V Interesting

Bonus: The Inequitable University Next Door with Davarian Baldwin

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This bonus episode was made possible by the Marguerite Casey Foundation. V speaks with Trinity College professor and urbanist Davarian Baldwin about how universities extract wealth from their host communities and drive inequitable growth in cities. Davarian, who analyzes this behavior in his book, “In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities are Plundering Our Cities,” explains why schools act more like hedge funds than places of learning and what to do about it.

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V Spehar, Davarian Baldwin

V Spehar  00:00

Hey everyone, today we are looking at how universities and college campuses have become not only one of the most powerful forces shaping our cities, but also important decision makers on what the future of our democracy is going to look like. It might be easy to see these institutions as places of learning. But my guest today argues that colleges and universities are behaving more and more like corporations, and they are putting more energy into profit driven ventures than projects that benefit the public good. My guest is Davarian Baldwin. He’s an urbanist, a historian and professor of American studies at Trinity College. He’s also the author of the book in the shadow of the ivory tower, how universities are plundering our cities. At the Smart Cities Research Lab, he founded Varian uncovers the history of how universities have shaped our cities. We’ll dive into that history and discuss how communities are responding. I’d like to thank the Marguerite Casey Foundation for making this conversation possible. Here’s my conversation with de Varian. Varian, thank you so much for joining me to take a closer look at universities and what it means for them to have a big imprint on our neighborhoods.

Davarian Baldwin  02:32

Thanks so much for having me really appreciate you giving me the space.

V Spehar  02:36

When did you first notice how much universities were shaping our cities in really inequitable ways.

Davarian Baldwin  02:42

I think I’ve lived with the story and the backdrop of my life, my entire life, because I’ve always been a nerd. So around universities, and I’ve always loved city. So you know, I lived in a small town called Beloit, and it’s the home of Blake college. And so it was both always a factory town and a college town. I went to Marquette University, which is in Milwaukee right downtown. And then I went to NYU. And so this story has always been a part of my life. But I will really say that when I tell the story in the book, when I’m doing like historical research at the University of Chicago, and I step outside, and history smacks me square in the face with a protest from residents from the historically black neighborhood of Brownsville who were protesting the University of Chicago because they were purchasing and basically transplanting the historic blues club known as the checkerboard lounge, from the Bronzeville neighborhood into the commercial corridor of the Hyde Park, campus neighborhood of Chicago. And residents had signs talking about cultural piracy, and cultural theft. And so being academic I started doing the research asking questions, and they were like, This is just the tip of the iceberg like you Chicago has controlled the south side since its 1890. Beginning. And you know, it’s not just this purchase, it’s policing, it’s healthcare, it’s all these things. And that’s I start talking to people and they’re like, you know, yeah, this is a phenomenal story. But we all academics, we live with this. And it’s not just Chicago was it’s NYU, and Columbia. And New York is is Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. It’s Emory in Atlanta, it’s USC in Southern California. You know, it’s even, you know, Arizona State University in Phoenix, and it’s, you know, UC Denver and Denver, Colorado. It’s everywhere. And this is a phenomenon as we move into what people are calling the urban century, where more of us live in cities than they do in rural areas. At a time when we are living in a world without factories. As you know, knowledge and information and tech become the center of the economy. The university has become this fulcrum for all these things are consolidating and converging in ways that could not be ignored any longer.

V Spehar  04:59

Thinking back too, when I was touring colleges as a young person, and I went to, I ended up going to Wagner College on Staten Island. And I remember going there, and you drive into Staten Island, and it’s sort of like, it’s okay. It’s okay. Victory Boulevard. Okay. And then you get to this like oasis on the Hill that is Wagner College. And it’s, you know, Princeton reviews, most beautiful campus. And we were walking around with this other young guy, and I was going for theater, and I was just the most doe eyed, ignorant person you could ever imagine, right? Like, I’ve no life experience. And remember, I was walking around in from the quad, you could see, like, of these apartments that were like, kind of not that great looking compared to everything else that was going on. And I remember the girls saying, Oh, don’t worry about that. The the university just bought that we’re gonna make that into graduate housing. And it’d be so nice. And like two years, by the time you graduate, you’ll probably get to live in the brand new building. And I did live in the brand new building, and I had no idea right, until you grow up, and you’re like, wait, that was like somebody lived there. That was somebody’s neighborhood, somebody lived there. And this sort of sprawl that happens at universities, even smaller schools, really does eat up those places and spit it back out as development as beautification, as the the university doing so well as safety as these things that we want for our community, right, that we don’t realize we are taking from another community, especially when you’re that young, and you’re like, oh, geez, that’s right. Yeah. So you say that the university has shifted from being one small, noble part of the city to serving as a model for the city itself? What does that mean?

