Over the course of the opening days of my Junior year, as I begin the second half of my academic experience here, I’ve been making an effort to pause and reflect at how much has changed since I began college life two short years ago. In my mind, among the largest changes — beyond the obvious transitions from dorm life to Isla Vista and from dining common cuisine to the Top Ramen diet — has been the increasing cost of learning here.

It should be apparent that the University of California is facing a time of unparalleled economic hardship. Faced with an $813 million budget shortfall for last year alone, the UC Regents have been forced to make some tough choices in recent months. At all 10 campuses across the state, faculty and staff have been laid off, and those remaining are subject to mandatory furloughs. Students have shouldered the burden as well, forced to deal with cuts in student services across the board. We have suffered through reduced operating hours for libraries and academic departments, as well as the cancellation of many classes. With the University offering fewer courses, students crowd lecture halls as they desperately try to fill requirements in order to graduate on time. As there are not enough desks, I sit on the floor in my English class as I write this letter.

[media-credit id=20135 align=”alignleft” width=”183″][/media-credit]The full effects of the recently approved 32% tuition increase (whoops, “fee” increase) are beginning to materialize; students counteract increased costs by searching for jobs and living within their means. Exorbitant fees pay for stuffy, overcrowded lecture halls, as well as the opportunity to play the education lottery known as crashing classes. And we all have that friend who couldn’t afford to come back this year.

However, I’ve noticed an even larger change in recent months, one that is less perceptible, and yet of tantamount importance. The collective student body is growing passive to these events.

I can remember a time when students seemed to care about these issues. These students supported the cause of affordable higher education. They organized, mobilized and demanded a seat at the bargaining table. Each student made their voice heard. They sent the message that we will not submit to continual underfunding and overcharging. The faraway, out-of-touch chambers of Sacramento could hear the rolling thunder of student protest, as could the UC Regents at their November 2009 meeting at UCLA. For a time, we seemed to be on the brink of making a difference.

I worry that this time has passed. Outrage and activism has been replaced by dejection and complacency. The fire of indignation seems to have been extinguished by time, and the growing acceptance that “this is just the way things are.”

We students have the ability to approach this year in any manner we see fit. If we choose to, we can all simply go through the motions of the school year. Halloween’s not too far off, after all, and the weekend is just around the corner. Midterms and final exams will be here before you know it, too, so we might as well enjoy the downtime while we can. The alternative is to spend our collective energy on political activism, working towards the cause of affordable higher education. It’s time to stand up, get angry and demand to be represented effectively. Let your state legislators and governor know what it means to be a student at the UC. Tell them how you’ve been affected by budget cuts and the obstacles you’ve overcome to study here. Refuse to submit to underfunding any longer. Finally, Get informed about candidates for political office, and elect the ones that will act as your advocate in the state government.  There’s an election on November 2nd, in case you forgot.

It certainly beats complaining about the next wave of budget cuts after they’ve already been approved.