Hundreds of protesters take to streets, march against tuition hikes

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Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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Hundreds of UC Berkeley students, faculty and community members marched through the city and campus Monday as part of a systemwide day of action, protesting the recent vote by the UC Board of Regents to pass a controversial tuition hike policy.

Beginning with a rally at noon at Sather Gate, student protesters walked out of their classes onto Sproul Plaza, picketing posters and chanting phrases such as “No cuts, no fees, education must be free.” The line of marchers spanned about three blocks, heading to Downtown Berkeley, and included more than 1,000 people at its peak, while UCPD stood by and stopped traffic.

“I’m excited to see so many people out here and mobilized and angry, because we should be,” said ASUC Senator Haley Broder toward the beginning of the demonstration. “We need to show we’re not complacent when the university is threatening us, because this university is meant for us and not for the regents.”

The walkout followed six days of students occupying Wheeler Hall, which began Wednesday evening after the vote by a regents committee to move forward with a policy that would increase tuition 5 percent per year for five years, contingent on state funding.

Although students have stayed in Wheeler Hall past its hours of operation, UCPD has not taken action to evict students from the building. Similarly, UCPD officers monitored the events of Monday’s day of action, following the crowd as they marched through Berkeley, according to Lt. Eric Tejada.

“We’ve just been observing,” Tejada said. “We’re going to let administration decide how they want to respond, and we’ll take our cues from them.”

Protesters continued past Shattuck Avenue onto Milvia Street, pausing in a field near Berkeley High School as more students spoke to the crowd, before looping back toward campus.

“The UC system is one of the last public education systems in the U.S.,” said UC Berkeley sophomore Dinshaw Avari. “In a sense, we’re fighting for the American dream. When the system becomes privatized and it doesn’t represent what the average American wants, then we are moving towards austerity.”

Students stopped in front of California Hall, where they chanted for administrators to come outside. Protesters declared that if administrators did not come outside by 3 p.m., they would march to the UC Office of the President in Oakland.

According to UC spokesperson Shelly Meron, the tuition plan is about maintaining the quality of the academic program and preserving access to the university. She said the revenue garnered from the plan would allow the university to enroll 5,000 more California students over the next five years.

“We hope that students understand that the real issue is how the state of California funds the university, and we welcome students’ voices and support in changing the current dynamic,” Meron said in an email.

At approximately 2:45 p.m., Chancellor Nicholas Dirks arrived at the protest, which had dwindled in size. Dirks said the administration agrees with students and wants education to be affordable, adding that students and the campus should work together to put pressure on the state.

In response, a student yelled that Dirks has political capital that he could use to influence Gov. Jerry Brown, which was met with cheers from the crowd. Students pressured him to definitively condemn the hikes, and when one person asked him if he would stand for the students, he responded that he stands for the institution, a comment which was met with displeasure from some of the protesters.

“We all care deeply about the whole university and that builds deep, but we also feel we’re caught between a rock in a hard place,” Dirks said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “The state doesn’t give us money, so what do we do? We have to find ways to maintain the great excellence.”

Dirks left the crowd at about 3 p.m., saying he would come back later. The protesters then voted on demands for the chancellor: that he issue a statement against the tuition hikes, be physically present at tuition protest events in the future, urge the university to release a fully transparent budget and demand that the pursuit of charges against Jeff Noven, a UC Berkeley student arrested at the Wednesday protest in San Francisco, be dropped. Dirks did not return before the crowd disbanded at about 4:30 p.m. Some students had plans to meet at 6 p.m. to protest in Oakland.

Students in the crowd decided to hold a meeting in Wheeler at 8 p.m. but agreed they would not create new decisions in respect for demonstrators who wished to attend the protest in Oakland against the Ferguson grand jury decision, which was at the same time.

“The UC’s supposed to be promoting free thought and expression,” said senior and former ASUC senator Destiny Iwuoma. “If the UC won’t do it, students will.”

Students said they intend to protest Dec. 2.

Contact Frances Fitzgerald and Jane Nho at [email protected].

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  • abernahi

    How about some transparency on where UC money is spent? The Sunday SF Chronicle had an article about the fact that UC has refused to release information about how money is spent. For instance, does the money collected from undergraduates all go to educating undergraduates, etc… UC is kind of like the CIA. They get a budget and do NOT have to reveal how they spend it. “UC resists law requiring disclosure of expenditures” Sunday NOv 15, 2014..”The University of California has so far failed to comply with a new state law pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown requiring it to disclose, for the first time, key details about how it spends its money — information state officials want especially now that UC is asking the regents to approve five years of tuition increases… The law, AB94, requires UC to tell the public how much it spends to educate undergraduates versus graduates, how much it spends on research, and how much money from each funding source goes to each area… UC currently lumps those expenditures together in an “average cost of instruction,” which is $17,000, $24,000 or $33,000 per student, depending on what UC counts as instruction.”

  • David H

    In my opinion UC education is very affordable. Those who don’t want to pay can either work at McDonald’s or go elsewhere. Education is an investment with the highest rate of return. How can you expect to get a free education at the top public University in the world?

  • lspanker

    Why do many of these people protesting higher tuition for the sons and daughters of citizen and legal resident taxpayers still oppose tuition handouts for the children of illegal aliens? When are they going to figure out that the biggest part of the problem is providing incentives to those who don’t even contribute to the tax base in the first place?

    • abernahi

      what? who doesn’t contribute to the tax base? Illegal aliens definitely pay taxes. Those who don’t contribute are “non-profits” like Kaiser Hospital and large tax dodging corporations.

  • David H

    Why do people think that higher education should be free? UC Berkeley, #1 public university in the world, is still way cheaper than private universities. I know people who graduated from USC with over $300k in student loans.
    Say the total cost of education at UC for 4 years is $50,000. This is small investment compared to the increase in earning potential for the rest of a person’s life. Monthly payment on student loans for $50,000 is only like $400 a month and the interest payment is deductible. There’s good kind of debt and bad kind of debt. Student loans are the good kind.

    • abernahi

      Maybe we should have everybody pay for grade school education as well. By your logic, why not. That’s the way it’s going anyway. And by the way the “total cost of education at UC for 4 years” would include books, food, rent, clothes. You can’t survive on air.

      • David H

        Society as a whole benefits from having a K12 educated population but not everyone chooses to pursue a college degree (affordable or not) so it’s not fair for all taxpayers to subsidize 100% of the rate hikes if the state is not willing to invest more in public education. Yes, rate hikes suck but UC education is still affordable and if the university does not have the financial resources, quality of education and rankings will go down.
        I believe that the state should invest more in education so if you an issue with tuition hikes, you should be protesting in Sacramento.

    • Joseph Watkins

      Reinforce an iniquitous system of disparity, exploitation, and accumulation of wealth. Where you are taught to admire those who have obese amounts of resources and sit in ivory towers. We are taught that we go to school to address and bring about equity in our world when all we do is reinforce and perpetuate the evil we seek to address. The very nature of our society and nation, the very nature of our supposed “vaunted” standard of living is built upon the backs of people, of slaves, of genocide, etc etc. The whole logic of education is keep going to school until you can maybe move from being the exploited to the exploiter. My thoughts don’t belong to you, and they never will.

    • Joseph Watkins

      Furthermore, look at when tuition hikes came, right after hikes in administrative salaries. The data is there, you can close your eyes to it if you want, but the situation is disgusting.