Regents vacate room prior to the start of the meeting
In light of recent tuition hikes as well as the state audit that found $175 million dollars in hidden UCOP reserves, UC student and worker protesters gathered outside the UC San Francisco Mission Bay campus building where the May 17 regents meeting was scheduled to take place.
Workers and students displayed protests signs and chanted for the university to “put students before profit.” Meanwhile, dozens of police officers armed with batons and handguns circled the premises and used metal detectors to search individuals before allowing them to enter the conference room.
The services workers union in the UC System, AFSCME 3299, organized several groups of protestors from all nine UC campuses. Students from the southern California UC campuses coordinated a collective carpool, leaving their campuses around midnight making stops along the way to pick up student protesters from several UC campuses. AFSCME provided food and financial compensation for student transportation.
Amara Miller, a graduate student in the sociology department at UC Davis and member of Student Workers Union (UAW), worked in collaboration with ASUCD Senator Daniel Nagey, and an AFSCME representatives to facilitate the transportation of UC Davis students.
Chloe Pan, the newly elected student government external vice president at UCLA, described her personal reasons for protesting against the administration.
“I come from a low income single parent family and I wouldn’t be here without financial aid,” Pan said. “I don’t want to say the news about the audits was surprising, but I do want to say that as a student I’ve had to skip meals to pay for textbooks or sleep on campus because I didn’t have time to go back to my dorm […] [it’s unfortunate] to see those who are in power abusing their power when students are struggling just to survive every single day on our campuses.”
In the meeting room, 38 students and workers lined up for public comment. Each were given 60 seconds to introduce themselves and express their concerns. Comments were made regarding the raise of student fees in conjunction with the lack of improvements on student resources.
A student from UC Merced addressed the lack of resources for minority students and pointed out that, of the nine campuses, UC Merced has the highest population of students of color, yet it recently established a cultural center that can only accommodate 20 people and is recognized as a “temporary space.”
Julia Schemmer, a second-year student from UC Riverside, was among the public commenters that spoke about the lack of transparency in the UC administration.
“I’ve travelled in the dead of night to come here because I’m upset,” Schemmer said. “I’m upset that students are having to choose between paying for food and paying for textbooks when there are millions of dollars in hidden funds […] I’m upset that even when I’m here and [we’re] speaking about transparency there are still regents on their iPad while students are [stating] their concerns.”
Kathryn Lybarger, AFSCME 3299 president, was also among the public commenters.
“In the past UC has justified the rise in tuition and housing costs and exploitation of low wage contract workers largely by citing the decrease in state support now we know that was simply misleading,” Lybarger said. “In fact the [audit findings] seem to confirm the systemic problems that student and workers have raised over the years. An evidence of unprecedented abstraction during the audit calls UCOP’s integrity in dealing with students and workers issues into question.”
Several students used the opportunity to urge administrators to divest from the fossil fuel industry. UC Davis students Kevin Horng, Evan Steel, Daniela Palacios and UC Santa Cruz student Loretta Johnson made comments with regard to the issue.
“I think that when you have the top team of investors that can find out how you can divest this money over seven years and make a public politicized statement […] we know the divestment can change things when you cause social and institutional change and right now you as regent as representatives have that power to make that change,” Johnson said.
Horng criticised the regents for not reacting to student activist pressure.
“[Students are] sacrificing so much unpaid time and energy just to simply get you to listen,” Horng said. “Instead of listening, you ask us to learn your language, work without compensation on your terms while you sit comfortably in a position of power avoiding the responsibility that you owe us at presumed leader of this [university system].”
Following the termination of the public comment segment, protesters began chanting about the UC’s greedy tendencies. At 9:15 a.m. the administrators got up from their seats and vacated the conference room without starting the meeting which was scheduled to end at 11:30 a.m.
While the chanting was still going on, police officers stated that everyone who does not leave the room within five minutes will be arrested. Miller expressed her frustration with the response of the regents and the number of police present, who have a history of arresting student protesters.
“I think [their reaction] showcases the lack of accountability and accessibility of the Regents, and how completely disconnected they are from the needs of students and workers in the UC system,” Miller said. “The difficulty getting in, the lack of transparency about where to sign up to speak […] the fact that within minutes of students disrupting the meeting to point out all the problems with the Regents ‘public comment’ theater act they have rows of cops wielding batons demanding we leave within five minutes or will be arrested […] I think it all shows the way in which the Regents are supported by a militarized police force that targets, harasses, and silences the valid concerns of the UC communities they are meant to serve.”
Miller further added that that the reaction from the administration emphasizes certain implications with regard to the system as a whole.
Written by: Kimia Akbari — firstname.lastname@example.org