Students in the University of California system staged walkouts on campuses throughout the state today, in response to proposed tuition hikes at their schools. Last week, UC Regents voted for hikes of up to 5 percent a year, for the next five years, unless state funding is increased. California Governor Jerry Brown has come out against the tuition increases, and as a UC Regent himself, he also voted against the measure. The UC Board of Regents approved the hike in a 14-7 vote last Thursday.
Students at UC Berkeley, the system's flagship campus, have taken the lead in protesting the hikes. They've organized a group called "The Open UC." The group's website lays out their beliefs:
"Education is a universal human right. These tuition hikes, as well as concerted efforts by the UC's to privatize their schools, have attempted to transform education from a right into a privilege. That is what is at stake here. Financial burden from public education, which should be free, is perpetually placed on students instead of the state. This must end."
Hannah Berkman, a Berkeley sophomore speaking on behalf of the group, told NPR that their message is simple. "We do not accept this," said Berkman. "These tuition hikes really put into question our right to accessible, affordable public education." Berkman says students at UC Davis, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, and UCLA are taking part in Monday's walk out.
Protesting students at Berkeley began occupying a university building, Wheeler Hall, last Wednesday. The first few nights of that occupation, more than 200 people camped out in the space, which is home to the university's English Department. Berkman says those numbers have dwindled, but university administration is allowing students to stay overnight in the space.
One Berkeley student has been arrested so far in protests. But he was on the campus of UCSF Mission Bay, not Berkeley.
In a statement, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks says low-income students will actually see their tuition decrease over the coming year, and Dirks says "the vast majority of California students from families earning less than $150,000 a year will see no increase." In an email to NPR, a UC Berkeley spokeswoman said about 40 percent of undergrads at Berkeley don't pay any tuition at all.
But Berkman says the university's statement isn't definitive enough. "It's not even clear, that's the problem," says Berkman. "It hasn't even been made clear what that means. It just says the majority."
Berkman also says it's wrong to raise tuition in the midst of salary hikes for high-level university administrators. "A 20 percent salary increase for higher level administrators seems really, really unnecessary and hypocritical if you're increasing tuition by this much," says Berkman. Berkman is alluding to UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman, whose salary was increased to 485,000 earlier this year.
Student protesters have been tweeting from their walkouts. One tweet showed a sign Berkeley marchers carried throughout campus: "Remove Janet Napolitano As UC President." They've also called for increased minority enrollment in the UC system, and "full citizenship for undocumented immigrants." Another tweet had an image of a handwritten sign on a student's back that read, "You are not a loan!"