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State senator meets with Birgeneau, addresses students

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Founder and Editor, The Weekender

NOVEMBER 29, 2011

State Senator Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, spoke separately to UC Berkeley students and Chancellor Robert Birgeneau Tuesday in an attempt to garner support for efforts to address the financial issues facing the state and the University of California.

Though de Leon had originally called for Birgeneau to meet him in public on Sproul Plaza to have a debate about the future of higher education, Birgeneau decided instead to meet him in private. Prior to that meeting, de Leon sat on the steps of Sproul Hall and spoke as part of the Open University about California’s fiscal situation.

“The traditional methods of lobbying are not working,” de Leon said. “I’m asking the University of California to step up.”

In the private meeting, de Leon spoke with Birgeneau, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer and other administrators. De Leon had planned to bring students with him but at the last minute decided otherwise.

Birgeneau and de Leon discussed a number of topics, including how the campus could “better partner and assist the state in addressing the economic issues facing the state of California,” said Claire Holmes, associate vice chancellor for public affairs.

The conversation was both “frank” and “straightforward,” according to de Leon.

De Leon said he urged Birgeneau to further engage the public in debate about the state’s financial issues.

“We have to use the prestige, the cache of the University, the Chancellor … to be public, to be frank with the public and say if you want a great California we have to invest in education,” de Leon said.

He added that the “the real decisions for better or for worse are going to take place in the capitol, up in Sacramento,” not on campus.

Holmes said the conversation between Birgeneau and de Leon was just “the beginning of a dialogue” between the two.

In the future, de Leon said he plans to meet with UC President Mark Yudof and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block.

Prior to the private meeting, de Leon asked an audience on Sproul of about 35 people to not lose hope in political institutions and to continue to be outspoken about the issues facing the university.

“We can’t have this argument in the sort of academic abstract manner on a campus in some silo, you know — that’s not going to work,” de Leon said. “We got to step out.”

On Sproul, de Leon offered a strategy to combat the state’s burgeoning debt problem. His plan includes amending the two-thirds requirement to increase taxes and a bill he sponsored to eliminate a corporate loophole.

His bill, SB 116, would provide $1 billion in annual revenue to the state of California. In 2012, the state faces a $12.8 billion budget deficit, according to the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office.

De Leon abstained from the vote for the current fiscal year budget, which has cut state funding for the university by $650 million and would cut an additional $150 million if trigger cuts were implemented.

While the audience applauded de Leon after his talk, some members remained skeptical.

Michael Cohen, a lecturer in the Department of African American Studies, said he felt the senator’s appearance was a political stunt.

“I don’t care about what he says — I care about what he does,” Cohen said.

He also said Occupy Cal would “not make a habit of providing a platform for politicians who want to make a statement.”

Contact Curan Mehra at  or on Twitter


NOVEMBER 29, 2011