Hundreds of students and community members filled the area near Sather Gate on Tuesday afternoon to rally against a proposed tuition policy and fossil fuel investments ahead of Wednesday’s UC Board of Regents meeting.
The UC regents will vote Wednesday on whether to pass a fee hike that would raise tuition by 5 percent each year for the next five years, if state funding remains at expected levels. If annual state funding falls below 4 percent — the current level — students could see a higher tuition increase.
“This is less about protesting than fighting for a vision of public higher education,” said Spencer Pritchard, chair of CalSERVE, which worked to organize the rally with the Cal Progressive Coalition. “It’s imperative that students demonstrate that tuition hikes are not what the future of the UC can be.”
The rally, hosted by the ASUC External Affairs Vice President’s Office in collaboration with a coalition of campus groups, was a protest against the proposed tuition plan. Students held signs with slogans such as “Education is my right” and gave speeches at Sather Gate before marching to California Hall, which houses top campus administrators. The building was on lockdown for a short period of time.
Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the campus had concerns about students understanding the details of the tuition plan. Most in-state students with less than $150,000 in household income will not be affected by the plan, because of existing financial aid plans that cover their tuition, he said.
“Are all of the people (protesting) from families making more than $150,000, and, if not, what are they protesting?” Mogulof said. “There’s a lot of irresponsible rhetoric and demagoguery around this issue.”
Mogulof said the campus has been working with the ASUC to make financial aid information more accessible to students.
“This is still putting the burden on the middle class, shifting it upwards, which is still wrong,” said Jake Soiffer, a UC Berkeley sophomore and California Student Sustainability Coalition field organizer who was at the rally.
Prior to the rally, students from Fossil Free Cal staged a mock regents meeting to protest UC investment in fossil fuel companies. Students chanted slogans such as “What do we want? Climate justice. When do we want it? Now!” and hung a banner across Sather Gate that read, “UC Fossil Fuels, We See Climate Chaos.”
“It’s our money, and we’re not getting a say in how it’s invested,” said Julian Lake, a senior who participated in the mock meeting, which he said is intended to characterize the relationship between the regents and fossil fuel companies. “A lot of students don’t know who the regents are. This gives a visual for what’s going on at the upper levels of the university.”
Students also dressed up in suits to represent the regents, standing on crates labeled with oil company logos and showered with fake money. Protesters were invited to push them off the crates at the end of the meeting. At its peak, the crowd for the mock meeting and speeches consisted of several hundred students.
“I really think the university needs to invest in alternative modes of fuels and use that money for progress, rather than stagnation,” said Michael Bustillo-Sakhai, a UC Berkeley freshman who was at the mock meeting.
UC Berkeley students will be bused to the regents meeting Wednesday at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus with the assistance of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299.
Students from other campuses including UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis, UCLA, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Riverside also plan to attend.