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California: 16 arrested at UCLA protesting fee increase

By Eric Gardner

Los Angeles, CA – Chanting, “Regents, regents, can’t you see? You’re creating poverty!” 16 student activists from UCLA Students for a Democratic Society, the UCLA Student Worker Front and other University of California campuses temporarily brought a meeting of the University of California Regents to a halt May 14 to protest a hike in student fees. The students locked arms and continued chanting until they were physically removed by UC police officers. All were charged with misdemeanor counts of failing to disperse.

Those arrested were part of a larger group of more than 100 student demonstrators from across the UC system that attended the meeting to protest the proposed fee increases.

“Every year that the UC regents increase student fees, thousands of low-income students, and especially students of color, are denied access to higher education,” said David Chavez, a UCLA student among those arrested. “Myself and others are tired of the economic oppression that our communities face, which the regents take part in with their efforts to privatize the UCs. The levels of poverty and harm in our communities will not shrink so long as higher education continues on the current track towards a homogeneous and elitist institution.”

From May 14-16 UCLA was host to a quarterly meeting of the UC regents – a group of ten people, appointed by the governor, which has final say over all decisions affecting the University of California. While the meeting took place, student activists at UCLA hosted a counter-meeting of their own to agitate for greater democracy in the UC system as well as an end to practices like investment in war profiteering, nuclear weapons research and the constant increasing of tuition and fees.

In a statement released after their arrest, the 16 said that the fee increase, “would mean more out-of-state students...because they bring more revenue for the school, thus limiting space for California residents. It would mean less diversity, as the poorest students – overwhelmingly of color – are effectively excluded from a public education because they simply can’t afford it. It would mean families most vulnerable to fee increases would be forced into a false choice of accruing massive debt or not sending their children to school. It would mean pushing the California Dream farther and farther off the coast for much of the state’s truly diverse population, as the UC student body becomes both richer and whiter.”

The fee increase will raise costs for students by 7.4%, or about $500 per year for resident undergraduates. The slogan “7.4% = 1 month’s rent!” could be seen at a display set up by some of the protesters on the UCLA quad.

Thirty years ago, resident students paid nominal registration costs and virtually no tuition, making the cost of a public education almost free. But all this has changed in the era of Republican cutbacks and Democrat ‘reforms.’ Under the new fees, in-state undergraduates will pay around $8000 each year, a cost that is already far out of reach for many working families in California who are struggling to cope with astronomical prices for rent, gas, food and healthcare.

The only beneficiaries of the constant UC fee increases (which have gone up 91% since 2001) are California’s rich. By fighting tooth and nail against any taxes on their enormous incomes, the richest segment of California’s population has worked to force the costs of public services on to those least able to afford them. This also pushes public institutions like the UC ever closer to full privatization, directly benefiting the same wealthy interests.

By voting in favor of continuing fee increases, the regents (with the exception of a small minority that opposed the hike) have embraced these trends and chosen to settle the university budget crisis on the backs of the students.

The May 14 civil disobedience action was one of many such actions that have interrupted recent meetings of the regents, as students continue to demand a say in the way their universities are run. In the face of such willful disregard for the needs of the people they are supposed to represent, the regents can expect more frequent – and more militant – actions in the future.

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