More than 200 occupy Wheeler Hall at height of protest against tuition hikes

Occupation began Wednesday night, continues Thursday without major class disruption

Michael Drummond/File

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Update: Read more about the second day of the occupation here.

After a general assembly meeting on Sproul Plaza, student and community activists began occupying Wheeler Hall just before 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the aftermath of a UC Board of Regents committee voting 7-2 to approve a controversial tuition increase plan earlier in the day.

The group of occupiers, who hail from an array of progressive organizations, started with about 50 individuals but more than quadrupled in size by midnight. About 7:45 a.m. Thursday, protesters voted on whether to fully occupy the hall but instead resolved to declare an “open university,” allowing students access to the building for classes.

“We’re planning to hold this space as long as need be, and we’re trying to do so in a civil way,” said UC Berkeley junior Paula Jaramillo on Wednesday night. “We don’t want violence.”

UCPD Lt. John Suezaki told occupiers shortly after 10 p.m. that the building was closed. He later said in an interview that his announcement was not a dispersal order but that police would remain on site to monitor the situation and student safety.

The plan that passed in committee Wednesday will raise tuition by at least 5 percent annually for five years, with a chance for the state to reduce or eliminate the increase through additional funding to the UC system. On Thursday, the regents voted 14-7 to pass the tuition plan.

Resident systemwide fees in 2015-16 will increase by $612. The plan will also allow the university to enroll at least 5,000 more in-state students and 2,000 more nonresident students over the next five years.

UC Berkeley sophomore Jake Soiffer, a member of Fossil Free Cal, was among those occupying Wheeler Hall.

“Students are constantly dismissed at regents meetings,” Soiffer said. “We’re here because we’ve tried the normal routes, and they didn’t work.”

Occupiers originally posted a 13-point list of demands on a wall that included stopping fee hikes, adding more students to the UC Board of Regents, creating a corporate tax to fund education and holding public dialogue on tuition increases.

At the top of their list was releasing Jeff Noven, a 21-year-old UC Berkeley student who was arrested Wednesday at the San Francisco regents meeting. As of about 11 p.m. Wednesday, Noven was no longer being held in jail, after his attorney worked to help him post bail, which amounted to $40,000. About an hour later, he rejoined fellow demonstrators in Wheeler Hall. Noven could face two felony charges of vandalism and inciting a riot. His hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court.

“This is an incredible of outpouring of student voice, and I hope that it inspires others as both students and associates of California to think about the ramifications of further increasing student debt burden,” said Noven, who declined to discuss details of his arrest.

By 2:30 a.m. Thursday, occupiers were hammering out the specifics of their immediate demands, which ultimately included that any potential charges facing Noven be dropped and that tuition hikes be halted. Additionally, they demanded financial transparency of the UC budget after some state officials said the University of California failed to produce an extensive financial report detailing its expenditures under AB 94.

The activists also considered including two additional demands — rolling back executive pay increases and adding more students to the UC Board of Regents and the committee that approved the hike — but voted against doing so in favor of more pressing issues.

“What we’re doing right now is, by far, not all we’re trying to accomplish here,” said Maiya Moncino, a UC Berkeley senior who helped facilitate conversations, referring to long-term demands.

The demonstration parallels the 2009 occupation of Wheeler Hall, which was also largely in response to fee hikes. About 40 occupiers were arrested and cited then.

“The fact that we’re coming back again means something didn’t work,” said Navid Shaghaghi, a UC Berkeley alumnus who was actively involved in the occupation five years ago. “The issues haven’t changed. The decision-makers are the same. The villains of the story are the same — the Board of Regents.”

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore emphasized that low-income students whose financial aid is fully covered will not be impacted by the fee hike. Of the occupation, she said the situation appeared calm and peaceful.

“We know that these events are fluid and we will continue to monitor and assess the situation as the day unfolds,” Gilmore said in an email.

Staff writer Arielle Swedback contributed to this report. 

Contact Kimberly Veklerov and Jane Nho at [email protected].

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  • susankl

    Why no discussion of the huge amount of FINANCIAL AID available? 60% of U.C.Berkeley undergraduates get financial aid, from a small stipend and loans, to full coverage. Yes, 60%. I’ll never understand why U.C. doesn’t put out multiple press releases about this when there is a tuition increase.

  • cybervigilante

    Every year, more and more “administrators” at higher and higher salaries, as students are chained into lifelong bankster-debt, to get degrees that result in no job. The system has gone insane.

  • Rebecca

    We’re not settling for that.

