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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Guest editorial

Where will you be the next few days? Will you be striking on Sproul alongside fellow students and unionized workers? Or will you see the demonstrations only in passing, on the way to your classes throughout the day?

Unfortunately, we anticipate that for most UC Berkeley students, this week will proceed like any other. Like many on campus, we empathize with demonstrators and share the conviction that the proposed fee increases could cause great harm to our student body, and future generations of Californians. Though we’ve said it before, it’s worth repeating: If the university is to maintain its public character, fee increases cannot be the solution to the budget crisis. Forcing students to pay more to receive less is unacceptable.

Yet, the poor organization of the present strike has hindered organizers’ ability to capitalize on this shared sentiment at UC Berkeley or other campuses. Nearly two months after the walkout, organizers have little to show in terms of a cohesive message. The importance of the issues at stake is clear. But even grasping this importance does not mean students and staff will be able to miss class or work for three days. With only a few class meetings left before finals, this time of the semester is crucial for most of us. Though the most active among us likely consider this strike more important than our grades, planners must consider those who remain unconvinced.

Without a clear sense of what the strike is about or what we’re seeking to achieve, it’s naïve to think students would forgo their responsibilities and join the picket line. Unlike the Sept. 24 walkout, there has been insufficient publicity, until now, to motivate impressively large crowds. Planning felt disjointed, and we anticipate fewer students will participate in this week’s actions.

To ensure greater participation, planners ought to have focused the thrust of their efforts on demonstrations to coincide with the regents’ meeting, and specifically with their vote on proposed fee hikes on Wednesday. By spreading out the rallies and asking for a longer commitment, supporters may tire out earlier, weakening the demonstrations at the most critical time.

In the run-up to the coming strike, faculty members should have been more vocal in their support of the efforts. Rather than passively canceling class, holding teach-ins would have been a more effective vehicle to educate and convince wavering students to participate in the strike.

And though we support the protestors, we question the logic of anyone who asserts that three days of action will be enough to move mountains. Frankly, fee increases have long been administrators’ favored method of balancing the budget. After years of relying on higher fees to compensate for shortfalls, it’s unlikely that a few days of strikes will completely persuade the regents to eliminate these hikes.

On Wednesday, we regretfully expect the regents to approve the midyear fee increase and the increase for the next academic year. Though they may express words of worry over the pain the hikes could induce, fees will go up nonetheless. And despite an undoubtedly difficult financial year and the worst budget crisis the state has seen in years, the regents aren’t blameless.

Ascribing the university’s financial problems only to the state allows the regents to portray themselves inaccurately as innocent bystanders. Clearly they’re not at fault for declining state support, or decreased returns on university investments, for example. But this body has constantly approved fee increases for the majority of the past two decades. They created the university’s reliance on the high fee-high aid model.

When they vote to increase fees, the regents ought to take responsibility for the decision they make. When they say we need to find an alternative, they should follow through and turn the rhetoric into action. Raising fees every time there’s less funding is not viable financially or fair to students. And if nothing else, we hope the strikes will show the regents that students won’t tolerate the status quo any longer.

Over the next few days, we encourage UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and UC President Mark Yudof to acknowledge the demonstrations outright. Though we obviously don’t expect either of them to agree with protestors’ criticism of the university administration, they could at least recognize the validity of the concerns behind the protest.

Whether you’ll be on Sproul tomorrow or in a classroom, all UC students should strive to hold the regents accountable for their vote. By grappling with these difficult issues for yourself and lobbying for more higher education funding at the state level, each of us can force the university to break free from fee increases in the future. Even if the protests are poorly attended, no one can take that awareness away from us. And in the end, only when the majority of students are motivated enough to act on this awareness will our voices be heard.

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