UCSA Comes to UCI

brandon wong | Staff Photographer Delegates from across the UC system discuss the best means of activism on behalf of UC students.

brandon wong | Staff Photographer Delegates from across the UC system discuss the best means of activism on behalf of UC students.

Every student who walked out of class on Sept. 24, every student who surged outside Crawford Hall to protest the 32 percent fee increase, every student that marched the streets of Sacramento and mounted the steps of the state capitol; their efforts were planned in part by the University of California Student Association (UCSA), which represents the undergraduate students of every campus but UC Davis and the graduate students of every campus but UC Davis, UCLA and UC Merced.

Representatives from each campus meet monthly to discuss student issues; last Saturday, they met in the fourth floor of the Student Center for the penultimate meeting of the year.

The day’s agenda centered on UCSA’s next campaigns to push for accessible education. Perhaps most importantly, fourth-year Asian American studies major and Student Regent-designate Jesse Cheng presented the University Affairs Committee’s suggestions for supporting, watching or opposing recommendations by the UC Commission on the Future, which was created last July to investigate the options for changing UC to adapt to budget cuts and disinvestment by the state government. UCSA voted to oppose attraction of non-resident (out of state) students to focus on in-state student opportunities, opposed moving undergraduate core courses online, opposed any regimented annual fee increase and supported motions for AB 540 students.

Most pertinent to engaged and activist students across the UC system, the Campus Action Committee decided to focus its efforts on securing $1 billion for higher education by in-district lobbying to push for the passage of AB 656, the bill proposal that would secure funding expressly for higher education by taxing oil acquisition in the state.

Further, it was tentatively agreed to aim for demonstrating on May 4, the day before the state’s May Revise for the state budget. UCSA hopes to gather students at regional hotspots – the UC San Diego, UCLA and UC San Francisco campuses as well as the state capitol in Sacramento – to remind the state legislators of students’ interest in preserving funding for higher education in the budget.

UC Irvine was also selected to host the 2010 UCSA Congress from Aug. 12-15, during which UCSA will plan next year’s course of action.
Despite the drain of a full day of debate, bringing students together from across the UC system fostered a diverse range of opinions about the best courses of action with each issue and a consensus for the next step to take in the process.

“I’m glad there were a lot of questions asked about the budget and ways to provide student input on the process,” said fourth-year economics major and ASUCI Executive Vice President, Sarah Bana. “I think that everyone should have the opportunity to ask decision makers why and how they make their decisions.”

The diversity of student opinion that generates new strategies depends on the motivation students on each campus to get themselves involved. Lauren Lewow is a third-year English major at Berkeley who transferred from Los Angeles and got involved in ASUC to combat the same student issues she’d addressed while involved in the student government of her community college.

“I knew these issues would affect me no matter where I go,” Lewow said. Lewow is ASUC’s Campus Organizing Director for UCSA.

Lewow believes UCSA as a body “overall does a good job” sifting out common concerns for UC students but laments the low visibility of UCSA given their involvement.

“We’re the first [student] group to meet with the Speaker [of the Assembly] and the Governor but the average UC student doesn’t know what UCSA means,” Lewow said.

Lewow found that word of mouth is the typical method of drawing in new members of UCSA and student government, especially in the current climate of student activism.

“[We’re] fortunate to be in a spot where state decisions are affecting students [and is a] catalyst for students who wouldn’t otherwise be involved,” Lewow said.

Each campus opted into UCSA (and UC Davis opted out) since UCSA’s creation (then known as the UC Student Lobby) by the Student Body Presidents Council. Each campus association decides on its financial commitment: most campuses collect about $1.50 per student per year; Santa Barbara commits around $8 per student.

The UCSA Board of Directors is comprised of delegates from each association (each undergraduate or graduate program represented). One delegate per association may vote; typically, this is the Executive/External Vice President of each student government association. These voting members appoint their own non-board members who may still speak on their association’s behalf, along with a Legislative Liaison and Campus Organization Director, which represent their association in the Legislative Affairs and Campus Action committees, respectively.

Participation in student action has certainly increased since the economic crash began affecting UC students with the UC Regents’ first 9.3 percent fee increase last May.

“We have taken advantage of the need to engage students. When you can do that you yield historic results,” said fourth-year sociology and Latin American & Latino Studies double-major and UCSA President, Victor Sanchez. “It’s been the most successful year to date. Hands down the most engagement, success and victories thus far.”

Sanchez cites the incredible turnout of over 10,000 students across the UC’s for the September 24 walkout as the start of this year’s impressive level of activism. Despite the financial hardships on students due to raised fees, Sanchez emphasizes the importance of fees for UCSA, which will cost UCI undergraduates $28,410.20 and graduates $6,853.60 in student fees for 2010-11.

“I’d say this is a good investment that is ultimately against student fees,” Sanchez said. “Students: if you’re mad about not getting into class; if you’re mad at administration; if you’re mad at the bureaucratic mess; then UCSA is for you!”