Speakers at a midday rally Tuesday of several hundred people on the UC Davis Quad linked protests against tuition hikes to the broader Occupy Wall Street movement decrying corporate greed.
Protesters later marched to Mrak Hall, the primary home of the administration, where about 50 students remained at about 11 p.m., a campus spokeswoman said. A couple of police officers planned to remain on hand if students stayed through the night.
At the rally, speakers also denounced the use of batons by police last week at UC Berkeley to keep protesters from setting up an Occupy Cal encampment. A rally there to kick off a daylong strike drew a crowd variously estimated at 5,000 to 10,000 people, according to news reports.
Sasha Abramsky, a lecturer in the Davis campus’ University Writing Program, told Davis students they were doing no less than protecting the American dream.
“We’ve seen it in Occupy Wall Street, we’ve seen it in Oakland, we’ve seen it in Philadelphia, we’ve seen it all over the country. Last week, we saw it at UC Berkeley,” said Abramsky, who as a journalist has traveled the country interviewing people who have lost their health care, jobs and homes.
“We saw students, we saw faculty, we saw staff, we saw community members coming out to protest and say, ‘This is not right,’ and they were met with batons, they were arrested, they were beaten.”
Andrew Higgins, a graduate student in American history, noted that a year ago a video captured a UC Irvine police officer drawing his gun on protesters outside a UC Board of Regents meeting on the San Francisco campus.
His anger about that incident hasn’t lessened with time, Higgins said.
“Since the university cannot deny the legitimacy of our concerns, they’d rather try to silence our voices with their guns, batons, fists, pepper spray and Tasers,” he said.
“The administration seems to think that if their mercenaries beat us up enough, if they can frighten us with their guns, badges and paramilitary uniforms, we’ll simply give in and accept the death of our public university. They have no idea how wrong they are.”
In September, UC administrators offered up a plan that would have increased tuition by 8 to 16 percent each year from 2012 to 2016, depending on support from the state budget.
The regents rejected the plan, but that hasn’t lessened the frustration of students who have seen tuition more than double since 2003-04. The estimated cost for a California undergraduate at UCD has reached $31,200, including campus fees, books, room and board and other expenses.
The Board of Regents canceled its planned meeting this week because it had received information “indicating that rogue elements intent on violence and confrontation with UC public safety officers were planning to attach themselves to peaceful demonstrations expected to occur at the meeting.”
English professor Nathan Brown, who lost his voice during recent protests, held a sign reading “rogue element” while colleague Joshua Clover read his remarks to the crowd.
The UC system has seen massive state budget cuts — UCD’s state general funds have been cut 40 percent and the campus faces a $130 million shortfall this year — but Brown contended that tuition increases have been unnecessarily large.
They are key to an “aggressive strategy of revenue growth” in the service of privatization, because state funds are restricted to funding instruction while tuition can be used for administrative pay raises or as collateral for building projects.
(UC Office of the President officials have previously said that revenue from tuition is pledged as security for bonds, but not used to pay back bonds on construction projects.)
Meanwhile, students and their families keep taking on more debt out of the belief they will fall behind if they do not.
Wrote Brown, “Student loan debt is a bubble, like the mortgage bubble, and it cannot continue to grow indefinitely. What this means for our university — not just for students, but especially for students — is that increasing tuition is the problem, not the solution.”
UC leaders have sought to redirect the ire of students toward Sacramento, but speakers on Tuesday rejected that notion.
It’s the administration that authorizes the use of police, Brown wrote, and the administration that has proposed tuition increases than the regents have approved.
Spokeswoman Claudia Morain said UCD is pursuing a number of efforts to aid students, including increased fundraising that would pay for scholarships; its 2020 Initiative, which would boost the number of students on campus; public-private partnerships; and efforts to streamline administration.
“We’re working really hard to … diversify our sources of funding because state support has declined and we have to find new revenue sources,” she said.
At least one speaker called for UCD students to climb aboard a bus Wednesday morning and travel to join forces with Occupy San Francisco protesters in the city’s financial district. Other students from around the state have planned protests in Sacramento.
“The university is one situation among many in which we struggle against debt, exploitation and austerity. It is part of this larger struggle,” Brown wrote. “And as part of this larger struggle, the university struggle is also an anti-capitalist struggle. …
” ‘We are all debtors,’ said a student at Berkeley, as she called for this strike, and that is a powerful basis of solidarity.”
— Reach Cory Golden at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden