University protests continue in California

By Andrea Peters
21 November 2009

Protests at University of California (UC) campuses continued for a third day on Friday, as students mobilized against a massive hike in fees at the state’s institutions of public higher education.

Yesterday, the UC Board of Regents approved a 32 percent increase in fees for undergraduates attending a UC school. In total, the fee hike, which will be implemented in two stages over the course of 2010, will add about $2,500 a year to students’ bills. This will bring the price tag for enrolling in the UC system to more than $10,000 a year. This sum is in addition to the thousands of dollars that undergraduates and their families must pay in order to cover the costs for room, board, books and incidental expenses.

University officials are claiming that the fee hike will affect only those whose families make more than $70,000 a year, with those whose families earn less and who are eligible for federal financial aid being given access to grants through the UC Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan.

Students, most of whom have never heard of the program, are skeptical, believing that many will not be eligible for whatever benefits are offered. Moreover, many working class undergraduates have parents whose combined incomes are above the $70,000 cut-off point, but cannot afford to pay the fee increase.

At the University of California, Davis, which is located in the largely agricultural central valley, as many as 150 protesters occupied the campus administrative building Thursday evening. After 9 pm, police clad in riot gear entered Mrak Hall and arrested the 52 who remained. According to the Graduate Student Association, those taken into custody included students, faculty and staff.

On Friday, students at the University of California, Berkeley, which is in the San Francisco Bay area, barricaded themselves in a part of Wheeler Hall. As of this writing, the occupation, which began at 6 am, is still ongoing. The Berkeley campus newspaper, the Daily Californian, reported receiving a text message this morning from someone inside the building indicating that some 60 people were camped there, including undergraduate and graduate students.

According to a WSWS reporter, the occupiers are demanding the rehiring of 38 recently laid-off janitors and a complete amnesty for all those involved in the protest actions. Despite a heavy downpour, many people gathered outside of the building in the course of the day to express support for those inside. The Berkeley police were also on hand, armed with truncheons, mace and pistols.

At the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), which has been the site of previous building occupations in recent months, students took over a floor in Kerr Hall on Wednesday and Kresge Town Hall the next day. They issued a list of 35 short- and long-term demands, including the repeal of the fee hike, the restoration of fellowship funding for graduate students, amnesty for all those involved in the protests, the tying of the salaries of top administrators to those of the lowest-paid workers, and the complete abolition of education fees and student debt.

A building occupation at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), ended on Thursday. Having issued a statement that did not include any demands, students vacated the building voluntarily.

The building occupations are only part of more widespread demonstrations which have been occurring on the campuses since Wednesday. These have included rallies, sit-ins, and classroom walk-outs.

UCLA Political Science Professor Mark Sawyer told the press that he was teaching his course when shouts of “Walkout! Walkout!