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Jigsaw falling into place

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DECEMBER 16, 2013

Kira Walker/Senior Staff

BART strike

Even though the negotiations for the contracts of BART workers have ended, the biggest problem facing transit in the Bay Area remains unchallenged — the incompetence of BART’s management, which invested time and resources in smear campaigns rather than infrastructure or the workers themselves.

Instead of thoroughly investigating the issues related to the strike (which would have shredded BART management’s fabrications), the San Francisco Chronicle and Bay Area News Group echoed every sound bite from BART management that blamed workers for being greedy hell-raisers. Workers, however, just wanted fair wages, scheduling procedures and better safety measures — such as bulletproof glass and better lighting. In the end, unions, with the help of state and federal mediators, upset the managerial horseplay that brought BART to a standstill.

Instead of widespread public support for workers (which might have averted the strikes altogether), a few angry elites loudly expressed their disdain for public workers, who deserve a comfortable middle-class life in the steadily gentrifying Bay Area. These critics complained that the strike was expensive, damaging, and unnecessary — BART workers and management should have been forced to come to a resolution without the strike.

Although my vision of public transit making the Bay Area completely walkable seems fanciful at the moment, I am glad to see BART workers make their demands a reality. Hopefully, we will support fairer wages and benefits for them very soon. To avert strikes like this in the future, residents will need to be more invested in the livelihood of those who keep the Bay running night and day rather than feed into the frenzy sponsored by incompetent management and mediocre media.

— Josh Escobar

Tony Zhou/File

CalSERVE wins big in ASUC election

This semester, CalSERVE held the majority of the ASUC’s executive seats and a substantial number of senate seats, compared with recent years. Despite a few bumps in the road, the party of “social justice and equality” settled into power as gracefully as one could expect. Was there still more talking than doing? Yes. And was there still a lot of petty party politics? Yes. But did CalSERVE senators and executive officers also stay true to their campaign promises? For the most part, yes.

The party’s representatives successfully pushed for multiple measures to create a safer and more open campus climate, such as a restriction on using the word “illegal” in campus discourse about undocumented immigrants, the condemnation of cultural insensitivity within the Greek community after a quinceanera-themed party at Delta Chi and ASUC President DeeJay Pepito’s campuswide campaign against sexaul assault.

Despite criticism of the ASUC’s symbolic and at times fruitless student activism, CalSERVE officials took important steps in impacting state and national politics, most notably with a bill in opposition to the environmentally harmful extension of the Keystone oil pipeline. And if Pepito’s letter to the president about the ASUC’s formal opposition to the construction of the pipeline doesn’t get President Barack Obama thinking about the impact UC Berkeley students have on national movements, perhaps former CalSERVE senator Ju Hong’s interruption of the president’s speech on immigration early in December did.

With or without national and state leaders’ responses to such bills, CalSERVE is taking important steps toward better representing and reflecting the campus community in the public sphere and through campus policies. While there remains much work to be done, the campus should feel reassured that the ASUC is in good hands.

— Alex Berryhill

Danielle Shi/Staff

Sept. 30 explosion

It seems strange to describe the explosion on Sept. 30 as a highlight of the year at UC Berkeley, but it definitely stands out in memories of 2013. After a campuswide power outage occurred, an explosion prompted the swift evacuation of the campus. Witnesses were terrified, and people were trapped in elevators all over campus. The panic was sharp but short-lived. UCPD and Berkeley Fire Department quickly got the situation under control, and the truth beat the rumors on the Twitter/Facebook grapevine.

Like any spectacular event, the September explosion was caught by a dozen cellphone cameras, both in stills and on video. In the videos, students can be seen running both toward and away from the fireball — curiosity and gonzo journalism in action. The evacuation and shutdown of campus were orderly and administered fairly well, despite the novelty of the occurrence. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured. The worst part of the explosion for  most of us was the panicked phone calls from home confirming that we students were unharmed and that UC Berkeley had not burned down. The anomalous event put a stress on homecoming, which immediately followed. UC Berkeley seemed vulnerable in a way that most alumni are not accustomed to seeing.

While not precisely a highlight of 2013, the explosion is certainly a day to remember. It was a day of panic, marked by the height of a fireball. We remember, we take a look through the steaming grates beneath our feet and we remind ourselves how lucky most of us are.

— Meg Elison

Kore Chan/File

New chancellor, UC president

Since the semester began, two of the most influential new hires for the UC system — UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and UC President Janet Napolitano — have already started to make their marks in their respective positions.

Dirks, brought over from Columbia University to succeed Robert Birgeneau, has done much to insert himself directly into campus life. Over the past few months, he has taken meetings with students representing diverse communities on campus, including undocumented immigrants’ rights activists. His fireside chats, although in part a symbolic gesture seemingly meant to say his office is open to conversation with students, are a step forward from the apparently more detached nature of Birgeneau.

Still, challenges for Dirks remain. The dearth of African American students on campus remains a challenge for the administration, as does dealing with a state Legislature not all that interested in ramping up funding for public education.

On that front, Napolitano hopefully can make a difference.

Under fire from progressives for her time as Secretary of Homeland Security for the Obama administration, Napolitano’s role in detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants ultimately overshadowed her impressive bureaucratic skill set. While Napolitano has met with immigrants’ rights groups and announced a multimillion-dollar initiative to aid undocumented university students, some are still wary of her record.

Napolitano and Dirks have taken the reins of two of the most important public institutions in the country at a critical juncture. Finding ways to ensure UC Berkeley and the university as a whole survive financially while continuing to be a hub for learning and research is perhaps one of the great challenges of our time.

But based on the limited evidence of Napolitano’s and Dirks’ tenures thus far, there’s some reason to hope for the future.

— Noah Kulwin

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DECEMBER 16, 2013