Their Privatization, Our Exploitation!

. Monday, December 14, 2009

Please see the below communiqué put out by Democracy Insurgent, responding to President Emmert's letter to the student body about increased privatization.  

Also, a new coalition is forming in opposition to this privatization.  Come check out our last meeting of the quarter on Thursday 12/17 at 6 PM, Parnassus CAFE, UW! This is an open meeting.  Parnassus is located in the basement of the art building.

Their Privatization, Our Exploitation 

A response to UW President Mark Emmert’s  

 “ Addressing the Latest State Revenue Shortfall” 


On Thursday, November 19th  2009, the University of Washington 

community received an email from University of Washington President Mark 

Emmert, concerning continuing budget cuts from Olympia.  His email was titled 

“Addressing the Latest State Revenue Shortfall,” but it could just as well have 

been titled: “Justification for the Long Term Privatization at the University of 

Washington.”  In the letter, President Emmert acknowledged that the 26% cut in 

the University’s operating budget, as well as the 28% tuition increase over 2 

years, were “trends” that were “very likely to continue.”  Given that the revenue 

generated from our tuition contributes more to the operation of our university 

than state investment, President Emmert offered sage advice to help the 

university acclimate to long-term privatization. 


His advice, laden with bureaucratic language to mystify and distract 

readers, is meant to be read as a success story of clever budgeting at this “turning 

point” for the University. However, his words are as illuminating as they are 

dishonest.  His claims that the university is “among the most efficient in the 

nation in producing bachelor’s degree graduates despite being among the most 

poorly funded” ignores some ugly realities. Those that ensure this efficiency— 

overstretched TAs, graders, visiting lecturers, and other members of the 

University’s academic support staff—continue to face layoffs, speed up in the 

work place, and pressure to assess students based upon quantity in the class 

rather than quality of work.  Increasingly so, UW’s graduation rate is dependent 

upon the work of its graduate student labor, much of which goes 

unpaid/underpaid. Graduate student workers are expected to undertake 

unrealistic workloads, turning us into overworked, underpaid cogs in a factory 

that chugs out future laborers, who pay more for less of an education.  Yet, this 

exploitation is disguised in euphemisms, what Emmert calls “efficiency” and 


 His advice also ignores the serious burden that increased tuition is causing 

for those of us who work our way through school as first generation college 

students.  Especially for many students of color, higher tuition means we will have 

even less access to higher education which means we will have even less of a 

chance at getting living wage jobs in this cutthroat economy.  After all, we are 

often the last ones hired and the first ones fired.   But these cuts affect anyone 

who didn’t have our education handed to us on a silver platter: if Emmert has his 

way many of us will become LAST generation college students.  If we do slog our 

way through an increasingly expensive UW education we will be strapped for the 

rest of our lives with subprime student loans. 

  Privatization means that over the long haul “unprofitable” programs like 

ethnic studies, gender studies, and disabilities studies could face further cuts.  Our 

peoples fought hard and occupied buildings to demand these programs at UW 

and we won’t sit by idly if taking them away ends up to be part of Emmert’s 

definition of efficiency.  We will not sit idly by as UW becomes even more elite, 

even more whitewashed, and even more cut off from our communities and 


Further, Emmert seeks “greater management and business process 

flexibility:” He writes that, “there are numerous examples of millions of dollars 

that can be saved in operating our University if we had more flexibility over 

business processes and had to spend less money complying with a number of 

regulations in the way we operate basic management systems and processes.”  

This erosion of “basic management systems,” which in turn decreases levels of 

accountability the University is mandated to adhere to, has also fed into the 

continuing oppression of workers at the university within their workplaces. 

Privatization of labor and union busting have been features of the University of 

Washington workplace, taking the form of layoffs, shift elimination, speed up and 

site reassignment.  This is visible in the Facilities department of UW. Since last 

year, members of UW’s custodial and trades staff, many of whom are immigrants 

and people of color, have faced discrimination and retaliation in the workplace for 

attempting to organize around issues of workplace safety and job security.  These 

racist attacks on workers go unhindered at the hands of Facilities management 

and unnoticed under the auspices of the University administration.  It comes as 

no surprise, then, that Emmert seeks greater flexibility in turning the school into a 

private corporation and further oppresses UW’s labor in an effort to streamline 

this operation. 

While some may read Emmert’s email as prudent advice for bleak 

recessionary times, we read it as justification for the privatization of the 

university, and continued exploitation of students and workers. The injustice of 

these decisions are made more blatant when we realize that none of the top 

administrators have taken pay cuts. While President Emmert enjoys his million 

dollar paycheck, and mansion that is paid for by the UW community, those who 

are most lowly paid, such as custodians, are laid off and forced to take on extra 

work. It is unbelievable that these drastic decisions are made by the President, 

along with the Board of Regents, neither of whom are elected by the UW 

community or the people of Washington.  We have long called for UW to be a 

truly public and democratic institution—a resource and gathering center for the 

entire city and state, an educational and intellectual community run by and for 

those who have built this university through our labor, where members of this 

community democratically decide the policies of the University.  We refuse to let 

individuals who cannot afford the criminal cost of education, including students of 

color and immigrants, be denied entry into our institution, even as their parents 

and siblings continue to slave as workers in its halls. We see Emmert’s latest 

communication as a blueprint for preplanned and sustained privatization, and it 

sickens us. 


But we have not faced these injustices without a fight. Students, workers 

and community members have directly combated privatization at UW. On May 

28th and June 11th 2009, we rallied to ensure that swing shift positions slated for 

elimination were retained for custodial staff facing layoffs and speed up. On 

October 30, 2009, custodians and students successfully held a memorial for 

former custodian In Soo Chun.  His self-immolation in front of Emmert’s office last 

year was likely politically motivated but the university administration and media 

dismissed it as simply a product of mental illness.  TAs and other graduate student 

labor have been organizing within our ranks, finding other graduate workers who 

have tired of the isolation and low pay that menial intellectual labor prescribes.  

Meanwhile, we have begun to link up with the larger Seattle community to 

demand jobs for unemployed youth of color in the working class neighborhoods 

where some of us live, work, or search in vain for work.  


We are not alone.  On September 24 and November 18, students, faculty 

and staff at University of California campuses went on strike against a proposed 

32% tuition hike. Images of students being arrested and beaten by police as they 

spoke out against tuition hikes and educational budget cuts horrified the public, 

yet inspired other fighters on similarly affected campuses. TAs at the University of 

Illinois in Urbana Champaign followed the next day, occupying buildings and 

holding massive rallies in a two-day strike fighting for tuition waivers that their 

administration tried to eliminate. On October 22, students at the University of 

Vienna occupied their university, calling for an end to state disinvestment in 

public education and later rallying at the US Embassy in solidarity with the 

California students.   The reality of the situation is that the struggle against 

privatization is both national and global, and the UW must join the fight. 


We need to collectively build a movement that brings together student and 

workers struggles. Democracy Insurgent continues to organize in multiple labor 

sectors on campus, learning from struggles taking place around the world today. 

We are inspired by University of California, as we are by the Third World student 

strikes and anti-war movement of the past. We are growing larger, stronger, and 

smarter each coming day. Yet, we cannot do it alone. As the year continues, it is 

necessary that other members of the community stand up against these budget 

cuts, against union busting, and against the privatization of public education. We 

must all come together to demand a truly public university.  



Democracy Insurgent is a majority people of color activist group animated by principles of 

democracy, anti-racism, anti-imperialism, queer liberation, Third World Feminism, and workers' 

power. We are based in the University of Washington. 

Find out more about our actions against budget cuts at:, , 

Contact us at