Davarian Baldwin  06:37

I mean, just, I think people don’t understand the power of higher education, we think about it just simply as just a place where you take classes and at best, they conduct like life saving discoveries in the laboratories, or, you know, if possible, like you mentioned Wagner, they beautify a neighborhood and make it more attractive after decades of divestment, and impoverishment. But actually, right before our eyes college and universities have become the biggest employers, real estate owners, healthcare providers, and in some cases, even policing agents in major cities and towns all across the country. And, you know, there’s a reason for that, with this kind of influence, you know, comes the we invest in them because of the possibility that they make communities more vibrant places to work, visit, invest, and live in. And to be sure college and university, they do bring ideas and people together, and they do generate the the key word today, new innovations. Everyone has an innovation district in the nation code or a universe that’s central to that they do all these things. But with such importance, we we’ve also seen higher education is growing control over the economic development, and political governance over our communities, or what I call the rise of universe cities. And, you know, with the fall of factories, you know, we don’t live in a world with that, you know, in the Global North, we don’t live in a world of factories anymore, even though factories are all over the globe. But colleges and universities in our realm have become today’s factories. But the other part of that is our communities have become their factory towns. And there is a cost for those living in what I call the shadows of the ivory towers. So the story you tell about what that was a neighborhood that was that was a block but don’t worry is gonna be safe one day, right? Cannabis expansions are celebrated for revitalizing beautifying neighborhoods, but they also raise housing costs and displace residents and neighborhoods largely of color or poor white community that’s around campuses, higher education. They are the biggest employers in neighborhoods. And I don’t mean faculty, I mean low wage, cafeteria workers, grounds crew, support staff, medical assistants, people like that. So they have broad control over Labor for entire cities. And what that does, that means that they can lower wage ceilings and they can also because they consider to be not an industry but an institution so they don’t always support labor unions. They suppress collective bargaining efforts in many cases, nonprofit university medical centers, many times the only avenue towards medical care for poor black and brown communities. They emphasize profitable boutique services like cancer research or plastic surgery, high profile research that they can bring to market or they prioritize student services to the detriment of indigent care, which is a precondition for their tax exempt status. And then finally, campus police. There they are, they are celebrated as being able to assist city police for public safety, especially in war torn, violent, impoverished neighborhoods. So we understand that but the problem Is that they surveil and profile, the very same residence that come on campuses to work the so called locals. And they’re rarely held to public account. So when we take all these things together, you know, we, we presume, and there are lots of benefits to higher education, financial and political, for the presumption that they offer a public good. But when we put all these things together on the balance sheet, we have to really from an economic and political standpoint, and not just educational, we must ask ourselves, What good is higher education for our communities?

V Spehar  10:37

You bring up an excellent point about the on campus security folks who oftentimes are acting as auxilary police officers. And this is another experience in Staten Island, certainly that that we saw an awful lot of, I’ll tell you, those campus cops were sometimes way worse than anyone else you would ever encounter, because of this sort of dedication to the university to the prestige of wearing the uniform of the university and everything that comes with it. And then also having like ultimate control over hundreds, if not 1000s of young people and access to this this ivory tower, as you’ve called it. Have we have you seen that on campus police have expanded in their training or militarized the way that we see the police in our cities.

Davarian Baldwin  11:22

So let’s just be clear, whether public or private. Most schools have campus police departments, so not like a Barney Fife, you know, kind of, you know, sleepy public safety officer, but campus police departments, nearly all carry guns, about 85%. About nine and 10 have arrest and patrol jurisdictions off the main campus. Wow. And the important point about this is that if they are police over a private university, private institutions in America are exempt from Freedom of Information Act laws. So if they are private police for a private university, that FOIA exemption gets passed on to the police department. So with private schools with their own police departments, what you have our police forces that have that are private, with public authority beyond the campus over non University affiliates, without public oversight. So what you pointed out about earlier about the branding is critical because the idea is they’re marketed as agents of student or by extension communities. They they’re offering a public good service to assess their their right and their skills at policing. What was their primary function, cannabis policing, one of the biggest crimes on campuses, sexual violence, substance abuse, and petty theft. Cannabis, police do a horrible job in all those areas, especially sexual violence. Some would say capacity, we need more police. So we actually say we need more campus police. But when we look at it, it’s actually intent. Because if you look at a predominately white institution, what school in the branding marketplace of higher education wants to publicize they have a campus full of white criminals. So what they do is that they under police in some camps that actually call it amnesty, they provide amnesty for crimes on campus so that kids will keep paying and keep having a good time with the red cups. Right. So they will they provide amnesty and they under police on campus. But at the same time, this the story of brandy is revealed by the way in which they over police in the surrounding neighborhoods, because they want to signal to students, their parents, and investors. And we talk about that later. And investors that the neighborhoods are running campuses are safe for business. And so we put together the under policing of campuses, and the over policing of the surrounding neighborhoods. We understand how cannabis police or police departments are frontline security forces for the control of areas targeted for what I call University expansion that reaps millions of dollars in profits, both in tax exemptions, and private investors, and suppression of wages.

