UCI: A Lesson in Protesting

Since the school’s beginning in 1965, students at UCI have always faced the threat of tuition and fee increases.

A sign from the Jan. 23, 1967 rally and protest reading: “WE PROTEST! Budget Cuts. Tuition Proposals. The Firing of Kerr. Political Meddling in University Affairs” was featured on the front page of the Anthill, UCI’s campus newspaper at the time. That protest, which came directly after Reagan’s dismissal of Clark Kerr as UC president, drew approximately 1,500 students and faculty members.

In the recent years, there has been less of a presence at rallies that continue to protest fee increases. On Sept. 24, 2009, over 500 students, faculty and workers participated in a statewide campus walkout on the UCI campus. During the Nov. 24, 2009 Regents meeting at UCLA, the 32 percent mid-year fee increase passed with little reaction from students on the UCI campus at the time.

However, the Mar. 4, 2010 protest drew incredible numbers for the apathetic Orange County campus: approximately 800 protesters gathered at the flagpoles for the rally, which was part of a statewide day of action in support of public education.

But the numbers have not been anywhere near as strong since then. The May 4, 2010 protest saw only about a dozen protesters and the latest Oct. 7, 2010 protest was comprised of 40 students at most.

The declining number of students present at protests has reinforced UCI’s reputation as an apathetic campus in the recent years.

But UCI didn’t always have this reputation. On June 1, 1969, the Los Angeles Times published an editorial titled “UCI — A Lesson in Dissent” which opened by saying, “Once again the UCI campus has come through a crisis in which dissent — without disorder — was demonstrated.”

The editorial was a reaction to UCI’s response of the People’s Park situation in Berkeley in May 1969. At the time, Chancellor Daniel G. Aldrich supported ten UCI students’ journey to Berkeley to participate in the protests. When they were arrested, Aldrich personally sent the money needed to hire a bail bondsman.

Aldrich gained widespread respect during his tenure as chancellor. He led several campus-wide discussions during the tumultuous 60s and 70s, including UCI’s first protest in 1967.

At an October 1968 meeting of the Senate Executive Committee, Aldrich affirmed that he would continue to consult both faculty and students before enforcing any policy, no matter what the issue was.

Under Aldrich’s chancellorship, the campus saw several strong student movements, including a five-day “live-in” by 40 protesters in the English department’s Writing Center in February 1969. The protesters were supporting three assistant professors whose jobs had been prematurely terminated.

Rather than call the police, as the protesters expected, Aldrich allowed the protesters to stay, saying, “As long as [you] are not obstructive or destructive, so be it.”

A few months later, Aldrich announced that, as a policy for the future, he would not allow outside forces (namely, the police) to intervene. He also announced that he would not authorize arrests.

There has been a noticeable lack of student activism at UCI since Aldrich’s retirement in 1984. The recent student movements, when compared to actions at larger UCs such as Berkeley and Los Angeles, have added to UCI’s reputation as apathetic.

The question of whether or not protests are effective has been at the forefront of many discussions since last year’s mid-year fee hike, when protesting reached a climax at UCI. But planning has been quieter this year. With more increases coming, the jury is still out.