Bake sale coverage is a distraction

I am shocked and saddened by how quickly the media has eaten up the anti-affirmative action bake sale at Berkeley. It is time for the media to address an issue that actually has long-term ramifications for the State of California and the communities this bake sale targets: the privatization of its world-class public university system. Given the rate at which the University of California is privatizing, few underprivileged youth will apply to — much less attend — UC Berkeley in the future.

The current UC Office of the President proposal seeks to raise tuition by up to 81 percent over the next four years, creating even more barriers, especially for working-class youth, to attend the University of California. As it is, only 11 percent of the university’s budget comes from state funds, a number that some administrators point to as a sign that the university has already privatized. And while there are financial aid packages in place to help the poorest students pay for college, it is our graduate students, the working class and middle-class families of undergraduates that will be hit the hardest.

Exacerbating the problem are the many academic programs at UC Berkeley and other campuses that either have established or seek to establish professional degree fees (called “professional degree supplemental tuition”). These fees are added on top of regular tuition for students in professional programs like public health, public policy and law. It now costs more to go to Berkeley Law as an out-of-state student than to go to any of the other top 80 law schools in the country, including Yale, Harvard and Stanford. Even for California residents, a law degree costs over $50,000 and an MBA over $46,000 per year, much of which is often paid by federal loans.

New proposed professional degree fees would offer two new masters degree programs at Berkeley but would cost more than all the comparable public schools and even some of the best private schools. How can we expect to compete with these schools for the top students with diverse backgrounds when we have lost the best thing we had to offer: an affordable top-notch education?

We keep shifting the cost of a UC education to students without talking about the consequences. How can a graduate student projected to earn $60,000 a year be expected to succeed if he or she owes over $100,000 in loans, especially in light of recent federal legislation that does away with subsidized federal loans for graduate students? Moreover, as top schools boast about their diversity efforts and compete for the best and brightest students of color, what competitive advantage will UC Berkeley have? Given the direction we are headed, UC Berkeley will be, at best, a semi-private university that doesn’t provide its students the perks that come with a private education.

For years, UC Berkeley has been one of the best, if not the best, public university in the world. While maintaining this high standard, UC Berkeley has educated California’s poor and rich alike.

If we want to preserve this promise of excellence and access to education, we need to think outside the box. It’s time to move past band-aid solutions like higher tuition. We need a long-term plan to keep higher education affordable and public in California.

However, until the voters and the media start paying attention, state legislators will remain deaf to these concerns. If we really believe in the value of public education and want it to remain accessible to communities of color and working-class youth in California, we need to wake up.

Instead of covering this ridiculous, offensive and overhyped bake sale, start covering real news issues that actually might make a difference for California’s future.

Let’s just let the Berkeley College Republicans eat their (cup)cake! It’s nothing more than an indication of how removed they are from the real fight for preserving the University of California.

Bahar Navab is a graduate student at the School of Public Health and president of the Graduate Assembly at UC Berkeley.