The public comment period during the UC Board of Regents meeting Wednesday morning was heated, culminating in a zombie-themed protest that interrupted the meeting for 15 minutes before the board could resume open sessions.
Members of the public and students dressed as zombies at the UCSF Mission Bay campus demanded that the board stop fee and tuition hikes and the privatization of state capital debt during the public comment session of the meeting, which began shortly after 8:30 a.m.
Many spoke in support of Gov. Jerry Brown’s November tax initiative, while others accused the regents of acting in their own interests.
“We’re dressed like zombies because the debt is killing us,” said Matt Wade, a UC Berkeley doctoral student in city and regional planning.
UC President Mark Yudof voiced his support for the tax initiative during his opening remarks at the beginning of the meeting and said the plan is “an imperfect deal.”
“Still, it is a better deal than (the regents) anticipated,” Yudof said. “It is our best shot at taking an important step towards the financial steadfastness and stability that this university so desperately needs.”
But Yudof was persistently interrupted by protesters who shouted comments such as “lay off the regents” and “cut from the top.”
For many public commenters, the objection to tuition and fee hikes, regardless of the tax initiative’s approval, was a common sentiment.
“To put it in simple terms, we just can’t afford it,” said UCSC Student Union Assembly External Affairs Vice Chair Victor Velasco of the proposed 20.3 percent tuition hikes.
Other commenters voiced their distrust in the interests of the regents, citing the lack of a democratically elected system.
“The students should be able to decide who their advocates and their allies are,” said UC Berkeley student Honest Chung, criticizing the undemocratic nature of the regents’ appointment process.
After the public comment session was officially closed, members of the public began a series of scene-stealing stunts, beginning with a “mic check,” directly addressing the regents by chanting their demands, which included an end to tuition increase proposals regardless of the status of the governor’s tax initiative. After a brief chant of “No Cuts, no fees, education must be free,” the students dressed as zombies then stood on top of chairs and began dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Following the threat of police action as officers from the San Francisco Police Department entered the meeting room during what the regents declared an “unlawful assembly,” protesters vacated the main conference room by 9:40 a.m. to begin a press conference outside the building.
One student protester dressed in zombie garb explained the strategic rationale behind the costumes.
“If you’re standing in that room looking at the regents, they don’t pay attention to us,” said UC Berkeley sophomore Sydney Rock. “They have these blank stares. Dressing up makes it a little more fun and gets us publicity.”
Later in the afternoon, after the open session ended, Ex Officio Regent and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said he thought the protests “were very healthy,” and that he is “encouraged when people show up,” noting that he did not see the same level of engagement and expression at previous regents meetings.
Staff writer Oksana Yurovsky contributed to this report.