Sep 25, 2009

A United UC Community Marches in Solidarity

The presumption that college students have become lazy and apathetic was vigorously swept away in a tidal wave of student demonstrations against California's divestment in higher education yesterday. California students, in solidarity with faculty and staff, rallied and marched to voice their outrage over the skyrocketing cost of college, declining quality, furloughs, and pay cuts. UC Berkeley was the site for one of the largest protests since the historic free speech rallies in the 1960s, UC Irvine students ignored the near one hundred degree heat to turn out by the thousands, and hundreds of Bruins marched to the UCLA administration building to demand change.

The outpouring of protest was caused by the state and system's drastic higher education spending cuts and fee hikes. In July, the state legislature slashed three billion dollars from the state’s higher ed budget, causing the UC Regents to raise fees nine percent and cut three hundred million dollars. Then earlier this month, the UC Regents voted to increase tuition by thirty-two percent, bringing the cost of college up to ten thousand dollars. And it doesn't look like it's going to get better. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the California regents are expected to raise tuition by forty-five percent next year, which would bring the grand total to $10,302.

Frustration reached a boiling point when neither the legislature nor the UC Regents accepted responsibility, each blaming the other for the financial crisis. "While we understand there's some anger and angst spread across our campuses, our hope is that it will be directed more precisely toward Sacramento [the state capital], where the heart of the problem lies," said UC's interim provost, Larry Pitts. Yet those in Sacramento are turning the issue back on the campuses, with Julia Brownley, chair of the Assembly Education Committee, saying "the state is facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis [and] the students are protesting how the university cut its budget. The Legislature left that up to the university." Meanwhile, as both higher ed governing entities point a finger at the other, and Governor Schwarzenegger dismisses the students as a "screaming interest group," the dream of a college education is slipping further away from thousands of potential students.

Yet despite the confusion of blame, and blazing heat, students, faculty, and staff refused to take the onslaught lying down. Raising signs that read "We Are UC," California students, faculty, and staff came together and with one voice showed the country that decision makers cannot ignore the collective power of thousands of community members directly impacted by the atrocious hikes in the cost of college. "This is a day of solidarity," said one Riverside student, indicating that while the demonstrations may have ended yesterday, the student movement across the nation will continue until education is again made a right.

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