V Spehar  14:13

And tuition, which just continues to go up and up and up. Your book that came out in 2021 is called in the shadow of the ivory tower, how universities are plundering our cities and I wanted to ask what other resources beyond what we just talked about now? Are universities draining from a city.

Davarian Baldwin  14:31

In many cities and communities across the country? Universities are the biggest real estate holder in the area. They are the land Baron. Okay. And so what this means though, is that because they are nonprofits, they are 501 C three nonprofits according to the IRS tax code. That means all that land is taken off the tax rolls. So all of the wonderful towers of glass and steel the leafy green brick buildings that we celebrate as symbols of prosperity of have come back, as you mentioned earlier, much of that wealth that’s hoarded, that’s concentrated on these leafy green canvases is actually comes from the extraction of wealth from the taxes, universities don’t pay to their host communities, tax monies that go to things like secondary schools, snow removal, trash removal, the maintenance of the electrical grid, bridges and tunnels, all things that universities benefit from. They don’t pay from another ways in which they impact as I mentioned earlier, the suppression of wages, both graduate students who are identified as apprentices.

V Spehar  15:42

Oh, gosh, I really hope we get into the Columbia grad students. Oh, my gosh, this is wild here in the city. Yeah. For the listener, you can’t see me but my eyes are like the size of dinner saucers.

Davarian Baldwin  15:55

Right? So there’s, there’s been a strike wave across the country temperature. Michigan, earlier, Columbia, they use the California system. So they’re their people, especially in this in the STEM areas, where these grad students who with a master’s degree, I mean, with a with a BA degree would be able to get a job at these companies. But as grad students are considered apprentices, so they make a fraction of the money. And they’re doing the same work on these tax exempt laboratories. So the investors like Google, Bombardier, GM, Microsoft, they get the money coming and going all under the name of educational purposes, they write it off in the taxes.

V Spehar  16:32

And all of that IP is owned by IP.

Davarian Baldwin  16:36

And then the royalties that come when the university is able to capture the information, the knowledge and the tech and bring it back to them and royalties, there is the healthcare work that university medical centers receive an additional tax exemption under the condition that they provide engine care to the surrounding communities. But here’s the rub. They are allowed to self report their public goods services. So they it’s like a moving target about what they can provide. And instead of offering the services, in some cases, like Johns Hopkins and earlier, Yale, they would rather pursue liens on the homes of their patients who can’t pay. And many times they can do it directly by garnishing wages, because these people also work at the University as the biggest employer in the neighborhoods. This is Oh, this is this is a next level. Oh, gee gangster stuff, right? And then then all this wealth that is seated and hoarded on these campuses, including the endowment, which are tax exempt, right? So Harvard has a 50 billion with a B, billion dollar endowment tax exempt, right? They’re only required to spend 3%, to maintain taxes and status. And they argue that what we need is money for the life of the institution, as if they aren’t getting tuition every year. And as if they can actually couldn’t spend $50 billion. You know, instead of actually investing in surrounding communities.

V Spehar  17:56

I’m thinking now about Yale and new haven where I grew up and originally Yeah, you know, you have Ella grace of Boulevard over you don’t go there, right. But if you’re in downtown Yale, you’re okay. And everything’s cute and adorable. They’ve even invited the the broader community into these spaces, at least at first, and I’m thinking of like, late 90s. Really. When I went back home this last time, you see difference of what was the late 90s, early 2000s, really trying to get Millennials excited about being on a college campus, college campuses being accessible, everyone will be welcome here. If you just give us this park, we can maintain it. And then last time, I went back, I saw a lot of Shake Shack I saw I saw a target. I saw a lot of these big corporate businesses that are on campus, but it is very much a closed circuit now. And the rest of New Haven has been locked out of what Yale has done for this for this particular area. And I’m thinking of other cities. I mean, the listeners gotta be thinking to have like the University of Tennessee or what’s happening in Austin, UCLA, Boston, even Raleigh, Raleigh, North Carolina got so wild research, research triangle, all that branding of like the last maybe five or six years. When do you think that cities becoming a campus really kind of locked in?

