Students Protest Potential Tuition Hikes at UC Regents Meeting

A coalition of nearly 100 University of California students from campuses across the state gathered at UC San Francisco last Thursday to protest a UC Regents discussion of impending tuition hikes systemwide, the first such hike in six years. The protest resulted in an early end to the public Regents meeting, after UC Regents left the auditorium amid student protests and UCSF police were called in to clear protesters from the area.

The protest, which began outside UCSF Mission Bay’s Bakar Fitness and Recreation Center, moved inside the Center auditorium in time for the Regents’ discussion of tuition hikes, which will be decided on in 2017. Current UC tuition has more than doubled in the past decade,  to a current $12,294 for in-state tuition and fees, not including campus-specific fees. The proposed increase in tuition is approximately $280 per year.

For the past five years, UC tuition has remained constant. During the 2014-15 academic year, UC Regents considered raising tuition in response to rising administrative costs and lowered state funding, but a series of student protests resulted in a tuition freeze until 2017.

With another tuition hike imminent, students from campuses including UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC San Diego and UC Berkeley organized Thursday’s “Emergency Protest” of UC Regents’ Nov. 16 to 17 meeting. At 6:45 a.m., more than two hours before the meeting began, students gathered to march around the building entrance, chanting “The students united will never be divided” and “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts,” among other slogans. Many waved signs which read “Fund UC” and “Food or fees.”

Third-year UC Berkeley student Lucy An, who helped organize the protest, argued that UC’s financial deficit stems from administrators’ misuse of public funds, and that the burden to fund UC should not fall primarily on students.

A student holds up a sign in opposition to increasing tuition prices.

A student holds up a sign in opposition to increasing tuition.

“Two years ago, when I was a freshman and [UC Regents was] considering raising tuition systemwide, I was able to see student protests against this very thing,” said An. “UC Regents really heard the students and acknowledged our immense financial struggles, and it resulted in a tuition freeze. It proved that the student voice is truly powerful, and we’re hoping for a similar outcome this year, where Regents really listen to their students and don’t further increase the burden of tuition that many of us are really suffering under.”

Kiana Young, a fourth-year UC Berkeley student, attended the protest in defense of students who she believes are disproportionately affected by tuition increases. Young, a disabled student, noted the closure of UC Berkeley’s WAIV center for disabled students last month, and argued that administrative bloat should not be increasing while intergral student services are being cut and struggling students are being asked to pay more tuition.

“I think it’s disgusting that our administrators and chancellors are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on themselves, while campus programs are being cut, which are vital to our needs,” said Young. “UC students are already facing food and housing insecurity, especially black and brown students, queer students, people of color — the most vulnerable communities are being hurt by this. We are demanding that Regents protect us.”

After several hours of protesting outside, students entered the auditorium in time to hear Regents’ remarks on the proposed tuition increase.

Ralph Washington Jr., a third-year PhD student at UC Davis and UC Student Association President, opened by arguing that students should not have to choose between affording an education and affording basic necessities.

“The University of California, from the very beginning, has been an instrument of opportunity. The opportunity for transformative education, the opportunity for personal growth and for social mobility. The UC remains a source of those opportunities, but many recent generations have also had to evaluate the costs of obtaining them,” said Washington. “I think it’s an important philosophical question: how can we charge a price for the priceless experience of transformative education? How can we put someone in a position where they have to choose between paying for books and paying for food?”

Students at UC Regents meeting inside.

Students at UC Regents meeting inside.

Washington advocated not only against the tuition hike, but for a tuition rollback.

“I know that would be a great challenge, and I know that great challenges call for great solutions. Great solutions are provided by great institutions, and UC is the greatest institution of public education in the world.”

Members of the Board of Regents responded, arguing that the number of low-income and middle-income students affected by a tuition increase would be negligible. According to a UC Regents statement, “Over one half of California resident undergraduates of UC effectively pay no tuition because it is fully covered by grants and scholarships.” Regents argued that a tuition increase is necessary to maintain reserves of financial aid funds for students who rely on such aid.

Student protesters in the audience attempted to speak to the Regents on behalf of low- and middle-income students who they believed would be adversely affected by tuition hikes. However, students were told to hold their comments, as the public comment section was over and the meeting needed to adhere to its agenda.

“I encourage the students who are here to continue, not just here today with signs, but engage with us at the campus level, with the Regents, and with public comments,” said Bonnie Reiss, Vice Chair of UC Regents. “This is not just today we will be focusing on this, but this is an ongoing issue.”

Student protesters, many of whom had travelled several hours to San Francisco from parts of Southern California, rose in response and began to chant “listen to the students.” Reiss attempted to call order to the meeting, but upon students’ refusal to stop chanting, Reiss led the Board of Regents out of the auditorium and called UCSF police to clear the room of students. After UCSF’s Chief of Police proclaimed the protest an “unlawful assembly” and threatened to arrest students who did not clear the room in five minutes, protesters, several of whom were undocumented and afraid of an arrest’s consequences, filed out of the auditorium to an adjacent hallway.

There, protesters were informally met by Regent John Perez, who expressed sympathy for student concerns about tuition.

“Although we strive for diversity on the Board of Regents, there is little economic diversity. Few Regents, probably a couple, have ever known the issues of poverty and housing insecurity firsthand,” said Perez. “Those of us who are familiar with the issues students are bringing up try to raise those issues as best we can.”

UC Regents’ next meeting will take place at UCSF Mission Bay on Jan. 26-27, 2017.