Protesters Rattle UC Regents

Amid controversies of worker compensation and nuclear development, the UC Regents met at the UC Irvine Student Center from Sept. 16 to Sept. 18.
Pertinent issues involved items both on and off the regents’ official agenda. Committee members examined topics such as construction at the UC Merced and UC Riverside campuses, national laboratory financing and student enrollment eligibility during session meetings. Protesters articulated their viewpoints on a variety of other issues, such as service worker compensation, nuclear research, and the closure of the UCI pediatric unit.
Although construction at UC Riverside was briefly discussed, the committee focused on the development of UC’s newest campus, UC Merced. UC Merced representatives planned on creating an urban grid in the natural landscape of Merced. Expansion is expected to include more student housing, a nearby marketplace and improved athletic facilities.
In addition to architecture, technological issues were also addressed. For example, researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have developed an airport Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) device. The MRI, which allows body parts to be photographed without the use of an x-ray, can now be used to scan liquids.
“We would no longer have to pull out all of our three ounce bottles,” said Michael Anastasio, Los Alamos National Laboratory Director.
Homeland Security will test this technology at Albuquerque International Airport. Still, the laboratory’s buying power has decreased, making such endeavors difficult to finance.
Yet, the most well known ventures of LANL focus on the development of technologies utilizing nuclear energy. Anastasio was generally pleased with the university system’s role in applying nuclear energy.
“The relationship of the laboratory with the University of California is a very rich and mutually beneficial relationship,” Anastasio said.
However, he expressed his anxiety over financing the laboratory.
“I am very concerned about what I call ‘the squeeze on science,’ just the overall challenge of funding for science in the country,” Anastasio said.
UC President Mark Yudof shared Anastasio’s concerns and restated the importance of the labs.
“[The] nuclear engineering department has nationally declined. I think it’s very important that we strengthen this relationship between the university… and our international lab,” Yudof said.
Conversely, some individuals felt negatively about LANL’s work. The opposition included Junko Kayashige and Miyako Yano, survivors of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
The pair advocated against the UC’s role in nuclear development during Thursday’s public comment period. Kayashige and Yano spoke to the regents in Japanese and were assisted by translators Akiko Florence Minowa and Yuko Tomita, respectively.
“I’m not happy with [the regents’ reactions] because the regents have been making too many excuses,” Yano told the New University.
Kayashige felt similarly, stating that nuclear energy is always dangerous. She felt that the regents’ justification of nuclear development was a moot point.
“We didn’t come here to listen to excuses. On the contrary, we came here to discuss the future of [humanity],” Kayashige said.
Kayashige explained the suffering felt by her family when several of her relatives died as a result of the atomic bomb. Some close to the epicenter, such as her grandmother, died instantaneously. Others located further from where the bomb landed died from its aftereffects, such as one of her sisters, who died from a maggot infestation.
Kayashige stressed the importance of remembering the horrors of the first atomic bombs. As Kayashige stated, these are not necessarily the last atomic bombs that would be dropped.
“The purpose of dropping an atomic bomb … was an experimentation … they even took back biological evidence,” Kayashige said.
Another recurring voice of dissent at the meetings concerned service worker compensation. Demonstrating workers, with chants such as “UC Regents can’t you see, the workers are in poverty,” and “If we don’t get no justice, you don’t get no peace,” protested the inaction of the regents after a public comment period ended.
Julian Posadas lamented over what he felt was the regents’ apathy concerning service worker compensation.
“They’re just getting more aggressive… they have said that it would be irresponsible to give money to workers,” Posadas said.
Service workers include a portion of those working in the UCI Medical Center. Still, the concerns of protestors extend beyond socioeconomic boundaries, as nurses also had concerns about budget allocation.
UCI has plans to close 25 beds in the pediatric unit and eight beds in the pediatric intensive care unit (ICU). Essentially, this will mean the closing of the entire pediatric unit.
“We’re concerned because the plan is to take care of the pediatric trauma patients in the adult ICU,” said Sharon Speck, a nurse in UCI’s pediatric ICU.
Richard Blum, an appointed regent who serves as the Chief of Staff to the regents, attempted to address such concerns briefly after a public comment, but was shouted down by members of the audience.
“There are less [nuclear weapons] now than there were 15 years ago, but there’s way, way too many,” Blum said.
This provoked one audience member to voice an accusation by exclaiming “lies,” which in turn was met by Blum stating, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” After Blum attempted to continue his train of thought, further shouts erupted, causing police officers to escort protesters from the meeting. Regents in turn ignored the outburst and proceeded with the day’s open meetings.
Budget allocation was among the final topics discussed. This conversation touched on an array of issues, including a proposal to cut medical rates by 10 percent.
Although much of the financial allocation of the UC system remains to be decided, what continues to be an ongoing concern is the state’s $15.2 million deficit.
Some regents argued that it is difficult to decrease the deficit because there is a commitment to financial aid through Cal Grants and federal grants for students. Yet, the student population of the UC system may change due to the proposed alterations of freshman eligibility requirements, which will possibly affect such aid.
Regents moved towards an increased comprehensive review structure. Although guaranteed admission would decrease from its current rate of 12.5 percent to 9.7 percent, it would result in an expansion of the comprehensive review of the university system’s freshman eligibility structure.
Comprehensive review allows admissions officers to assess students based on factors outside of test scores and grade point averages. For example, admission essays and extracurricular achievements would figure more prominently in the admissions decision-making process.
The next UC Regents meeting is scheduled to take place at UC San Francisco from Nov. 18 to Nov. 20.