On a rainy Wednesday morning in November, more than 2,000 University of California students traveled to the bimonthly meeting of the UC Board of Regents, the university’s appointed governing board, to fight back against a proposed tuition increase. Janet Napolitano, UC’s president, has proposed a five-year plan to raise student fees 27 percent, which would amount to about $5,000 per student, on average.
Students won a tuition freeze in 2011, and it has been renewed every year since. This year’s tuition and development plan by Napolitano would break that freeze.
“We were here in 2011 fighting back against tuition increases. I strongly oppose this proposal, and the students are doing a great job of educating the community and advocating for other solutions to the budget crisis,” says Matt Haney, a former executive director of the UC Student Association who is now a member of the San Francisco Board of Education.
At 7 a.m. on Nov. 19, students met at the Mission Bay campus of UC San Francisco, where the regents were meeting. To disrupt the meeting’s agenda, the students blocked entrances and parking lots, holding members of the board outside so they could share their personal stories and explain how an extra $5,000 in tuition could affect their education and future. Many of the students work multiple part-time jobs while pursuing double majors or participating in student organizations; they are stretched to the limit now, with the current tuition, and don’t have the family support or the other means to pay for a drastic tuition increase.
“The students and workers should not be held hostage whenever the state and the UC system have to look for funding,” says Sadia Saifuddin, the only student with voting rights on the board of regents.
Members of the AFT, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Teamsters union and the Public Employees Union were present to voice their support for students and urge the regents against burdening students with more debt.
“As a single parent and as a mother of a child in college, education won’t be attainable for me and my family with these hikes. … Their responsibility is to provide public education for our communities,” says Ameera Snell, a UC San Francisco nursing student.
While the meeting was in session, students filled the room, waiting for their chance to speak during the public comment period, while others rallied outside, chanting, sharing personal stories and demonstrating resistance against officers who tried to control the crowd.
The tuition increase passed 7-2, with California Gov. Jerry Brown and Saifuddin being the only two “no” votes.
After the vote, students gathered outside to strategize about their next steps.
“To fix this problem in the long run, we need more student regents with voting rights on the board. One student regent cannot represent more than 200,000 students,” says Momo Hussein, a student at UC Riverside.