Thursday was a "Day of Action" against draconian budget cuts at the University of California campuses, and thousands of people rallied in protest at all ten campuses. At UC Berkeley, 5,000 students and workers, along with many faculty members, rallied at noon. At the same hour at UCLA, 700 students and workers and a few faculty members gathered at Bruin Plaza. And 500 rallied at UC Irvine, which Time magazine described as "normally placid."
The normally placid UC Irvine is where I teach.
The best sign I saw at the UCI rally read "If I wanted to go to a private school, I would have been born into a rich family."
The problem lies in Sacramento, where the state budget crisis led the legislature to cut its support for the university 20 per cent. The ten-campus system has been told to cut $637 million this year. The system has announced massive staff layoffs and a big hike in student fees. Next year tuition will go up 45 percent, to $10,302.
Since California voters passed Prop. 13 in 1978, a two-thirds vote in the legislature has been required to raise taxes, giving the Republicans a stranglehold on the budget.
With similarly draconian cuts and fee increases at the 23 state colleges, public higher education in California is facing its deepest crisis ever.
At the rally at UC Riverside, where the temperature reached 100 degrees, Mike Davis of the writing program told 500 students and union members, "the problem is not just the UC dream is receding, but that our kids are simultaneously being pushed out of the state universities and junior colleges, trade schools and adult schools.
"At a time when everyone wants to be, needs to be, and should be, going back to school, enrollments are being capped or reduced, classes cancelled, fees raised, and the youngest, brightest but most vulnerable faculty and staff fired. . . . Can you imagine how this frustration and disappointment is backing up into the high schools, even the middle schools and grade schools?"
At UC Irvine, Anthropology Professor Victoria Bernal said "We are taking something that by all measures is a great success and tearing it down. . . . Public education is a fundamental cornerstone of democracy in America. Without it only the well-to-do will receive the education and skills you need to take leadership positions in society."
Thursday's rallies were organized by UPTE, representing 12,000 University Professional and Technical Employees, and endorsed by CUE (Coalition of University Employees), representing over 13,000 staff, the AFT, and by the UC Student Association (UCSA), representing over 200,000 students, as well as a faculty group of more than 1,000.