Protests against the recent tuition increase continued last Monday as students staged two sit-ins.
UCI’s protests were part of a statewide day of action that saw students across the UC occupying public spaces en masse, conducting die-ins and vocalizing against the tuition hikes.
Two weeks ago, the UC Regents approved a plan that seeks to increase tuition by 5 percent annually for the next five years. According to the Regents, the increases can be mitigated if Governor Brown and the state allocated more money towards the UC system. Brown, however, has shown to be reluctant to have the state contribute any further to higher education.
At noon, over 50 students gathered on the third floor of Student Center to occupy the front lobby of office, spilling out into the hallway. The sit-in lasted for two hours, until students migrated to Moss Cove in anticipation of Vice Chancellor, Student Affairs Thomas Parham, who was slated to address them at 2 p.m.
After a frustrating half-hour wait in Moss Cove with no appearance from Parham, however, the fed-up students migrated over to join two peers sitting in Aldrich Hall.
With the administrative building locked out to their compatriots and the rest of the student body, Vito Perez and Stephanie Ortiz conducted a sit-in a little before noon in the lobby of Aldrich Hall.
“We occupied cause we wanted to show our fellow students and the admin that we won’t allow business to continue as usual,” Perez said in a message.
On the first day of registration for winter quarter classes, students who needed to pay a visit to the registrar were only able to enter Aldrich by appointment.
Inside, a rotating roster of UCI police officers, including Assistant Chief Jeff Hutchison, stood watch over Perez and Ortiz.
“Personally, I felt like an outsider within a space that is meant to be public and designed to assist students. We received hostile and puzzled looks,” Ortiz said.
In light of recent news about police brutality, Ortiz mentioned that it was also intimidating knowing the police officers had access to weapons and batons.
According to Ortiz, the officers were apathetic to the protesters’ motives, with one officer going so far as to say they had chosen to be students and had to pay the costs.
Outside, students banged on Aldrich’s windows and doors, demanding to be let in.
Sherwynn Umali, associate dean of students, maintained that Aldrich Hall was closed so that staff members could continue doing their job without interruption from students.
However, Kristine Jermakian, a commissioner for ASUCI’s Office of the Executive Vice President, wasn’t convinced by Umali’s explanation.
“Students are just concerned,” she said.
“I think everyone wants to be in student debt forever,” said Manisha Priyadarshini, after watching students walk right past her attempts to have them join the protest.
Soon after the students left Moss Cove, Parham had arrived. Finding no students there, however, he proceeded to his next scheduled meeting.
Further coordination between organizers and administrators resulted in a new meeting time of 4:30 p.m. However, a disagreement arose as to the location of the meeting. Administrators insisted that the meeting had to be at Moss Cove, its previously designated location. However, students remained adamant that the vice chancellor meet them out in front of Aldrich Hall, out in the open at an easily-accessible location, instead of at an out-of-reach location underground in Student Center.
“Are you here for us? Aren’t you here for our needs?” asked Gaganpreet Kaur, a third-year education and international studies double major. “You guys closed the door on us. Why should we go to this university when you won’t even talk to us?”
Over in Moss Cove, a handful of students were present, matched by a handful of administrators.
Parham was present this time, saying that he didn’t have control over tuition increases, only how receptive he could be to students.
“If your main concern is hearing students concerns, aren’t you concerned with (your) accessibility?” asked Priyadarshini. “What you have control over is where you will be.”
He explained that he wanted to meet a place where he could easily be heard and wouldn’t be distracted.
Parham said that he wants the UC to remain accessible, but expressed frustration regarding the tuition increases.
Although the tuition increase will continue to maintain the current financial aid profile, it does increase the costs that students will have to pay in order to do so. Additionally, for prospective students, news of the increase may portray the notion that the UC is not accessible, especially for those for which information about financial aid, grants and scholarships aren’t readily available.
The vice chancellor also described the tuition increases as contingent on whether the state will provide additional funding.
ASUCI Vice President of Administrative Affairs John Delshadi questioned the use of Parham’s characterization of the increase as a contingency, given the nature of the nature of the governor’s budget, which isn’t finalized until May, after students submit their intents to registration.
Among his criticisms of the UC, Perez mentioned that the current tuition model, despite its financial aid packages, still excludes poor students who cannot afford to be in debt or undocumented students who don’t have access to enough aid.
Two days after the Regents approved the increase, a town hall was slated to be held wherein administrators would be able to dialogue with students regarding the new policy.
On ASUCI’s end, students were ready. According to ASUCI President Reza Zomorrodian, however, administrators contacted him and Sonali Madireddi, president of Associated Graduated Students saying that they needed more time to gather answers to potential questions. Additionally, a new date would allow Chancellor Howard Gillman to attend.
The town hall will be held in the Crystal Cove Auditorium during Week 10 on Thursday, Dec. 11 at noon.