  • Rebecca

    Then shame on the CSU students for not having a backbone. As a Cal student, my tuition is $49,000 a year. So yeah, I have a hard time paying for books and tuition. I’m trying to get myself a good education and I’m being forced to struggle greatly in order to do so. I want to attend Cal and I’m qualified to, which is enough to mean I should be able to. Do you even know what the tuition hike money will go to? Because it’s not students.

    • lolohthor

      Shame on CSU students for having to work part/full-time in order to supplement their off campus housing, living expenses, and other school related particulars? Right…….time to hope off the LaLa Land choo choo train.

      The only backbone which needs to be examined is the school system’s. The quality of CSU education PALES in comparison to Berkeley (in terms of theoreticals). They produce much more practical students at San Jose State, for example, but because of the “prestige” of SJSU is not near CAL’s, CSU students are low tier candidates for graduate programs/jobs.

  • lolohthor

    They are paying for what they are paying for: knowledge from a renown school of higher education. The increase in CAL tuition is a minimal cost to the results which follow one’s graduation from CAL. CSU schools do not share the same sentiment.

    Increases, in tuition to CSU systems, are yearly. For those who care about mobilizing, the affect is minimal. There is a failure on basic infrastructure for students (i.e. failed internet, tables/seats missing, projectors, etc…). So you tell me when this has happened in CAL (OR ANY UC school), within the past few years, and I will gladly put a lid on it.

  • Adam Kraus

    “Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”

    James Bovard

  • jlaroche

    Education is not a commodity, it is what society must provide us. It is time to demand free education!
    Lets make a unified effort – across campuses and across countries. Share the message far and wide: start protests at your campus, start demanding at government offices!

    • Bob Bell

      No, what society must provide us is free massages and steak&lobster 3 times a day. Meanwhile, back in the known universe, higher education in the United Kingdom was essentially free until very recently (and how the students howled when they were asked to pay even a small fraction of the cost!). The most popular course of study (what we would call major) based on number of students was Film Studies. I don’t think that was a coincidence. Sometimes “free” and “worthless” can mean the same thing.

      • Stathis Zavvos

        Yes I can confirm that in the UK. They are becoming expensive now, but it doesn’t seem this thing will actually last, there is much debate and anger about this. They still are cheaper for Europeans than US ones are for Americans. Also the UK is by far the most expensive nation in Europe to study in and is still cheaper than the US. In almost all European countries (but the UK), universities are practically free and you pay just symbolic amounts of money in the range of say ($700-$1000) for the paperwork, consumables etc and in some countries no money at all. To get it into perspective, In the UK in 2013, there were only 77000 Europeans, while the vast majority of students is from Asia or Africa (about 400000). Overall the amount of students studying full-time in the UK was around 600000, with only 77000 being European. Europeans don’t study in the UK, most of them study in their home countries or other countries where education is free or very cheap.

        source: (from the higher education statistics agency)

  • jlaroche

    From London to the US, and beyond: It is time to demand free education! We need a unified effort across campuses. Share the message – start protests from campuses to government offices. The charade must end!

  • Puneet Sawanni

    We can fix education, we choose not to

  • HoboGreed

    Dumb kids.

  • linds

    Daily dinners at Cheeseboard.


  • Sally Redondo

    I’m a Berkeley alumna, mother of 2 UC grads, hoping my grandchildren can go to UC. I’m happy that students are fighting back against tuition increases. The fight should be taken to the state, too, and parents and other relatives should get involved to demand lower tuition and more state funding. Some day, I hope, we can fight to extend free public education to the college level.

  • Iconoclast59

    The students are reaping what they sow. You are always amongst the first to cheer big pay and pension raises for professors and UC staff. Now the inevitable tuition increases are coming to pay for said raises and your protesting! Too bad so many of you are fundamentally ignorant about tax policy, tuition and economics. You’ve helped to create the sh*thole your stewing in and I am sitting back watching it all with great amusement. Someday you well learn that 2+2=4 (not 5) and you’ll figure it all out. But I’m afraid that day is long off in the future.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    If only the Reagents were Solvents! Then we would have no financial problems.

  • Nora Margolis

    POOR TIMING with THE BIG GIVE TODAY especially for out of state parents already paying so much

  • Bob Bell

    Every UC student and parent should read this article I’m sure we could all find some nits to pick with Dr. Schwartz’s methodology, but the larger point remains – students and their parents are paying more and getting less. The Regents use students, through tuition hiles, as pawns to fund an ever more bloated education bureaucracy. Does each campus really need a platoon of Assistants to the Associate Vice-Provost for Whatever? The list is nearly endless. You pay more, administration expands, professors do more research (and less teaching), and you get more GSIs doing what the faculty used to. The Rec Center may be the equal of the toniest health club in Beverly Hills, but the students never use it because they’re working two jobs to make ends, well, not meet but maybe see each other through a telescope.

