UC Board of Regents’ meeting disrupted by protests

Gracie Malley/Staff
Protesters of the UC Regents hold a 'People's UC Meeting' during the UC Regent's Meeting at UCSF, November 28, 2011.

SAN FRANCISCO — The UC Board of Regents’ meeting — held via teleconference at four campuses — came to a halt Monday morning when demonstrators overwhelmed board members by holding their own meetings in solidarity with the Occupy movement.

Just as board members were beginning the open session of their meeting at 11:40 a.m., protesters initiated an impromptu human mic check at the San Francisco, Merced, Los Angeles and Davis campuses to form their own meetings. The protesters’ method of human amplification was disruptive enough to derail the meeting for over a half hour at each site — with the exception of UC Merced.

“I’m sorry a small number of students decided to disrupt our meeting,” said board chair Sherry Lansing. “They could not hear what we had to say, and that saddens me.”

Amid protests, the board passed all action items before it, including the UC’s $2.8 billion budgetary request from the state, a more than $400 million increase over the state funding level for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

The request for the increase comes in a year in which the university has already been cut $650 million and could face an additional $100 million reduction in state funding.

“If the state will meet us even halfway … we can move forward, and the families will not have to pay more,” said UC President Mark Yudof. “We can expand the footprint of this great university and not retract it.”

Originally set for Nov. 16 and 17 at UCSF, the regents’ meeting was rescheduled due to public safety concerns. According to UC spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez, it was not cost-effective to bring the regents together for Monday’s four-hour meeting, resulting in the decision to hold the meeting across the four campuses.

Soon after the “people’s regents meeting” began at UCSF, the regents  moved to a smaller room in the same building. Although access was mostly limited to members of the press — a row of police officers blocked protesters from entering the new meeting room — restrictions were enacted due to occupancy limits, according to UC Associate Vice President of Communications Lynn Tierney.

“It’s not as sinister as it seems,” she said.

But Charlie Eaton, a UC Berkeley graduate student and financial secretary of Union Auto Workers Local 2865 — a union representing graduate students at the university — said the regents restricted access to avoid confronting protesters.

“Today revealed how the millionaires and bankers on the Board of Regents would rather meet behind closed doors than face the people they’re supposed to serve,” he said.

Lt. Gov. and Ex-officio Regent Gavin Newsom impulsively decided sit in on the protesters’ meeting. Although he declined to sign the protesters’ ReFund California pledge, he committed to the goal of reversing tuition increases.

“Thank you for restoring my faith and confidence in this state and country,” he said to the protesters. “You have my support.”

According to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein, Lansing, along with several other UC regents and chancellors, also joined protesters at the Los Angeles and Davis campuses once the meeting ended and spoke with the groups for over an hour about issues facing the UC community.

UC Student Regent Alfredo Mireles Jr. and UC Student Regent-designate Jonathan Stein attended the meeting in Davis, where they joined the protesters’ general assembly.

“There were a couple students who felt that we were too deeply part of a broken system,” Stein said. “But there was a portion who were grateful that the student regents stuck with them and that we were part of their version of the regents meeting. At least that’s my hope.”

After inviting the regents to join them for lunch, UCSF protesters left the building around 12:30 p.m., chanting, “We are the people’s regents, we’ll make banks pay!”

The regents’ meeting adjourned shortly after 1 p.m., after which Yudof met with the press.

“I was very pleased with the meeting … and that no one was hurt,” he said.

Damian Ortellado and Jessica Rossoni cover higher education.