Davarian Baldwin  19:05

Yeah, this is a great question. So in the 1950s, and 60s, as you saw white flight, and white ethnics moving out of the city and black and brown foot moving into the city during what was called the urban crisis. Universities were too big to move, they weren’t nimble enough to move. And so instead, they they they balkanized, they fortified universities lobby the federal government to become the friendly face of urban renewal, to demolish blocks around themselves create buffers from the growing black and brown communities. But by the time we get to the 90s, the 2000s There’s a new shift and ideas that the grandchildren of suburban sprawl were born with, you know, track housing and seven elevens and parking lots, and they wanted to come what was actually called back to the city and they call it the back to the city movement. And I lived in this experience, so this this the 1990s and 2000s. So you have various city leaders competing with each other to bring the empty, young professionals who have maybe went to school but left but they want them to stay, or empty nesters retirees wanting to come back into the city to be close to the downtown life, the excitement, etc. But actually when they said when they had their ideas about what was city life, walkability, museums, coffee shops, fully wired density lectures, their idea suburban idea of a city was largely a campus. And then on so they’re competing with each other to bring these these residents back. And then on the other side, at the same time period, you have universities, that the state contributions University just plummeting, was at one point time, say UC Berkeley or Michigan or UVA was receiving like 70% of their money of their annual budget from the state, it plummets to like 10%. So they’re now only public universities in name. So they’re being required to become entrepreneurial. So they want to figure out how to monetize their campuses. So in this moment, you have a period of interest convergence between the ambitions of city leaders and the interests of university administrators coming together on this idea of how can we monetize turning various swaths of our cities into a campus, this is happening at the very same time, we have the rise of the knowledge economy, where academic research is being used to produce profitable goods and patents in a range of industries from pharmaceuticals, and life science services, to software products, and military defense weaponry. And most of that work is being done on campuses. And these private investors are like, Oh my gosh, and on top of that, if you do our work on a campus, it reduce our overhead costs, because that laboratory is tax exempt. Right? So all this is happening in the 90s or 2000s. And this is why I really marked the rise of the university. And now in these last two decades, we’ve just seen this experience ramp up on steroids, whereby you have these developments all over the country, you have the innovation corridor, in Winston Salem, you have the innovation corridor in the historically black neighborhoods of University of Cincinnati, you have used City Square in West Philadelphia, you have the biomedical campus Innovation Center in downtown Phoenix as us you have the converge campus, and historically black neighborhoods and Allapattah. And over town and Miami, you have Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island. And so you know, it’s only the citizens of our society that have been blinded with this idea of innovation is good universe. We everyone wants to wants a campus, but the university and their private partners, they understand all of the economic benefits, shelters, gaps, gray areas, that can be monetized and amplified by partnering and seating and sitting there economic development on anything that’s called the canvas.

V Spehar  25:20

Can we talk a little bit about sports and how this plays a role also in land grabs for the universities and just development of the surrounding community. So many people who don’t even go to that college and I’m I also used to live in Knoxville, so very familiar with UT. You know, never went to that school, but it’s in their town, it’s in their community, their diehard fans, they’ll do anything for that football team. They are UT whether they graduated from that institution or not. How does sports play a role in these university takeovers of areas?

