A UC Student’s Perspective on the Fee Increase Fight.


   On November 19th, 52 UC Davis students were arrested after peacefully protesting the new 32% fee increases established by the UC Regents. As a second year undergraduate, I was hopeful that students were beginning to see the bigger picture: California is broken.

   Students, so far, have been forcing most of the blame on the UC Regents. While it is true that the 20 Regents who voted for the increase certainly deserve a heaving portion of the blame for borrowing tens of millions (from a non-CA bank, NY Merrill Trust) while forcing students into a cycle of debt in order to protect UC’s eerily superb bond rating, the only way for students to move towards enacting change is to recognize that UC’s woes are symptomatic of the larger disease that has infected the entire state.

   The UC student, to widen the umbrella for a movement that might have the capability of rallying support for reform, should understand that he or she risks turning people off by angling attacks towards the Regents and the Regents only. It is important to recognize that while it is a travesty that UC is becoming an unaffordable option for many California families, it is nearsighted to think that UC fees are anything more than a slice of the pie that is California’s broken political system. The state workers that have been furloughed, the elderly Californians that are losing their access to Medicare, the thousands of previously middle-class Californians that have had their homes foreclosed, and the over 12% of California that is unemployed might tell students that UC is not the only government program that is underfunded, mismanaged, and increasingly unavailable to the people who need it.


 To the single mother making $30,000 a year or the undocumented immigrant working in poor labor conditions for a less-than-legal salary, the plight of the students might seem distant and unimportant. The reality of the situation is that students are making valid points, but they are doing so in a way that turns off the millions of Californians that should be turned on by the students’ overarching message of reforming California.

   When the student recognizes that the immediate and long term problems caused by UC’s fee increases are tied together with the struggles of working families, immigrants, the elderly, homeowners, borrowers, the unemployed, water drinkers, and dozens of other California communities and interest groups, then, perhaps, we will see forward progress.

   The first point that needs to be made by students (that might catch on) is that the programs that made our state great in the 50s and 60s cannot continue to exist without proper funding.

   The message should be loud and clear: raising revenue does not mean higher taxes for everybody, it means looking at who and what gets taxed in this state, and what kind of people are hurt when programs lose funding. Here are three problems that have been generally accepted among the progressive community to be at the heart of the problem:

   Lack of an oil-severance tax in California. Who wins? Big Oil. Who loses? The People. AB 656 (Torrico) would use a 9.9% tax on Gross Product to generate up to $1 billion annually for programs like UC, CSU and CCC.

   2/3rds majority required to pass anything that raises revenue. Who wins? The CaGOP and Big Business. Who loses? Again, The People. Republicans who are indebted to special interest groups that represent Big Business are able to crush the programs that help make the California Dream a reality for many working Californians. AB 656 is expected to be an easy kill for the Republican minority, even though California is the only state in the union that does not have an oil severance tax (including Sarah’s AK and GWB’s TX).

   Proposition 13. Who wins? Big Business. Who Loses? The People. The remains of the Jarvis Taxpayer Revolution act as the most regressive and harmful tax policy in the state. With the veil of providing economic safety for elderly residents without a fixed income, the anti-tax era cursed California’s future with budget shortfalls and program cuts. It is apparent, now, that Californians can’t have our cake and eat it, too.

   So, students should be asking the question: Why is it that Chevron, Monsanto, and Walmart are allowed to raise revenue while the State of California isn’t? Why is it that CEOs are getting pay raises while the People are getting both pay cuts and program cuts?

   The students are right: the State of California has left them for dead, but they are not alone. Almost every Californian uses some sort of state-sponsored program, whether that be a UC, a public elementary school, a library, or the DMV. If you’re one of those people, and if you haven’t gotten a pay raise, then you should be ticked off, too.

7 thoughts on “A UC Student’s Perspective on the Fee Increase Fight.”

  1. This is very clear and on target — UC shouldn’t be eating itself, it should be finding common cause with other groups that are being destroyed.

  2. I think you underestimate the current student movement. While the media likes portraying this as students vs. Regents, it simply isn’t the case. Student protests have regularly brought up the lack of funding coming from the legislature as well as the other groups equally hurt.

    I can say as a student at UC Santa Cruz that the hundreds of people involved in the three day occupation of the administrative building made clear goals of reaching out to other on-campus communities that have also felt the brunt of the cuts.  The seven demands presented to the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor included demands focusing on custodial workers and teachers in addition to those benefiting just students.

    Furthermore, the General Assembly at UCSC has created a subcommittee focusing entirely on legislative action, specifically AB656 and the California Democracy Act. Be careful not to accept the claim that the students protesting are just radicals complaining about what hurt them but not looking for solutions, we are organized and looking at the root of the problem.

    Finally, while I agree that the scope needs to expand beyond UCs, I think focus is important as well.  The more issues you include the more diluted the student involvement will likely be.  Therefore, I think we must frame this debate as a battle for public education.  Not just the exclusive UCs but the Cal States, community colleges, vocational schools, K-12 and the teachers, librarians, custodial staff and others involved in the system.  This will be able to include a large community in the struggle and not limit it just to those already considered privileged, while at the same time not losing the focus that keeps the students so energized.

  3. I’m glad to see the student activism, and I wholeheartedly support the students protesting the way the U.C. leadership is taking advantage of the state budget crisis.  Yudoff and the Regents seem perfectly happy to turn U.C. into a private university.  And I’ve been happy to see coalition-building on campus among lecturers, faculty, staff and students.  A lot of the students, at least ones I’ve talked to on the UCB campus, do get the bigger picture and a lot of the connections.

    I think the protests have served to mobilize students. I agree with you completely that the next step, though, is critical:  citizens all across California have to realize that we all suffer if we let the U.C. system (and public education generally) degrade, or become inaccessible.  Voters across the state need to demand that different decisions to be made at the state level.  You do a great job of articulating who’s been benefiting from the current structure.

  4. … is that 30 years ago, the single mother you refer to making less than the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $30K per year could send her child to UC with no problem.  The fees for in-state students were a pittance, and financial aid typically included grants, not just loans.

    State universities used to be a way up for at least a fraction of the lower middle class.  If they could make the grades, they could get ahead.  Now, with the crushing fees, university education is no longer available to the poor.

    At least from listening to interviews with the student protestors on KPFA, it seems that most of the leaders are kids from working-class families who will have to drop out because paying 30% more just isn’t an option.

  5. In general, the state’s budget actions haven’t just been painful, they’ve been harmful to the long term prosperity of the state, pinching pennies while dollars fly out the window.

    If your friend lost his job, would you advise him to sell his car and his clothing to pay the rent and hope for better times, or would you tell him to buy a new suit and drive the car out to job interviews?

    UC drives the economy of this state. It attracts smart, interesting people from all over the world, people who start businesses and build intellectual property and who staff the companies we have already. Look around any of the UCs and you’ll see a whole set of companies founded by alumni and professors spilling out of the research specialties. Every person who attends a UC has a fairly high likelihood of (a) staying and (b) earning an above median salary, salaries which will pay future California taxes.

    There is no sector of the California economy that does not benefit from UC. Even tourism gets a boost from the visiting students, parents, researchers, etc.

    The damage that is being done is not just for a single year or even two; it’s damage that could take decades to repair. High reputation faculty who accept positions elsewhere. Grants that are missed. Whole generations of students who will miss out on higher education. A long term ding to the reputation of some of the greatest universities in the world.

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