Following a meeting for the annual UC lobby day on Mar. 1, five students staged a sit-in in Rep. Jim Nielsen’s (R-Gerber) office.
The students presented Nielsen with a document supporting increased funding for higher education and recruiting and retaining low-income students. The students refused to leave until he agreed to sign it, but Nielsen refused and the California Highway Patrol was called.
UC director of gGovernment aAffairs Steve Juarez was present at the meeting that took place right before the sit-in.
“To the extent that activism brings attention to the issues it’s a good thing,” Juarez said. “However, incidents when people refuse to leave an office mar the message we’re trying to convey and tend to backfire. People have to make sure they’re remaining constructive in their advocacy.”
March has been filled with marching and picket signs as students around California rally to bring attention to the UC and CSU budget crisis.
The UC receives approximately $3.2 billion from the state; that amount was cut by $637 million in the last fiscal year. Although the governor’s budget for next year includes a $371 million increase for the UC system, Juarez said UC asked for $913 million.
UC Vice President Patrick Lenz said the cuts have led to a number of challenges for the UC including furloughs, fee increases and cuts to faculty positions.
“To put this in perspective – during the recession in the early ’90s and even the one earlier this decade it took three years to cut the UC budget by 20 percent,” Lenz said. “Now it’s been cut by 20 percent in just one year.”
A number of protests around California and at different campuses have brought awareness to both the budget crisis and the recent outbreak of hate crimes on UC campuses.
Following Mar. 4’s UC Davis and UC Berkeley’s March 4 protests, sophomore fish and wildlife conservation biology major, Tierra Grosf, said she has mixed feelings.
“The goal is something that lawmakers and people without kids in college should be aware of, but disrupting the school day doesn’t work,” Grosf said. “I would love to be in the protest, but the reason I’m here is to get an education and not going to class is defeating the point.”
Senior Associate Vice Chancellor Janet Gong said she empathized with the student advocates and their families.
“We’re always supportive of free expression and we want to provide venues for students to express themselves in safe and legal ways,” Gong said. “Some of the actions at the protests were not entirely safe. We don’t want anyone to get hurt in the process of activism.”
Gong said the Student Affairs office has cut approximately 30 percent of its base budget which resulted in layoffs, longer wait periods, reduced services and a greater workload impact on the remaining staff.
“Student employment opportunities have diminished and the students that do work have fewer hours,” Gong said. “A lot of departments also have shorter operating hours.”
Lenz said he is concerned with the lack of investment in students at a time when we need a qualified and educated workforce.
“I know the legislators will be challenged to balance the budget in the next four to five months, but I’m concerned with where we will be in the next four to five years,” Lenz said. “We have to invest in education to turn California around.”
Lenz encouraged students to look into obtaining financial aid to cover the increased costs of education. Families can make up to $160,000 and still be eligible for federal tax credits to help cover education costs. The UC system also has a Blue and Gold program for families that make less than $70,000 per year.
JANE TEIXEIRA can be reached at email@example.com.