Davarian Baldwin  25:48

Yeah, I mean, it happens at least two to four areas. Number one, you’ve been we’ve been hearing a lot about like student unionization. So it’s the student athletes generate millions of dollars in revenue for these institutions. Because of the ways in which they are they have no wages, their workers, but they have no wages. And people argue that, well, they get a free education. But I worked at a big time University at Boston College. And it was only until students either left the team or were graduate athletes, where they actually take the class because their job was to be on that plane, you know, to win for the campus. And to generate that, that that Noblesse of bliss for the residents to feel good about this. While that those campus buildings and their facilities, were also tax exempt. And then on top of that, the workforce that sells the peanuts and the popcorn, and cleans the floors are also getting below living wages. So this is another way in which we University have found a way to monetize school spirit, and the community that sit around that host these areas, they pay the costs. And many times we don’t even know this, for example, just you mentioned sports, but I mentioned I go back to the pharmaceutical issue or the or the, you know, the industry issue, and historically black neighborhood. And when it’s When Jackson and New Jersey, they realized that all of their property taxes were going up, but there were no improvements in their community. And they are wondering why they did some research and found out that they sat next to Princeton University campus buildings that were hosting laboratories for the multibillion dollar pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly. So Eli Lilly would partner with the universe Princeton University, and would contribute millions of dollars to the research, and they would write it off at educational. The university would employ its graduates to do the work at below market rates. And then the work would be packaged for the university into an IP, and it will get back millions of dollars in the form of royalties. So all this business is going on, and the costs are being passed on to the residents that live in the community. Because the university isn’t all that work has been sitting on tax exempt land in the laboratories. They found out they sued Princeton in 2018. Still, I’m sorry 2016 When an $18 million lawsuit with tax relief, one resident that wasn’t lost, he was so disgusted, that he dismissed precedent as a hedge fund that conduct classes. That’s just one example. Right? It wasn’t a state university. They said this is a public school. So now that elite snotty Ivy League, you know, they sit on tax exempt land as well. And you know, the wild, you know, Arizona is the wild wild west when it comes to real estate. So they realized, okay, what can we do? What we can do is that we can not just, you know, sell to quasi education, like, you know, you’d have like laboratories for science research, we’re actually going to lease out our tax exempt land, to a hockey team. We’re going to lease out our cases of land, to retirement communities. And we’re also going to lease out our land to the biggest private development in the state of Arizona, a State Farm assurance, regional headquarters sits on ASU land and doesn’t pay property taxes. So what they do though, is the university then charges them a slightly lower fee. They take that money, and they’re able to do things like build a new football stadium and pay former NFL Coach Herm Edwards and NFL size salary without state legislature oversight. Just a couple of weeks ago, months ago, the retirees who live on campus filed a lawsuit against a music facility because it kept them up all night. Right in the middle of a college town. But because they are this they on campus and they are there’s time acuity and, and these these units are going for a million dollars. They also have leverage. Oh yeah, they’re Nike, right? So they so these are wealthy retirees. So they have political leverage, so they’re able to dictate the terms of noise and behavior in the entire community.

V Spehar  29:49

This is something that I saw recently about a retirement community on a campus that was allowing elderly folks to audit for free the classes that this particular university as a way to have like an activity, and meanwhile you got these kids who I used to work in food security and food security is so awful on Ivy League campuses, because people think, well, if you go to Ivy League school, you must have a lot of money. And it’s like, no. So very often, we’re talking about either foreign students who have spent everything they have to get to the school or families who have spent everything they have to get to the school, then they find out about things like fees for meal plans, and they’re like, I can’t go to school because of the fee for a meal plan. And we’re allowing these elderly folks to audit the class for fun and like certainly raise their hand or interject in the education thing. And it’s because it’s one more way to facilitate funding coming in and goodwill and sort of like nice sci fi, the campus is like a place that see we are welcoming to everyone.

Davarian Baldwin  30:44

It already is. So you built you an Arizona case, when other cases that you’re mentioning, you generate significant revenue from these retirement communities. And under the under the guise that you know, we are diversifying, you know, interpersonal relationships, right. And yet the money generated from that does not go to things like food insecurity, you know, or the idea or the simple idea. No student on campus should go without a meal plan, how easy would it be to transfer some of those funds with a retirement community to creating a food security plan and plan, very simple, but instead, it goes into these entrepreneurial innovation projects that put money in the hands of the foundation’s alumni are seen as shareholders, and in some cases, escaped in the case of NYU for years, members of the Board of Trustees owned for profit loan companies, so that when low income students, you know, tapped out of low income loans, they would have to come to these predatory loan companies lanciato, they basically have a captive market, and they talk about conflict of interest. And they are just conflicts of interest in a bow, because these campuses, in their truest sense, have become the slush funds, for the wealthy and powerful, all in the name of the public good. And so there’s a thing about we use the language of corporatization of campuses, which is it was a powerful, illustrative, you know, illustration of what’s going on, but it’s a bit misleading, because these campuses, these, these universities, they’re, they’re doing some things that corporates can’t even do with their taxes and statuses, nonprofits, these are things that corporations can’t even do, and they’re doing it for similar purposes. But I want to be clear is not all schools. You know, when I talk about and we talk about in a minute, what can be done, I think about solutions in the face of all these land grabs, and this wealth concentration, and its labor exploitation, and its food insecurity. Its two year schools, its community colleges, and its historically black colleges and universities. Historically Latinx college and universities historically indigenous college universities that are actually have food service programs that actually are, you know, when they got all the all the money through COVID. They didn’t put that in their coffers actually, reduced tuitions for students, you know, so So we’re talking about, you know, a lot of schools are doing these horrible things, but not all schools.

