The UC Board of Regents finance committee approved a proposal that will push student fees to over $10,000 next year.
[media-credit id=20110 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]The committee voted almost unanimously to recommend the 32 percent student fee increase to the full board at its meeting yesterday. If passed by the Regents today, California residents’ education and registration fees will be raised in two stages — from $7,788 to $8,373 by Winter Quarter and to $10,302 from summer 2010 through the following academic year. This fee hike will mark the ninth time in seven years that the UC Regents would have approved an increase in undergraduate tuition fees.
Professional and graduate students face fee hikes in 2010 as well. For academic graduate students, the initial fee increase will be 2.6 percent, followed by a 15 percent jump this summer. Students enrolled in professional schools, depending on program and university, are set for spikes in fees ranging from $280 to $5,696.
By approving the fee hike, the Regents also endorsed UC President Mark Yudof’s proposal to set aside 33 percent of the money generated from the increase to financial aid. Furthermore, the vote boosted the minimum household income required for students to qualify for the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan — a UC financial aid plan that fully covers the tuition fees of California residents whose families earn less than $60,000 — to $70,000.
According to Nancy Greenstein, the UCLA Police Dept. public information officer, 14 protesters were arrested inside UCLA’s Covel Commons, the site of the board’s meeting. The meeting itself was also halted on three separate occasions in order to eject rowdy groups of students from the premises.
The board, however, still managed to discuss agenda items in between each of the interruptions.
Multiple other administrative ventures — including furloughs, strategic sourcing and energy savings programs — were implemented, Yudof said, before the University turned to students to alleviate the weight of the budget deficit.
“We are being forced to impose a user tax on our students because we have half the amount of money to spend today as we did in 1990,” Yudof said. “The pillars of the California Master Plan are under attack and decay.”
Regent Eddie Island said this is the only time he has ever voted to increase student fees, but the dire state of the University calls for his one-time exception.
“Student fee increases take us in the wrong direction from our core values, but I believe the fee increases are necessary,” Island said.
“It will be difficult, but we have no choice now but to turn to every practical source of revenue and we are going to ask the students to participate. What we’ve done today is try to maintain our existing quality of education.”
However, Student Regent Jesse Bernal — the only person who opposed the fee increase — said students are bearing the brunt of the systemwide budget cuts.
“I think generally, most of you know that I oppose these fee increases,” Bernal said. “Student services are being altogether reduced if not eliminated, despite being the frontline of helping students attain their degrees.”
Moreover, Regent Sherry Lansing said this is the most difficult vote the Regents have ever faced. Lansing also said fees are more likely to be lowered if students and UC officials learn to collaborate with one another.
“Ironically we seem to be fighting each other rather than working together,” Lansing said. “This choice is not our choice. This is something that has been put on us by the legislature and the federal government.”
Almost 50 UC students, workers, faculty and members of the community, on the other hand, expressed their unwavering opposition for the fees during the public comment period of the meeting.
Alejandra Cruz, a third-year UCLA law student, said opponents of the student fee hike are part of a movement that is not prepared to back down, despite the “excuses” offered by board members.
“We have a very specific agenda to democratize our university and maintain it as an excellent public university that doesn’t simply push out and exclude black, Latino and other minority students,” Cruz said. “We will not take this racist inequality that is happening at the [UC]. We will fight and we will win. ¡Si se puede!”
Furthermore, Paul Von Blum, a communication and African American studies professor at UCLA, said his African American students are suffering disproportionally and cannot afford the tuition being proposed.
“[These students] are not statistics, they are human beings,” Von Blum said. “Do not abandon the hearts and souls of the university. Students are our hearts and souls. They are the future of this state.”
After the 40 minute-period allotted for public comment came to a close, attendees demanded that the board allow students to speak to for an additional 20 minutes — the amount of time allotted for public comment on the agenda. Regent Chair Russell Gould eventually gave in to the protesters’ demands, but the crowd continued to chant, disputing Yudof’s opening remarks.
As students cried, “Whose University? Our University!” and, “UC, UC you’re no good, treat your workers like you should,” over 20 UCLA PD officers blocked off the area of the room where the public was seated as the Regents walked out to ensure their safety.
Most of the students exited obediently, but eight others refused to disband — instead standing with bowed heads and hands behind their back, singing “We Shall Overcome Today” — and had to be escorted out of the room.
A new group of 50 students were allowed to enter the conference room over an hour later and another set of five students had to be escorted after refusing to comply with police officers, singing the same tune as the previous group. Audience members raised their fists in solidarity while watching the removal of their peers.
The remaining crowd members remained peaceful until Regent Lansing expressed her empathy for students. The rowdy crowd began to stand on top of their chairs, yelling and cursing at the top of their lungs that they could no longer afford a UC education. The Regents could not deliver their statements over the uproar and left the room once more.
Student Regent Bernal and Jesse Cheng, Bernal’s replacement for the 2010-11 school year, tried in vain to suppress the crowd, but the situation intensified.
“Fucking cowards, go back to your fucking mansions,” a protester shouted.
Another crowd member said the board should take its own advice and “get through it.”
“You guys need to get through this, not on our backs because we do it every single quarter,” he said.
The crowd was dispersed by police officers, allowing the Regents to discuss the agenda item of fee increases in peace.
Meanwhile, UCOP Associate Vice President for Planning and Analysis Marsha Kelman said a majority of students will have their fee increase covered by scholarships and grants.
“Blue and Gold sends a clear, simple message to high school students and families that fees are not a barrier to education,” Kelman said. “80 percent of students will have their fee increase covered by financial aid.”
Furthermore, the board approved the UC’s budget for 2010-2011, which seeks an additional $913 million from the state.
The decision to up fees was a tough one, Yudof said, but ultimately necessary.
“We all have to be realists,” he said. “At the end of the day we can’t talk this problem to death. We just don’t have the money. The University of California just doesn’t have the money.”