As protests raged outside, the University of California Board of Regents on Nov. 19 approved a 32-percent fee increase for students attending the state’s premier public universities in a dramatic example of how the recession has hit public education hard.
The vote in a windowless University of California, Los Angeles, meeting room took place as hundreds of students and union members gathered nearby, waving signs, pounding drums, and chanting “We’re fired up, can’t take it no more” and “Shame on you.” Their signs contained messages such as “No fee hikes” and “Wanted: Leadership.”
The $2,500 increase will push the cost of an undergraduate education to more than $10,000 a year by next fall, about triple the cost of a decade ago. The fees, the equivalent of tuition, do not include the cost of housing, board, and books.
Regents say they had to raise fees because the cash-strapped state government can’t meet the university’s funding needs.
The decision came as hundreds of students chanted and marched outside the meeting hall to protest the measure. Some students also took over another UCLA building and chained the doors shut.
Police in riot gear kept an eye on the protesters.
“Our hand has been forced,” UC President Mark Yudof told reporters after the vote. “When you don’t have any money, you don’t have any money.”
Armed police–some with beanbag-firing shotguns–lined up behind steel barricades, watching over the protesters.
Some staff and board members were trapped in the building for up to several hours after the meeting because of the disruption outside. A van carrying regents and staff was surrounded and delayed by protesters as it tried to leave campus.
Three hours after the meeting, Yudof was escorted out by police, with protesters in pursuit shouting “Shame.”
One student was arrested for obstructing an officer. She was cited and released, said UCLA spokesman Phil Hampton.
Board members said the 229,000-student system had been whipsawed by years of state budget cuts, leaving no option other than turning to students’ wallets. Yudof has said the 10-campus system needs a $913 million increase in state funding next year, in addition to higher student fees.
State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, a Democrat who sits on the board, said she would push for higher taxes, possibly on higher-income residents, to finance education. The state could face $20 billion shortfalls during each of the next five years.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, blamed UC’s financial crisis on the Legislature’s failure to reform the way the state collects and spends taxpayer money. He said he was unhappy about the increases, but considered them necessary under the circumstances.
“This is the time to look at our budget system and tax system. The Legislature should be sitting there right now fixing it. In the meantime, students have to suffer,” Schwarzenegger said.
At the UCLA campus, the meeting room was closed to visitors for the second day after repeated outbursts by demonstrators.
David Valenzuela, who graduated three months ago from UCLA, said he was on campus supporting friends when police pepper-sprayed him. “I didn’t even get a warning. My face was on fire,” said Valenzuela, 23.
Board members said students from households with incomes below $70,000 would be shielded from the fees, and financial aid would help others defray the higher cost. But that did little to ease the mood on campus, where some students wondered if they could afford the jump or qualify for more borrowing.
Ayanna Moody, a second-year prelaw student, said she feared she might have to attend a community college next year.
“I worked so hard to be at one of the most prestigious universities. To have to go back, it’s very depressing,” she said. Administrators “already cut out a lot of our majors and programs. I’d rather they cut some of their salaries.”
UCLA graduate student Matthew Luckett agreed: “They should cut from the top,” he said, referring to administration salaries.
About 30 to 50 protesters staged a takeover of Campbell Hall, a building across campus that houses ethnic studies. They chained the doors shut and there were no immediate plans to remove them.
The protests began earlier in the week, after a Regents’ committee endorsed the fee plan on Nov. 18.
“When you have no choice, you have no choice,” Yudof said after the committee’s decision. “I’m sorry.”
On Nov. 18, 14 demonstrators were arrested at UCLA and demonstrations spread to other campuses.
Yudof told reporters on Nov. 18 that he couldn’t rule out raising student fees again if the state is unable to meet his request for more funding. “I can’t make any … promises,” he said.
For a second day, the proposal drew demonstrators to the UCLA campus. Some came from other UC campuses and stayed overnight in a tent city.
The Nov. 19 meeting was repeatedly interrupted by outbursts from students and union members, who accused the board of turning its back on the next generation.
“We are bailing out the banks, we are bailing out Wall Street. Where is the bailout for public education?” asked UCLA graduate student Sonja Diaz.
Laura Zavala, 20, a third-year UCLA student, said she probably will have to get a second job to afford the increase.
“My family can’t support me. I have to pay myself,” she said. “It’s not fair to students, when they are already pinched.”
University of California, Irvine, economics student Sarah Bana told the board,
“You are jeopardizing California’s future.”