V Spehar  33:14

The last story I wanted to touch on is that, you know, we’re talking about oftentimes the States or the local areas that are that are funding these university kind of takeovers of communities, but it’s happening at the federal level as well. As we saw with UCLA and the baseball field that was on land leased from the US veterans agency, the US veterans agency had promised to build housing for veterans. They didn’t get around to it for years and years, and the baseball team is now suing the veterans agency for 50, saying that they spent $15 million to improve its leased parcel. And that to kick in award winning, I’m a theater girlie do the you win awards in sports? Award winning baseball team off of their practice? field would be, you know, just so egregious in these poor baseball players and the poor UCLA, and again, vilifying the veterans who are pushing back and saying that the United States government promised them housing and gave them a baseball team. What do you what do you think is gonna happen here.

Davarian Baldwin  34:17

I’m in competition with the veterans that are fighting this fight because they know about the work. And it’s a horrible and symptomatic story of exactly all the things I talk about because it gets even deeper. my good colleague Ananya Roy at the Institute on democracy inequality, she’s amplified the story to great to great means to show how it’s not just them stealing the land from the Veterans Affairs to build a baseball park. But then as it was pushed back, the first thing they do is they slap Jackie Robinson’s name on everything, to kind of blackwash you know, this whole endeavor, this whole endeavor, and then on top of that, during the social protests of the black summer, 2020 of our black lives matter. The city you that baseball parking lot as a holding pen to arrest activists and organizers, right. So it is working on all levels. This is upon talking about how these institutions are becoming these connective tissues for all these things, these these forms of governance and economic development that have nothing to do with teaching classes, and conducting pure research. They are the governing and economic force in our lives in ways that we don’t even know. And they’re doing it in our name, and they’re doing it with our money, whether they are public school or private school. So this is why my Smart Cities lab, we are involved in trying to force these entities not just a school because the high the quaint notion, the ivory tower is dead. These are the factories of our of our of our society. So if when we engage in these entities, whether it be the baseball diamond, UCLA, or the innovation district, Winston Salem, or the cafeterias at University of Florida, or the struggles against that crazy man DeSantis all over the state of Florida, we’re talking about the future of our of our democracy, because these issues around labor, land, policing, housing, wealth redistribution, and food security, are all being played out on these campuses in ways that extend far beyond just students. And so in my lab, we’re fighting around issues of community benefits, payments in lieu of taxes. We’re calling for food security programs, we’re calling for community based zoning and planning boards for cannabis expansion projects. These are the things that we’re calling for because of a reparations because University have had a hand in displacing black and brown folks that you know, people that finally acknowledged that that university had a hand in slavery, but they don’t want to talk about the 20th century harms of universities, bulldozing communities. And so I’m spearheading this thing called the renewal project, part of the lab to talk about reparations in that context. So these are the things that we’re doing on the ground to make in your hometown, I’ve helped consult New Haven rising, where they were actually able to win a victory just just a couple of years ago, where yield didn’t want to come to the table to have any conversation about payments in lieu of taxes. They pay the biggest in the country already. But it’s a it’s a drop in the bucket based on their $40 billion endowment. But we were able to visualize what was going on, we were able to go door to door protest rally teaching right out as educate communities. And we forced him to come to the table to add an additional $10 million a year to tax relief over the next six years in the name of tax relief they didn’t want to do. It’s a small victory. But New Haven rising was powerful because what they were able to identify is that it’s not just about campus struggles, this university is everywhere. So we need to have residents involved. We need to have workers involved. We need to have a students involved, we need to have city orders involved. And in that coordinating impact everywhere the university attempted to turn we were there.

V Spehar  39:47

Can you talk a little bit about the Columbia University strike that just happened as well this was a graduate student strike because people are pushing back on this including the people who are oftentimes the victims of their circumstance. Yeah, well was going on with the Columbia Graduate Students strike.

Davarian Baldwin  40:02

The Columbia Graduate strike is really interesting because it wasn’t even just about better wages, because there’s first of all most graduate students, because they’re called apprentices. You know, they might make $35,000 a year, whereas if they were in the open market working for, say, Google, or what have you, they might start out making $60,000 a year, they conduct more research. And they might make $100,000 a year. But as graduate students, they make that $35,000 stipend, conduct the same research for the same company, reaping the same profits. And they still make that $35,000 A year stipend, sometimes without health benefits. And if they’re international students, right, their visa is tied to the university, so they can’t even protest. So there’s that. On top of that, because graduates makes its paltry wages in a city like New York or Chicago or LA, they can’t get housing in the city, because landlords won’t rent to them because they consider to be a risky renter. So then what happens a university buys up land built housing. for graduate students or service, I’m putting scare quotes for the listeners a service, but then they rent it out at market rates on graduate student wages, or stipends. So they were fighting for that. But on top of that, these the corridors of these of these campuses are seedbeds hotbeds for sexual harassment on the part of faculty with grad students. But then on top of that, they were partnering with the undergraduate democratic socialists of America chapter on campus who were upset during the during the pandemic that they were having to work to teach, learn remotely, and yet still pay the same $80,000 a year for tuition. And so what happened was that these three issues graduate labor and harassment, undergraduate tuition and cab, the expansion got coordinated into a broader vision.

