University of California President Mark Yudof’s face was a muddy, distorted mess by the end of yesterday’s Regents meeting after hundreds of protesters trampled over him in front of UCLA’s Covel Commons.
Yudof’s likeness, portrayed on signs with the statement “Wanted: REAL leadership,” was crushed into the soil outside the conference center by the approximately 500 UC faculty, students and staff members attempting to prevent a 32 percent fee hike. By the day’s end, 14 people — 12 of them students — were arrested for hindering the progress of the meeting and dozens of UCPD officers had donned their riot gear as they advanced on the crowd. However, despite the massive protesting, the Regents passed the nearly one-third fee increase.
The meeting began with a chaotic public comment session and continued to prove tense throughout the day. By 9:15 a.m., as Chairman Russell Gould attempted to deliver his opening statement, the audience began to drown out the Regent’s words.
“I know I speak for everyone in this room [when I say] no one wants to take this action,” Gould said to the crowd.
“Then don’t!” they yelled back at him.
Yudof made the argument, however, that the realities of California’s situation and the UC’s subsequently shrunken budget couldn’t allow the Regents to turn down the spike in fees.
Minutes later, as the crowd grew noisy again, Gould and Yudof pleaded with them to keep quiet.
“I would appreciate some civility,” Yudof replied quickly to a group who screamed “racist!” and “you lie!” at him.
Teresa Avendano, a recently laid-off UC employee of the Ronald Reagan Medical Center, was eventually made to exit due to her comments.
“I was asked to leave because I was being disruptive,” Avendano said. “That’s bullshit — they just don’t like loud Latinas.”
The remaining protesters didn’t take kindly to Avendano’s removal and broke up the meeting singing “We Shall Overcome.” Eight were arrested at 10 a.m. and the rest were made to leave.
The meeting resumed, but the situation escalated outside. A sea of signs and banners denouncing the Regents waved above the crowd gathered at Covel Commons. The hundreds of demonstrators chanted and sang loudly enough to make simple conversation nearly impossible as UCPD officers edged into the crowd.
Not long after, the Regents finance committee endorsed the 32 percent fee hike unbeknown to most of the protesters outside. With chants of “Whose University? Our University!” and “We’re fired up, can’t take it no more!” several protesters pelted the line of UCPD officers blockading the entrance to Covel Commons with garbage, full water bottles, sticks and rags. One police officer was hit in the face with a bag of vinegar, while another officer had a cup of hot coffee thrown on his feet by a sobbing girl who accused the silent police officer of being racist and sexist.
According to Nancy Greenstein, Police Community Service Officer for UCLA, the next hour or two of protesting was some of the most violent she has seen on the campus. Aside from reports of minor injuries from several UCPD officers, no one suffered significant damage, Greenstein said.
“We’ve had protests before, this one was just much larger,” Greenstein said. “Also, with UC students, you don’t expect the level of violence the crowd began to experience.”
Nearly 40 officers in riot gear — complete with batons, nightsticks, armed stun guns, pepper ball guns and non-lethal shotguns — forced the protesters out from in front of Covel Commons after it had been declared that they were unlawfully disrupting the peace.
Evan Sotelo, a third-year UCLA political science major, said the officers acted inappropriately.
“We had started to move back, but they were pointing pretty big guns at us and clicking their tasers right in our faces,” Sotelo said. “People did throw some things, but the majority of us were peaceful. [The police] should not have done that to us.”
A UCLA student even complained that he had been tased by an officer, but Greenstein was unable to confirm the validity of the claim as of press time.
After the committee on finance met, Yudof and Gould addressed reporters in a brief press conference.
The students, Yudof said, could have displayed better behavior during the day’s deliberations.
“On the one hand I have complete sympathy. … I feel their angst and insecurities; I feel all that,” Yudof said. “[But] on the other hand, I wish they had conducted themselves a little differently.”
On the contrary, Bob Samuels, a UCLA lecturer and a union president, said the Regents are misleading their constituents about the UC’s finances.
“This year was a record year for total revenue, so we think this is a phony crisis,” Samuels said.
At the end of the day, in a brief conversation about students’ declining confidence in their UC leaders, Yudof shifted the blame from his shoulders.
“The reality is that I’m not the villain,” Yudof said. “I’ve only been in the state for 17 months. I didn’t even have enough time to mess everything up.”
In any case, Jose Cabrera, a UCSB graduate student in Latin American Studies, said the Regents should be making things easier on students, not increasing their demands on them.
“The Regents should at least be capping fees, if not decreasing them,” Cabrera said. “They need to make the UC affordable for everybody. That means equal access regardless of who you are or where you come from.”