The first day of classes is typically the day that students rush to class with a coffee in hand and get lost along the way. But this year, UC Irvine students are opting for a different kind of beginning for the fall quarter.
UCI undergraduate students, graduate students, groundskeepers, union members, lecturers and faculty have organized a protest to be set on the first day of classes, Thursday, Aug. 24. A school-wide walkout has been planned to voice the discontent caused by some of the budget cuts made by the University of California.
This walkout, however, does not mean cancelled classes. Most of the professors and faculty are still holding class and are simply instructing students on the future of UC and what they can do to help improve it. According to the walkout’s Facebook group, which was only formed a week ago, around 1,500 students plan on participating in an effort to change UC’s new direction.
The faculty listed grievances involving layoffs and increased class sizes. According to Keith Danner, a lecturer in the English department, 46 groundskeeping and maintenance workers and 37 lecturers have already been laid off. In addition, the per-student funding for UCs has fallen 40 percent since 1990, according to a pamphlet compiled by Professor Carrie Noland and Associate Professors Adriana Johnson and Elizabeth Allen.
The pamphlet also discusses the 4-10 percent pay reduction for most faculty and staff in addition to the 15 percent increase in student fees beginning spring quarter and during the fall quarter of 2010.
Worse than spending more money, however, is the lower quality of education that the higher costs will struggle to provide. Classes like biological sciences and engineering are increasing their caps for class sizes. Another cut that may be affecting students this year, particularly during finals week, is the reduced hours of the libraries and study centers. According to Noland, Johnson and Allen, Langson Library will now close at 8 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and at 5 p.m. on weekends. The Gateway Study Center will only be open after 6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and for four hours Friday through Saturday.
“On the day of the walkout, faculty will do one of three things,” Danner said. “They will either continue to teach their planned lesson, they will not go to class and email the administration their reasons behind not going, or they will go to class in order to discuss the future of the UC system with their students.”
When asked about the brainchild of the operation, Danner replied that a walkout was only a “rational response to the devastating cuts.”
However, not every professor agrees with the idea of a walkout, even if they are against the cuts that are hurting both faculty and students. Associate Professor Glenn Levine co-wrote an opinion letter for the Orange County Register in August with Professors Mark LeVine, Jack Miles and Jane Newman, which was published online.
While his letter opposed some of the cuts that had been made at UCI, Levine said that the walkout was not the “most productive way to protest the deterioration of the UC system.” For Levine and others, the goal is better communication between the faculty and administration.
One major player in the planning of the protest has been University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE), the union for UC. UPTE’s Web site has been updated with information regarding labor news. Flyers and a calendar were also posted about the walkout.
According to UPTE representative Michael Moore, the primary purpose behind the walkout is to stop illegal layoffs, illegal furlough days, illegal pay cuts, hikes in health care and the privatization of UC. Moore said that the strike was legal and that 80 percent of the UPTE members, composed of lab assistants, staff researchers and computer research specialists, actually voted for a strike.
A surprising addition to the walkout meetings was UCI’s own Associated Student Body President, Megan Braun. While ASUCI does not support the walkout as an organization, the president and four vice presidents are for it.
“It is complicated,” Braun said, “because of all the different intents behind the participants in the walkout. There are so many different groups [involved], whether they are students, faculty, union members or teachers. ASUCI has its own reasons for becoming involved in the walkout, and it does not necessarily endorse the other groups’ motives.”
Any involvement that ASUCI or its members may have in the walkout is directly related to student welfare. This includes the dramatic 32 percent fee increase over a 12-month period and the quality of the UC system in general.
While it seems that UCI’s student government may be turning in on the school that it governs, Braun said that the primary target is the state, not the UCI administration.
“We just want to spark a healthy debate,” Braun said. “We want to try to increase the number of college students who vote in order to force state legislatures to pay attention to what we have to say. With more voters, we have more power contingency.”
The walkout on Thursday will include a rally at noon at the flagpoles, an interactive drama in the Arts Plaza at 9 a.m., teach-ins all over campus from 9 a.m. until noon, a rally in the Social Science Plaza at 2 p.m. and evening teach-ins from 5-7 p.m. in Humanities Gateway 1010.