V Spehar  41:57

How did the universities in rural places do this kind of stuff? And we talked about cities quite a bit. I guess I would consider Staten Island City where Wagner is Wagner’s its own little world, as we’ve now discussed, but what about some of the universities in more rural places? How are they sort of overtaking communities? Or is it different there?

Davarian Baldwin  42:18

No, it’s a great question. And I to be honest, that’s not my specialty. I’m an urbanist. But in the years since the books come out, I’ve learned so much, and I knew some beforehand as well. But so for example, a lot of the um, I find I’m from Wisconsin to the foot full disclosure. So I’m, you know, I know about Big Ag. And so in a place like Wisconsin or in other places, the extension schools would be the places where, where students in rural areas would get education. They also build out dormitories out there, they also built they own land, and he’s rural area that has adverse impacts. But the more pernicious area is around agriculture, and genomics, around ownership, IP of the seeds, the legacy seeds, the and we see this not just in poor white communities, in rural areas, but also in places in indigenous communities in places like Minnesota, and South Dakota, where under the cover of the university, you have a company like Monsanto, or other agricultural company that will come in and gain ownership over these legacy seeds. And then, you know, reverse engineer them and gain IP over the agricultural work, or not just the seeds, but also the harvesting practices, the these these centuries old indigenous harvesting practices, they will take control and ownership of these things. So it’s not just the real estate, or the labor on these campuses, or the education and his extension areas. But it’s also the business that goes on in rural areas that must be engaged. So like, just recently, just a couple of weeks ago, the indigenous indigenous activists, and Minnesota put out a well thought out and study treatise, about, you know, land back from the years where the land that had been taken to build these camps came from indigenous rural communities, but also the, the IP around the seeds and the harvesting practices, and the labor to make visible all of the ways in which the university extracts wealth and labor, historically, and in a contemporary fashion from indigenous communities in many in Minnesota.

V Spehar  44:24

Yeah, you take something that indigenous folks have been doing for millennia and then say, No, this is the Arkansas method. This is the University of Tennessee method.

Davarian Baldwin  44:32

Yes, right. That’s right and sell it on the market back to them.

V Spehar  44:35

You’ve said big colleges could be powerful than us for transformation and change if the resources were just directed differently. How can we kind of like fix some of this mess?

Davarian Baldwin  44:45

Yeah, so first of all, some of the stuff is like low hanging fruit. Every day. These campuses they throw away because of health code regulations. They throw away tons of food from the cafeteria, every you know, as as a food security person. How simple would it be to just simply repackage this food? into healthy meals and distributed to communities in need. With a medical student in the audience heard that in West Philadelphia, and on his own accord just started doing that working with, again, low wage black and brown cafeteria workers on Friday nights to repackage the food they were going to throw away. And through this a socialist, a socialist organization in West Philadelphia, distributed the food to communes of need. And to this day, the university still won’t provide funding for that, right. So there’s that. There’s also for for as as universities, expanded communities, building affordable housing, mixed housing, and my my conclusion I talk about the University of Winnipeg. And for people if you read the book, you’ll see the solutions area, build, as you build continue to build communities, they want universities in their backyard, but they wanted to be equitable, and just build affordable housing as you expand. build our community benefits agreements that include free education, free access to the campus for community residents, affordable land trusts, as you expand Food Service Programs, after school programs, job training, programs, zip code, specific job guarantees, as you expand and construction. You’re a dominant you’ll be a billion dollar endowment, say even a half a million dollar endowment have a condition that says that that money a portion of that money must be invested in a community based financial serving institution, instead of a multibillion dollar financial market. What a transformative impact that would have sports stadiums, most of these students come from black and brown students come from the neighborhoods that’s around these campuses, if not directly from some other campus, from other community like that campus, pay them their proper wages, right policing, the campus abolition movement, people started to realize the biggest police are in their neighborhoods was not even the municipal police. It was campus police. But we know that nine out of 10 police don’t require an arm response across the board. What entity has a better opportunity to engage in a divestment in armed police and an investment in real security, food security, housing security, trauma care, health care, who better equipped to offer that kind of public safety investment, then a university, these globally recognizable medical centers like Hopkins or Yale, or UCLA, and UCLA, if anybody could do police abolition, it’s a university, these are just a few of the things that can be done, that are easy and are not about radical transformation is just about redistribution. Being a good neighbor, these things are simple, but it’s a matter of will. It is going to take social movement organizing to make these institutions come to the table that’s been proven, but people are doing it the strike wave across the country from temple to Rutgers and, and Michigan, Michigan, they’re there. They’re including my work saying we don’t want this better wages, we want police abolition at Rutgers are saying we don’t want this better work conditions. We want community benefits for the neighborhood of New Brunswick. So the work that I’m doing is having direct impacts on these communities, the labor unions in Ithaca and Baltimore saying help us put together pilots, right neighborhoods in Miami are saying, Yes, we still we already pay to put our nonprofits in the in the in the bottom floor of these campus buildings. But we don’t want to get kicked out what’s happening right now. Right? Because all the wealth because of climate gentrification, because all his wealth is on the coasts and that stuff is flooding. All the wealthy want to come into the central neighborhoods of Miami, which is the Black and Brown neighborhoods, what is going on, they’re kicking out these nonprofits, so I’m there trying to help them fight against that, at UPenn. From a historic act of displacement by UPenn, and Drexel, and the medical centers from the black vinyl community, we’re pushing forward a reparations campaign to say that if you’re going to build wealth here, we should be here and be able to benefit from that from that wealth. So the work that I’m doing that I’ve been blessed to do, is that even just about universities that said earlier, it’s about this economic and political transformation. That’s going to be a model for what’s gonna be the future of democracy.

