The Memorial Union (MU) branch of U.S. Bank, which has been repeatedly forced to close by Occupy UC Davis protesters, has not officially withdrawn from the school campus.
Currently in a 10-year financial services agreement with UC Davis that began in 2009, U.S. Bank continues to pay over $170,000 annually, raising concerns that the university will be required to pay a termination fee upon potential closure.
According to Emily Galindo, associate vice chancellor of Student Affairs, the agreement was established at a time when the university and Student Affairs were struggling with budget challenges and a process was engaged in prior to the contract that ensured that the agreement balanced the community needs with the opportunity to generate new revenue. Students were involved in bringing the bank to campus as well.
“Funding has been set aside to go directly to broad-based student programs and services that focus on campus relations and community development,” Galindo said.
U.S. Bank Media Relations spokesperson Teri Charest said that despite constant closures of the specific branch, U. S. Bank continues to be a proud member of the UC Davis community.
“We are honored to serve its students, faculty and staff. We operate a full-service branch, support the campus ID card and sponsor numerous school organizations,” Charest said. “Our goal has been to conduct business as usual, while also protecting the safety of our customers and employees. Unfortunately, we have had to close the branch several times over the past few weeks. We continue to work with the university to resolve this issue.”
Protesters who have succeeded in frequent closings of the branch argue that banks profit from student loan debt. A Facebook community page that advocates the permanent closing of U.S. Bank on campus (“U.S. Bank off UC Davis”), explains that at $1 trillion, student loan debt has now surpassed credit card debt.
“Student loan debt increases as college tuition and fees increase. Therefore, banks profit from fee hikes. It makes good business sense for banks to push colleges to raise fees,” states the website.
The Facebook page, under its description, includes the list “Why U.S. Bank has no place at UC Davis,” which cites reasons such as the university’s seeming behavior as a for-profit institution which benefits from student loans, the 2010 finding that U.S. Bank was the eighth-largest lender profiting from the student debt and the claim that UC Regent Monica Lozano sits on the board of Bank of America.
Artem Raskin, a junior political science major who is an active UC Davis occupier and was involved in the U.S. Bank blockades, explains that the bank receives advertising that is free to the bank but is being paid for using student tuition.
“The bank pays the university around $170,000 a year and in return receives free advertising and a monopoly on campus,” Raskin said.
According to the Financial Services Partnership Agreement established between UC Davis and U.S. Bank, the university pays to create and install bank signage, which includes those on plasma screens and proper advertisement to captive audiences during campus recreation events.
The bank is guaranteed a termination fee should the university breach the contract, as stated in the partnership agreement.
Galindo also cited this in the agreement.
Because the university is not formally affiliated with Occupy UC Davis, occupiers argue that the blockade is not a breach of contract by the university.
Section 36 of the “Regents as Landlord” agreement states: “Bank assumes all responsibility for the protection of Bank, its agents and invitees from acts of third parties.”
English professor Joshua Clover lead a teach-in at the start of the quarter on the history of private banks on college campuses. Clover believes that the reason the administration will move to shut down the protests is to preserve the appearance that protest does not work and will end in legal repercussions and/or police violence.
“I don’t think the protesters want a different bank, or a better deal. I think they want all banks off campus, and if it were a different bank or a different deal — more rent, another payment to ASUCD — they would still want that bank off campus. Banks do not contribute to education, they just profit from it. Their presence in the public education sector makes education less public,” Clover said.
“The crisis of the university is not whether it gains or loses a couple hundred grand in a sweetheart deal with a specific bank. The crisis of the university is a trillion dollars in outstanding student debt.”
The bank is among six banks and credit unions that operate a total of 13 ATMs on the Davis campus and is an active partner with UC Davis’ Aggie Card system.
“The use of U.S. Bank’s services is optional,” Galindo said.
She explains the Aggie Card serves as the identification card for students, staff and faculty and that U.S. Bank provided some funding to re-card all campus affiliates and to have their logo affixed to the back of the card.
“If there were no longer an agreement with U.S. Bank, the campus would begin discussions regarding the card and possible changes,” she said.
She also acknowledges that campus administration supports the rights of all individuals to engage in free speech and to assembly consistent with the law, but states it is unlawful to obstruct passage to bank costumers.
“[This] violates our Principles of Community. We have communicated this information to the protesters and indicated that they must cease this behavior,” Galindo said.
Raskin said that protesters were warned that they were in violation of Penal Code 647c, which states, “Every person who willfully and maliciously obstructs the free movement of any person on any street, sidewalk, or other public place or on or in any place open to the public is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
“I cannot rule out the possibility of police attacking the protesters.
Civil disobedience always comes with a risk of police repression,” Raskin said. “This is a common tactic — the police tries to scare away part of the protesters with threats of legal action, then attacks the few protesters who remain. In the vast majority of cases, the protesters do not actually get charged …”
Clover also affirms this and said that it is worthwhile to take the risk that is associated with political action, and believes that the bank is focused on an eventual departure of the bank, despite it being an inconvenience to some students.
“That’s the measure of politics,” Clover said.
For further information on the U.S. Bank and UC Davis agreement, a campus community event will be held Wednesday at 4 p.m. at the Memorial Union II room, addressing the history of the relationship between U.S. Bank and Student Affairs.
MUNA SADEK can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.