Letters for the Week of November 20

Readers sound off on racial tension at UC Berkeley, problems with Obamacare, and illegal dumping in Oakland.

“Why Black Students Are Avoiding UC Berkeley,” Feature, 11/06

Courageous Truth-Telling

I want to commend J. Douglas Allen-Taylor on the fine article he wrote about the alienation African-American students experience at UC Berkeley. This is a courageous act of truth-telling and a strong antidote to the irritating shouts of “Go Bears!” and the other examples of superficiality that are used endlessly to sell the university to the public. More attention needs to be devoted to solving the problems students experience at UC Berkeley, supposedly one of the best public universities in the world, instead of worrying about the performance of the football team.

I’m a white male and I remember how lonely and overwhelmed I often felt while attending UC Berkeley. If it wasn’t for a few professors who I was blessed to have as instructors, people who were devoted to teaching and sincerely cared about their students, I would have spent my years there thinking I was nothing more than a student identification number passing through classrooms. One of my teachers, a gifted young English professor, Edward Snow, whose words still resonate in my mind today (how often does that happen?), was denied tenure. Ever since I learned of that decision, I’ve wondered about what the real mission of UC Berkeley is. Is it a place filled with bureaucrats who congratulate themselves on having careers or a place that provides the service of education? Clark Kerr’s vision for higher education in California is sadly fading away.

I remember, too, coming from the so-called Inland Empire of Southern California, how I often had to contend with the snobbish and elitist attitudes of students who came from places like Beverly Hills High School. I can only imagine what it must be like for a person of color to try to be “at home,” let alone succeed academically, in this type of environment. Thank you for having the courage to publish this as a cover article!

Mike Palmer, Berkeley

Compare Yield Rates

This article contains some interesting anecdotal information, but the statistic it cites to bolster its thesis — “nearly 58 percent of black students who were admitted to Cal between 2006 and 2010 ultimately chose to go to college elsewhere” — is taken out of context and actually makes the opposite point. The proportion of African-American students admitted to Berkeley who choose to enroll there is actually higher than the overall average for all applicants. In 2012, UC Berkeley’s “yield” of 35 percent of African-American admittees who enrolled there was higher than its overall yield of 32 percent and higher than for any other US ethnic group. Only 27 percent of white admittees enrolled at Berkeley, 33 percent of Asians, and 27 percent of Latino admittees. The data on yield rates for UC Berkeley by race/ethnicity for each year from 1997 to 2012 is available at: http://Diversity.Berkeley.edu/undergraduate-students-new-freshmen-yield-rates.

Sam Delson, Sacramento

Factories of Segregation

Here is one small voice asking, what happened to the concept of integration? Why is it that there are all these organizations that segregate the races on campuses rather than single, integrated organizations that bring the races together? Does anyone in academia realize that once these students graduate to the real world and get a job they will not be racially coddled? Do Caltrans, Google, Kaiser Permanente, AT&T, or Chevron have separate human resources departments for each racial group of employees? No, they do not because in the real world the employees of every race work as one, together. They are integrated. Is there a “counselor” riding the Muni bus that travels the Chinatown route in San Francisco to help members of the Caucasian race feel better about themselves since they are vastly outnumbered by Asians? Of course not. What does any learning institution having a race-based entity such as, for example, the African-American Student Development office at Berkeley reinforce? It reinforces segregation, saying to those it serves “you are not like others, perhaps not as good as others, and therefore you need help from us to make you equal.” This is counterproductive to integration, especially to impressionable minds that have not yet ventured into the workplace.

The survey quoted in the article mentions that “only 57 percent of Berkeley’s African-American students said they agreed with the statement ‘students of my group are respected at this campus.’ The university’s own analysis called this result ‘the lowest feelings of respect’ of all student groups. The low ranking also remained steady between 2008 and 2011, with African-American students’ feeling of respect on campus scoring 20 percentage points below that of the next highest student category, Chicano/Latinos, and 25 percentage points below gays and lesbians.” Did anyone among the esteemed university academics think to survey these groups in the general US population (outside the university population) to see how they feel respected in the real non-academic world? Perhaps African-Americans in the general population also feel not respected and this feeling is naturally carried on into the campus environment as African-American students enter it. That makes it a universal problem, far beyond the purview of any university. Thankfully, these learning institutions do not issue black, Asian, Hispanic, or Caucasian degrees upon graduation — every degree earned has the exact same honor and certification of achievement. The academic environment making up the pathway to earning those degrees ought to reflect that; a non-racial, fully integrated community reinforcing equality by demonstrating equality to those about to enter our society. Otherwise these halls of learning are nothing less than factories of segregation.