V Spehar  49:03

Where can people find you and follow this work?

Davarian Baldwin  49:07

Yeah, well, the website for the Smart Cities lab is still a work in progress. Because when the summer of 2020 hit, I just hit the ground warranty working doing that work, but you can find me on Trini website, you can find me on Twitter at the very end, Baldwin, the website is coming Smart Cities lab, Trinity College, I’m proud and blessed to be doing this work. I’m proud and blessed to be a combination of people like you to show what’s possible because another university is possible. It’s not just about bashing universities, it’s about making universities live up to their claims about serving the public good about them make a living up to their to their state charter. So we need to understand that they only exist because of state charges, which is us, the people, we can revoke those state charges that we have no political will, but we need to make them if they’re going to be the driving engine of our society. They should not be allowed to do so without any oversight. There must be a true democratic approach.

V Spehar  49:57

It’s such good advice also to to remember that even if you didn’t attend that particular school or university in your community, you are a part of it, you do have a say in how they continue to grow and operate, and what they owe you for the privilege of being in your community.

Davarian Baldwin  50:12

That’s right. I mean, you’re from New Haven. So. So, you know, the old saying is like, what would New Haven be without Yale? And they say, Bridgeport? Or, you know, what have you, which is a totally racist comment. But the question should be, what would what would Yale be without New Haven, when you consider the tax exemptions, and the low wage labor and the community support that goes around there? What would Johns Hopkins be without Baltimore? You know, what, what what would you Chicago be without the south side? What would temple be without Philadelphia? That’s the question. We have a say we have a right we have a duty to make these institutions if they’re gonna be this major player, to be democratic, to be just to be fair, and to be true neighbors, to the places where they sit.

V Spehar  50:57

It’s very noisy, so good chatting with you. Thank you so much for being here today.

Davarian Baldwin  51:00

Thank you so much for having me appreciate you.

V Spehar  51:06

I like to think every city planner, elected official in university administrator needs to listen to this conversation with Darien if you live near a college campus, I’d say you have the right to know if that institution is truly benefiting your community, or if they’re extracting more than they give. I am so thankful to Darien for dropping so much knowledge on us because it’s given me a new perspective. And it’s making me think about all the university campuses I’ve been to or worked on. I was glad to hear that people are organizing and demanding community benefits. Thank you again so much to the Marguerite Casey Foundation for making this conversation possible. I think we got a ton out of it. Be sure to tune in to Friday’s episode where we dig into the headlines you may have missed, please leave us a five star rating on whatever platform you’re listening on. It really does help and I actually read all of them. So we’d love to hear from you. Follow me at under the desk news on tick tock instagram, youtube and now Patreon. And guess what friends there’s even more be interesting with limonada premium subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts.

V Spehar  52:14

V Interesting is a Lemonada Media Original. Our producers are Kryssy Pease, Kathryn Barnes and Martin Macias. Our VP of weekly programming is Steve Nelson. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittles Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Mix and scoring is by James Farber. Music by Seth Applebaum. Please help others find the show by reading and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @VitusSpehar, @underthedesknews and @LemonadaMedia. If you want more V Interesting. Subscribe to Lemonada Premium only on Apple podcasts and follow the show where ever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.

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