On a pillar outside Olson Hall is a faint chalk mark reading “9.3 percent,” or the amount UC regents raised student fees in May.
Now, that number is a relic of the past, as the 26 UC Regents vote today on whether to further increase student fees 32 percent, starting this spring and continuing into the fall of 2010.
Yet, as the percentage of increase becomes more drastic, so do the actions of students opposed to such fee hikes. Instead of chalk marks on campus buildings, hundreds of UC Davis students bussed out to UC Berkeley this morning. Staff and faculty will be joining students in a systemwide protest against the regents’ expected decision to increase student fees.
“Fee increases are always a last resort,” said UC Spokesperson Leslie Sepuka. “No one wants to increase fees. But there are two primary sources of educational funding – state and student fees. The fees are a short term solution, they weren’t anything we rushed to do.”
The regents’ meetings began at 2:30 p.m. yesterday at UCLA with discussions and a vote approving the UC construction budget of $631.5 million.
At this morning’s meeting, regents will discuss and vote on the fee increase. At their September meeting earlier this year, representatives announced they would likely approve the increase.
The fee increase will push student undergraduate fees to $10,302 per year. It will be implemented in two parts: one 15 percent increase this spring and another 15 percent increase in the fall of 2010. Regents will vote on a 2.6 percent increase for graduate academic students to be implemented this spring as well.
“These fees are getting out of hand,” said Sergio Blanco, a junior political science major. “When you ask students for more money at a time like this, it really takes away from our education.”
The fees will generate $117.2 million this year and $291.7 million next academic year. Of that total, $146 million will be reserved for financial aid, according to the regents’ finance committee report.
“The fee revenue will be used to restore cancelled courses that students need to graduate on time, to hire more faculty and to begin to address the issue of larger class sizes,” Sepuka said. “It’ll also help us to restore some student services, such as more regular library hours. It will not be used to fund capital projects.”
Regents also plan to vote today on cutting freshman enrollment by 2,300 students for next fall.
To protest these votes, students and faculty have organized several demonstrations. Some will not attend class today to express opposition to the vote. Additionally, buses for the systemwide Berkeley protest left this morning at 9 a.m. Protests at the UC Berkeley campus began at 5 a.m., and will continue with a massive rally starting at noon.
On Thursday, students and faculty will protest outside of Mrak Hall at 11 a.m.
“We as students are in a unique and powerful position to organize social change,” said Sarah Raridon, a senior human development major. “We don’t have to worry about losing tenure. We can use the resources around us and take immediate responsibility.”
UC officials do not condone the protests this week, Sepuka said. They are viewed as healthy forms of self-expression – one that universities have used to correct social issues throughout history.
“I understand that students aren’t happy,” said Russell Gould, chairman of the regents in an interview with The Sacramento Bee. “The reality is we need to support the quality of this institution and we’ll take the action necessary to do that.”
The most tension occurs in the belief that increasing student fees and enforcing faculty furloughs is a necessary action.
“The one-sided nature of the regents’ responses is suspicious,” said Jeffery Bergamini, a computer programmer for the Hart interdisciplinary program. “They are paying workers less and making students pay more. When so little of students’ tuition goes to what they see is their education, that makes me suspicious.”
Bergamini also spoke at Monday’s “teach-in,” a series of presentations given by graduate students, professors, union members and undergraduate students. He presented his calculations regarding the cost of instruction, concluding that 25 percent of students’ tuition pays for actual instruction.
Bergamini also suggested possible alternatives to student fee increases, including using medical center profits and correcting what he believes are faulty UC investments.
Other speakers at Monday’s teach-in include Ian Kennedy, chair of the UC Davis Faculty Association, English graduate students Catherine Fung and Kaitlin Walker, AFSME member Tarone Bittner, English professor Joshua Clover, ESL lecturer Jim Davis and Raridon.
The main focus of the teach-in was to prepare for this week’s protests and share information pertinent to the fee increases.
“The livelihoods of UC employees are in jeopardy,” said Nathan Brown, English professor and participant in the teach-in. “This is an urgent moment for everyone who cares about public education.”
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at email@example.com.