William Thompson, Walnut Creek

“Lost in Translation,” News, 11/06

Confusing System for Everyone

Momo Chang’s article makes clear how difficult it is for a non-native speaker to navigate the intricacies of the new health coverage. What is missing, however, is that these difficulties are almost as severe for native speakers.

This is the system, overly complex and confusing. It is important to note always in such articles that these difficulties would be resolved if the whole country adopted a single-payer system where everyone was covered and health care became a right.

Of course that would cut the big insurance companies out of the picture. Naturally, that would never do.

Rich Yurman, Oakland

“What a Waste,” Feature, 10/23

Municipal Indifference

Always nice to see an article on waste in the Express; this was done pretty well although my own perspective would be slightly different.

The core of the problem is municipal indifference in the face of rapidly escalating disposal costs and a general increase in lawlessness. The fees at Davis Street Transfer Station have increased from $19 per ton in 1989 to $140 per ton today, probably three or four times the rate of inflation. Bureaucrats and do-gooders justify the rate increases, more than a little caused by public fees laid on top of what the garbage company gets to keep, but there’s also been a general deregulation of rate-setting for disposal in the county. Several counties in the state have resorted to parcel taxes to support disposal costs, in large reasons to keep tipping fees low and to avoid illicit dumping.

The cities, unfortunately, do very little to help the independent trash haulers stay in business. When I ran the North Oakland Recycling Center on upper Telegraph (1983-1989) my strategy with the lawless was to back my truck into their trucks and put dents in their side panels and front bumpers; if I’d had a tank, I would have used it. I was often robbed but never, to my knowledge, by the same people twice. When the city gets serious and consistent about enforcement, locking up trucks in a yard where towing charges and storage fees run into the hundreds of dollars very quickly, the problem will disappear. Maybe if Oakland defined its illegal dumpers as a homeland security risk, it could deploy the cameras Uncle Sam is paying for on the hot spots for dumping instead of on the citizens walking down the street.

In 1990 the city made a push on dumping in East Oakland. Railroad Avenue was a major target and the enforcement found that over half of the criminals were from out of town, and were not Oakland residents. The weariness of Oakland’s first-line responders is well known about Oakland (see Mr. Gallo’s remarks) and whatever the council says it will do is always tempered by a discouraged workforce and a city attorney used to civil lawsuits and not street corner enforcements.

The article also states that “the cash-strapped city already spends $3.3 million a year on contending with illegal dumping.” It would have been nice to know if the dump fees from the city’s trucks that collect dumped trash are paid for by all ratepayers with moneys never seen by the city (there are a number of gimmees in the collection contract that the public pays for in its rates for which the costs are never directly assessed to the city), or if some of that $3 million mentioned above comes back to the garbage company in charges assessed on the city’s trash collectors cleaning up after the illegal dumpers. If it is the latter case, then the city could take its once dumped, now collected, trash to a cheaper location where lots of salvage work could be done and jobs made. Otherwise, the city has no economic stimulus.

Although not really its intention, the great omission in the article is a discussion of the large private recycling industry based in Oakland that serves the entire Bay Area with scrap materials acquisition services that unitize small loads from local collectors into truckable quantities, then shipping materials through the Port of Oakland to locations and materials re-users all over the world. It’s a wonderful story all too often overlooked in assessing Oakland’s role in the Bay Area.

Finally, the article notes that “there have been no serious discussions in City Hall about creating or supporting sustainable solutions to the city’s illegal dumping problems …” That is all too true and some of Dan Knapp’s ideas on sustainable disposal and my own low-tech interests could be stirred but the current council and staff appear to be part of the same old, same old. Waste is way down the line on most lists of problems for Oakland or anyplace else, but as the world’s population continues to grow (three billion more people now than forty years ago) and we now have ever more clearly a world of finite resources, crunch time for what we throw away is getting ever closer.

Arthur R. Boone, Owner of the Center for Recycling Research, Berkeley


Our November 6 cover story, “Why Black Students Are Avoiding UC Berkeley,” misstated the name of the campus survey that found that only 57 percent of Cal’s African-American students said they agreed with the statement “students of my group are respected at this campus.” It was the UC Undergraduate Experience Survey — not the University of California Campus Climate Survey.


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