask some hard-hitting questions and to get some honest answers.

Of course, things did not go perfectly. We showed up a bit late, after the chancellor was already in the booth. So instead, we asked to be let in. We asked to speak to the station manager. We asked if we could send a single representative to the interview. We asked and asked, and we were met with apathy, avoidance and aggression on the part of the staff. It’s not their fault—we understand—but at that moment KUCI, a student organization dedicated solely to sweet tunes and free speech, suddenly became, for us, an inaccessible fortress. We were thrown into confusion.

Can we actually see the chancellor? Should we try to open a window? Who is the station manager? Is the booth sound-proof? What are the rules and guidelines here? Some of us, bored, simply started shouting and chanting at anything and everything. Some of us, yes, climbed on the roof. Some of us tried calling the station. How could we get their attention? How could we ask to have our voices heard?

KUCI is an amazing station. Furthermore, that Chancellor Drake was willing to face student concerns in a public forum signaled, to us, an openness on the part of administration that we found surprisingly refreshing. Perhaps the years of loud protest and student agitation had finally convinced the administration that we had serious concerns about the future of our school. Perhaps we would be return to our model plan of shared governance, of a democratic institution. Perhaps this time Drake would not wave vaguely, look away quickly, and run off immediately as he had the last time I said, “Hello, chancellor.”

Of course, by this time we had realized that we were not going to get into the station. We realized that we were simply harassing students and staff, only making them angry and making us feel frustrated. So, waiting by the front door for the chancellor to finish, we decided to settle down to listen to the interview, taking notes and forming questions. For us, his responses during the interview generated more questions than answers. We planned to meet him on the way out, when we could ask him our questions and voice our concerns. Perhaps we could ask him for further opportunities to continue a dialogue.

Now, let me take a minute to describe who we were. There were less than twenty of us. We had more signs than we had bodies to hold them. And those of us who were there—let’s be honest—are not large, intimidating people. There were two or three tall-ish men, but for the most part, we’re a group of short and scrawny people. Add that to the fact that most of us grew up constantly reading books to the detriment of our social skills, and you have a small group of awkward UCI students with handmade signs. We’re not a threatening group and, honestly, we’re not too articulate under pressure. One of our biggest concerns was that Chancellor Drake would be able to immediately answer our questions with charm and charisma. After all, Chancellor Drake’s job is to present our institution in the most favorable light possible. You could even call him a politician. But regardless, Drake is paid—and is paid well—for his public speaking skills. We assumed that we would be rhetorically outclassed. But we were willing to make fools of ourselves nonetheless.

So you can imagine our surprise and confusion when Chancellor Drake did not leave through the front door, avoiding us as a group of students with legitimate concerns worth addressing. Rather, he chose to sneak out by a circuitous route through the weeds and dirt, into the ratty alley between the trailers to get to his BMW less than 15 feet from where we were. It was at this point that we realized that Chancellor Drake was not interested in serious dialogue: sneaking out like a naughty student playing hooky indicated to us that he was unprepared to answer our questions. We knew then that the interview was not a sincere attempt at real dialogue, but more bullshit PR. We knew then that he was afraid of us, and this baffled us and worried us because we consistently feel minor and ineffective, insignificant and unheard. But they had called out four or five police cars to escort the chancellor! The administration is apparently afraid of a handful of unorganized student activists. Though we felt as though we were just a group of friends with homemade signs, they clearly saw us as a serious threat for reasons unclear to us. And with Chancellor Drake trying to sneak away, we did what any frustrated, shocked and confused group of concerned students would do: we chased after him, asking questions.

The rest, if you watch the videos, was a funny little mess that proves just how much the administration instinctively avoids student concerns, and proves just how utterly insincere our chancellor is.

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