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.