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Students marching again

UC Davis students. protesting the proposed fee hikes,  gathered on the quad and marched around campus, ending up at Dutton Hall. Photo by Sue Cockrell

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March 2, 2011 | Leave Comment

“U-C! U-C! Student solidarity!”

“They say cut back, we say fight back!”

“Whose university? Our university!”

The chants that rocked UC Davis a year ago echoed through campus again Wednesday as a group of about 100 students marched through lecture halls, Shields Library and the Dutton Hall financial aid office in protest to fee increases and ongoing cuts to student services.

For many participants, the protests were a direct response to Chancellor Linda Katehi’s recently proposed budget plan, which would seek to patch a $107 million shortfall caused in part by dwindling state contributions.

Most unpopular among students were the budget plan’s new course fees for technology use, limits on support for graduate students and reductions to outreach funds for programs intended to close the state’s achievement gap.

“What we’re seeing here is just more of the same — cuts to middle management and services while the upper levels are untouched,” said Alberto Salcedo, a graduate student in education.

“Most importantly to me, fee hikes go against California’s constitution, which says higher education should be free for all citizens.”

As a first-generation college student, Salcedo has had to rely on loans to make it through his six years in Davis, first as an undergraduate in Chicano studies and now working on his master’s degree in education. When he graduates at the end of this year, he’ll be saddled with more than $40,000 in debt.

“I don’t think it’s right that we have to put ourselves in thousands of dollars of debt to find better economic opportunities,” he said. “But the longer we stay, the more cuts we see.”

The marchers wound their way through campus from noon to 5:30 p.m., rhythmically banging drums and appealing to bystanders to “join our strike!” At one point, students stopped at Katehi’s residence on College Park to leave written complaints in the form of Post-it notes on her door. At about 3 p.m., the marchers occupied the lobby of Dutton Hall and began redecorating its windowed facade with posters covered with slogans.

“I’m marching today in response to the grave mismanagement of my money and the closure of the community where I live,” said Janaki Jagannath, a fourth-year undergrad in international agricultural development and resident of the condemned Domes cooperative.

“The Domes is one of the places that matters most in my life, and they stand to be demolished because they’re not profitable,” she said.

Jagannath and the 35 other Domes residents will be effectively homeless after Student Housing closes the 40-year-old cooperative in July. Jagannath lamented the loss of funding for alternative agricultural research at sites like the Domes cooperative, attributing the loss to corporate encroachment into higher education.

“It’s shamefully ironic that we’re the ag school and agricultural spaces are getting shut down. It’s no coincidence that the School of Agriculture and Environment is the last school left with money, because they’re backed by the agribusiness bigwigs,” she said.

The small scale of the protests triggered no police response, although squad cars were on standby as the students gathered outside the chancellor’s residence. The protest remained completely peaceful. Last year’s statewide day of action on March 4 ended with a tense and violent showdown with the California Highway Patrol near Interstate 80.

“I was planning to graduate this year, but had to change my plans due to class availability,” said Mohammad Amdad, a fourth-year philosophy major. “So I’m marching against budget cuts and UC’s way of claiming to deal with them.”

Constricting availability of classes is a critical concern for students of underfunded departments, and course offerings could be scaled back even more under Katehi’s budget plan. In the plan memo, she and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph Hexter wrote that more students would have to take summer quarter classes as fewer classes will be available in other quarters.

“I have lots of friends who can’t get access to enough financial aid and don’t fall under (UC President Mark) Yudof’s Blue and Gold Plan,” Amdad said. “Yet they’re cutting financial aid office hours and at the same time spending a disgusting amount of money on salaries for top executives.”

Amdad was relatively debt-free until his father was laid off and his family was no longer able to pay climbing tuition costs. Now, quarter by quarter, he’s amassing student loan debt. In spite of the continuing economic hardship, Amdad and other protesters keep hope for a more accessible education in the future.

“In the end, I want to see students come together and take back the school, to win an autonomous university,” Amdad said. “And that’s not something the administration can give us.”

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