Today may be the first day of school, but many professors will be cutting class.
For months, students, faculty and staff across the UC system have been planning to walk out of classes today to protest fee hikes, budget cuts and faculty furlough days. The walkout has produced a wide range of responses – some professors will be canceling class altogether and others will discuss the university’s financial predicament, but many professors will also simply begin the quarter as usual with a lecture.
The walkout rally begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Arbor and will feature conferences, speeches, mucis and poetry. Among the protesters’ specific demands are increasing the UC’s budgetary transparency, stopping salary cuts or furloughs for university employees earning less than $40,000 per year and mandating that six furlough days must occur on instructional dates within the academic year.
Currently, under its furlough plan, the majority of the UC’s faculty and staff are requried to take 11 to 26 furlough days during the next year based on the employee’s pay grade. On Aug. 21, however, UC executives announced that no furlough days may be taken on teaching days.
The walkout, backed by a variety of groups, from the University of California Student Association to the University Professional and Technical Employees union, has been dubbed “A Day of Action, Protest and Solidarity” by its parent organizations, the UC Community Coalition for Option 4.
As of press time, UC faculty signatures collected by the UC Community Coalition for Option 4 total well over 1,000, with more than 120 from UCSB.
Among the list of participating faculty is English professor Arayne Fradenburg, who said she decided to join the organization in order to defend academic opportunities for students and preserve the value of education.
“I felt that I could not just live with myself if I did not do everything I could to turn this erosion of faith and higher education around,” Fradenburg said. “I believe in devoting yourself as much as possible to your ocmmunity. This is my community, and it’s in danger of being unable to promote its own future.”
Fradenburg said the economic situation facing the UC system is the worst she has witnessed and finds fault in the leadership of the UC’s top executives.
“Our leaders have done a terrible job for us,” Fradenburg said. “The top earners’ pay (within the UC) have gone up 40 percent, and they have not done what they were supposed to do as far as making improvements for students and university employees. The solution needs to begin in rolling back salaries of top earners, not with cutting the salaries of faculty and increasing fees for students.”
In the face of heavy negative public outcry regarding his management of the UC’s finances, UC President Mark G. Yudof recently said that the budget he supports is simply the only available option for the system.
“This is a terrible time,” Yudof said at the Sept. 16 Regents meeting. “Californians are losing their jobs; their houses are being foreclosed upon. What I’m saying is that we are not going to come out of this easily. We need to stabilize our situation and then we can build the University of California back.”
Rather than dismissing the anger many students and faculty members may feel about the UC’s economic peril, Yudof agreed that students should be upset about the declining standard of education, but also warned that options are limited for the publicly funded system.
“I actually think that students ought to be angry about the fee increase proposal. … I’m angry too,” Yudof said. “I liked the old system. The closer it was to being free, the happier I was, but that’s not the world I live in, and that’s not he world the Board of Regents lives in.”
Gracelynn West, UCSA University Affairs chairperson, said she feels just the opposite. West – who was particularly involved in organizing walkout events on the UCSD campus – said the mobilization and unity of the UC community will be enough to pressure Governor Schwarzenegger and President Yudof to prioritize higher education.
“This walkout is really important beacuse all students, faculty and workers are standing together as a united force against budget cuts,” West said. “We’re building coalitions so that we can advocate against cuts and really work forward with our goals throughout the year. With a lot more people from the UC community acting and pressuring President Yudof and the state legislature to make education accessible and affordable again, it will have to happen.”
Meanwhile, Associated Stduents Internal Vice President Chris Wendle said that A.S. representatives have yet ot voice an opion on the subject. In any case, Wendle said, budget policies should be improved through student and faculty cooperation.
“A.S. hasn’t taken an official stance on anything as of yet,” Wendle, a fourth-year business economics major said. “[But] we need to preserve the quality and excellence of a University of California education. Students are paying more and more and still seeing their classes being cut and having a harder time getting into the classes they need in order to graduate.”
According to Fradenburg, those support the walkout’s aims have several options for participating.
“[Saving UCSB] is not demanding a walk-out on Thursday,” Fradenburg said. “UCSB’s culture is not Berkeley’s, and we hve a lot of parents, students, administrators and professors who are worried abou thte first day of classes. We’re just asking individuals to join in any action they feel is right, whether it be approaching the information tables or walking out of their classrooms.”
UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang said in an e-mail that he is concerned that walkout efforst would disrupt classes and sow chaos on the first day of school.
“I understand and share the deep concerns of our students, faculty members and staff regarding the budget cuts, furloughs and higher fees,” Yang said. “However, I would hope that any actions to call attention to these issues on the first day of classes would not interfere with our core educational mission.”