On Wednesday, May 14th over fifty students from throughout the University of California system, along with UC service workers and a few concerned community members, stood in solidarity outside a UCLA conference room and shared their personal stories of struggle as well as hope for the elimination of financial obstacles to education. Despite this pressure, the UC Regents voted to raise undergraduate fees by 7.4%.
UC students will now have to pay nearly $500 more per year, continuing the trend of a more than 84% increase in fees in the last decade. This decision could lead to a lack of diversity and accessibility within the UC system, according to the UC Student Association (UCSA) and its allies, as well as be a step down the road to privatization.
After the final â€œYesâ€ vote was cast, many students marched out, but some refused to leave and continued chanting â€œRegents Regents canâ€™t you see, youâ€™re creating poverty!â€ About 15 students were arrested, two of them UCSB students, but were all released within a few hours.
The Regents met over the course of three days to discuss many issues, the fee increase being the most controversial. During the period of public comment in the morning, people brought up issues from the creation of a medical program at UC Merced to living wages for service workers. Only 20 minutes were allotted for all to speak, and only about 20 people out of 50 who signed up were able to approach the microphone. Emma Gonzalez, a graduate student and TA at UCSB, asked, â€œWhereâ€™s the money going?â€ and explained how many of her classes lack adequate supplies, including desks. Another student stated passionately, â€œBy approving this increase you are telling the state that itâ€™s okay to homogenize the UCâ€™s, that itâ€™s okay to push out lower income students, that itâ€™s okay to stop serving the publicâ€¦.We are not just numbers, we are students and we will not be pushed out.â€
During the lunch break before the meeting of the committee on finance, students and service workers marched outside the building with picket signs stating â€œEducation is a rightâ€ and â€œWe are cooks, we make you dinnerâ€. Many people shared the megaphone amid cheers and chants. Patrick Mitchell, a member of the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and a UC healthcare worker, said that the UC cannot â€œretain and recruitâ€ workers because they are not paying them a living wage, and at the same time they are losing students because they cannot afford to attend. According to him, about 80% of UC service workers are eligible for food stamps and other public relief. He also mentioned the large bonuses that the Regents receive, such as the well over $600,000 per year salary of the incoming President Mark Yudof, and the fact that the students must pay for them.
One of the Regents, California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, came outside to speak with the students and show his support. â€œThis is a particularly dumb idea,â€ he stated regarding the fee increase, and later added in a presentation to the Regents that the UC Master Planâ€™s commitment to access and affordability is being undermined. He advocated a resolution for a fee freeze, and to increase fees only with inflation. His resolution was shot down.
Many of the Regents in favor of increasing fees expressed concern over funding from the state. They said that the governorâ€™s budget for the UC is $418 million below what they were asking for, and that the legislative budget will continue to be very uncertain, which could â€œimperil critical prioritiesâ€¦maintaining quality faculty, providing adequate salaries for staff, and a full range of things.â€
According to Richard Blum, Chairman of the Board of Regents who paid â€œ$150 to go to school at Berkeleyâ€, he is â€œall in favor of calling Sacramentoâ€™s bluffâ€¦but every time weâ€™ve called their bluff for 4 years, weâ€™ve lost.â€ He also said that he was under the impression that the Cal Grant paid for everything for students from families with an income of under $60,000, which elicited many boos and hisses from students present. Another Regent clarified the fact that the Cal Grant does not cover everything, and that students with parents making just over $60,000 are hit hardest by fees.
Russell Gould, another Regent supporting the fee increase and the Senior Vice President of Wachovia Bank, said that â€œif the legislature sees us walking away from taking the action that will help ourselves, and trying to put the pressure on them, theyâ€™ll be comfortable saying â€˜Well, obviously you didnâ€™t need the moneyâ€™â€.
Paulina Abustan, a second year at UCSB who is involved with UCSA, was one of four â€œwhitelinersâ€- students who are chosen through an application process to be allowed to attend the meeting on the side of the room reserved for the Regents and important corporate figures. She was able to talk intimately with some of the Regents and made a very important connection that is rarely shared by the students and the small group of middle-aged leaders who are appointed by the governor to run the UC. She said that one woman whom she talked to normally voted for fee increases, but had a change of heart this time. â€œIt shows hope and progress,â€ she said.
Eddie Island, a retired attorney and executive who voted against the fee increase commented, â€œI had hoped that the case would have been made that we had wrung out every bit of excess and waste in this University, so that if we had to then turn to students and their parents, we would be able to say to them in honesty, â€˜We have no choice.â€™ But we are not there today. We have a choice.â€
Committee on Oversight of the Department of Energy Laboratories
Early the next morning, the Regentsâ€™ meeting reconvened with a public comment period. During this period, a student collective read an official statement from the UCSB Associated Students Department of Energy Lab Oversight Committee (DOELOC) on UC management of two nuclear weapons labs (Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories). The statement dispelled misinformation Regent Norman Pattizâ€“chairman of the Regentsâ€™ Committee on Oversight of the DOE Laboratories, president of both Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) which manage the labs, and founder and chairman of radio conglomeration Westwood Oneâ€“had told at the March 19 Regentsâ€™ Meeting regarding the labs.
The statement came after increased student and worker-led demonstrations for grievances like fee hikes (a decision made apparent only the day before), workerâ€™s rights, and UC nuclear lab management. This time, something rather unusual happened: after the studentsâ€™ collective statement, Pattiz stood up from his place at the Regentsâ€™ table and walked to the far corner of the Covell Commons conference room, where they sat in the public comment area. He ducked under the partition, sat down, and proposed to meet with DOELOC at UCSB sometime in the near future, within the next few weeks, he said. Students responded with enthusiasm to the further idea of giving a presentation (not unlike the one recently held in North Hall) about the labs, and their true nature and function.
Next was the Regentsâ€™ Committee on Oversight of the Labs meeting, during which Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi asked a series of very pointed questions regarding UCâ€™s lab management and plutonium pit production at Los Alamos, such as, â€œSo, the UC is directly involved in manufacturing nuclear weapons, correct?â€ and â€œJust so weâ€™re clear, Los Alamos is now the only facility that can manufacture plutonium pits, correct?â€ S. Robert Foley answered the first question with little clarity, prompting Garamendi to press harder on the question. Then Pattiz stepped in to say, â€œOkay, yes, UC is directly involved with manufacturing nuclear weaponsâ€ and Garamendi snapped back at Foley for responding inaccurately to his question. Garamendi continued, asking more questions and elucidated how itâ€™s not in the UCâ€™s best interest to be managing these labs. Eventually Pattiz interrupted Garamendi, citing â€œChairâ€™s privilegeâ€ to cut Garamendi off and bluntly end the meeting.
The rest of the day at Take Hold! University featured more workshops, including a UC demilitarization workshop which, though sparsely attended, was very well received.