Los Angeles – Fifteen student protesters – including two from UCSB – were arrested at UCLA yesterday, following the University of California Board of Regents’ approval of system-wide fee increases in student tuition and registration.

In order to address funding deficits caused by the current California budget crisis, the UC Regents Finance Committee voted 7-2 yesterday in favor of instituting a mandatory university-wide 7.4 percent increase in student tuition for the 2008-09 year. The fee spike also includes a mandatory 10 percent increase in registration fees as well as a 5 percent rise in tuition fees for non-resident undergraduate students.

Early on in the day University of California Students Association members gathered outside of the Regents meeting, bearing signs and chanting slogans – “Regents, Regents, can’t you see, you’re creating poverty!” to attempt to carry a motion, sponsored by California Lieutenant Governor and Regent John Garamendi, to freeze fees.

Despite the protest, the Regents rejected the fee freeze, causing the protesters to grow increasingly discontent. Angry whispers and derogatory hissing grew into shouted remarks that eventually drowned out the meeting, culminating in a sit-in of students who refused to leave the conference.

The fifteen protesters locked arms and legs and shouted angry remarks at the Regents and the gathered spectators while a police force of more than 20 University of California police officers warned the dissenters they were breaking the law by willfully disrupting a public meeting. After continually instructing the students to disband, the police began physically removing the remaining protesters one by one and handcuffing them for processing.

According to Nancy Greenstein, UCLA spokesperson for the UC Police Dept., the fifteen demonstrators will be charged with willful disturbance of a public meeting and, pending review of a recording of the event, could be charged with resisting arrest.

In January, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2008-09 state budget called for a 10 percent cut in funding to the UC system. This originally meant the UC would face a $417.4 million shortfall from the Regent’s proposed funding.

Yesterday the Governor unveiled his May revision to the budget, announcing a slightly modified plan which provided the UC with an additional $98.5 million for the 2008-09 year. However, the adjusted figure still leaves the UC system short nearly $332 million, the remaining deficit driving the Regents to increase student fees to compensate for the shortcomings of state funding.

UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang said that while the budget cuts will impact the campus, he is confident UCSB is capable of implementing cost-effective programs and increased financial aid to alleviate the lack of funding.

“I recognize the potential hardship that student fee increases represent for many of our students,” Yang said. “We will remain very steadfast in our efforts to see that all students who need… assistance have access to it, while at the same time pledging to protect the quality and diversity of the education we provide to our students.”

Yang said measures are being taken to mitigate the impact of the fee increase on students.

“On our campus, the Chancellor’s Coordinating Committee on Budget Strategy is developing a framework for how best to approach any cuts we might have to absorb, as well as a set of planning principles to guide our campus through budget reductions.”

According to Lt. Governor Garamendi, who carried the motion to freeze student tuition fees, the increase will damage the ability of the UC to provide underrepresented students an affordable spot at the UC.

Additionally, Garamendi said continued fee hikes will not alleviate the UC’s financial crisis and only serve to further the privatization of the UC system.

“This hike does not solve the budget crisis,” Garamendi said. “All it does is push the problem on the students. Every year we are clearly taking the public education system in California and privatizing it more and more by reducing state funding and forcing the students to pay. In the last decade we’ve already had an 84 percent increase in student fees and now they want to increase it again.”

Garamendi said he considered the fee increase unwise.

“Make no doubt about it, this is a tax, a really stupid tax policy.” Garamendi said. “There is no other word to describe it. It’s an unfair tax imposed on the students by the Regents, and it clearly makes it difficult for students to attend this university.”

Michael Tank, a fifth-year Design Media Arts major at UCLA, said that he not only opposes the Regents’ decision to increase the cost of tuition, he finds their actions reprehensible.

“They are doing acts of violence against our communities by increasing these fees and causing poverty.” Tank said. “The real people that should be arrested are the regents, not these 15 brave students who were standing up for all of our rights.”