    • HoboGreed

      Is someone forcing you to go to this school ?

      • Bob Bell

        If this was a problem at just Berkeley or the UC system, then indeed students and/or parents could vote with their feet. Unfortunately it is a systemic problem affecting the vast majority of colleges in the United States, and one that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

      • Stathis Zavvos

        I think this is a general and not specific university problem in the U.S.. I am not an American, I am European, but I remember when I was doing my uni search and was looking at the prices for universities in the US the prices were absurd (not only overseas prices, but prices for indigenous people as well), even for the average American family. If you are into physical sciences and engineering, I’m afraid that it DOES matter which university you go to, especially if you want to have an academic or research career and it does matter a great deal with whom you are working with, even more so in the U.S. where there are universities that are huge in what they are doing

        As a result, all good universities have disproportionate prices compared to the rest. I am in the UK for some years now, and there are quite a few Americans here who preferred to come to a good uni in their field in Europe than paying an arm and a leg to stay there. There are also a bunch of them in Netherlands and Germany too. These people are thriving in Europe, while in the U.S. they would be miserable, just because they didn’t have so much money to study. When the residents of the west’s largest nation and economy start migrating to study in the most expensive to live and study in Europe (UK), it is safe to say something is going wrong there.

        This doesn’t differ much from the cost of healthcare where for example you need to pay absurd amounts just to ride on an ambulance, just because you’re sick and no one else can help you. This bigwig salary thing exists here too, but not at such a scale and salary difference. It has been taken too far in the US. I mean these people are paid as much or more than a doctor who works all day long to save lives and they do nothing, except have board meetings and eat cake. Do you think it is them who design the future of education and research? Education is driven by the people working ON Education and research who think of new ideas and ask for funding. These people are just money distributors. You’re paying accountants and managers absurd salaries. Does the manager know if a scientific field is feasible or not? No he doesn’t. Will he ask the heads of research to tell him if it is worthwhile and if he should fund it? Yes he will. This is why research and education are planned by governmental scientific committees in the long run, and not by managers.

    • John Rohan

      I agree with you, but the students themselves have demanded this nonsense. There are 29 teaching faculty for their African-American studies program alone, just one of many programs that bloat the school and add little or nothing to actual education. To that faculty you can likely add the costs of reams of support assistants, speaking fees, business travel costs, etc.

      • Bob Bell

        When my son (’14) was in high school, I told him that he could major in anything he wanted in college, as long as it didn’t end in “Studies”.

        • Sidi Wang

          I am a teacher and I have witnessed a lot of kids go off to college too soon and fail out! Here is some advice for graduating seniors and their parents based on 15 years of observations.
          1. Make them work and pay for some of it.( they have to have some skin in the game)
          2. If they are immature and not self- reliant don’t let them go to a far off University.
          3. Have them talk to recent graduates to get advice/tips; they are much more likely to listen to them than you.
          4. A community college is a great place to save money and usually has professors who are teachers 1st unlike the research focused professors at Universities
          5. Don’t be frivolous with your cash. Consider things like $25/month car insurance (from Insurance Panda), $20/month mobile phone (TMobile), $15/month gym membership (Planet Fitness), and use apps like GasBussy to save money in other ways. College is expensive – save for it!
          6. Speaking of which – Don’t try to “Keep up with the Jones”. This dooms kids and forces them into the student debt trap.
          7. Don’t be afraid to let them fail. If you constantly bail them out you will be doing it for the rest of their lives and they will never grow as a person.
          8. Make them aware of the differences in earning power/job availability of different majors.
          9. The military, tech school, and apprenticeships are all viable alternatives to college.
          10. Do a cost/ benefit analysis if you are going to take on significant debt make sure it’s for a valuable degree. 60k debt for a chemistry degree is ok, 60k for Art History is not.

          • Bob Bell

            That’s GREAT advice Sidi – thank you for sharing it!

  • lspanker

    How many of those protesting also support other policies such as “diversity” admissions and tuition assistance for illegal aliens that divert the money from qualified and deserving students whose parents are taxpayers and legal citizens/residents?

  • unfortunately true, its not like the regents give a shit about us