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Dozens arrested in Mrak lobby as regents approve fee increases

By Dave Jones on November 20, 2009 in University

Protesters occupy the lobby of Mrak Hall on Nov. 19 to protest fee hikes passed by the UC Board of Regents the same day. (Julia Ann Easley/UC Davis)

While occupying the Mrak Hall lobby, students ordered in pizza and ate as they decided their next actions. (Julia Ann Easley/UC Davis)

Protesters were warned that those who remained inside the building after 5 p.m. were subject to arrest. More than 50 people were arrested for trespassing; one woman outside of the building was arrested for assault and resisting arrest.  (Julia Ann Easley/UC Davis)

The UC Board of Regents approved student fee increases on Nov. 19 against the backdrop of protests around the 10-campus system, including one at UC Davis that ended with the arrest of more than 50 people who refused to leave the Mrak Hall lobby at closing time.

Protesters had milled around the Davis campus much of the day, entering Mrak Hall in the morning and then marching around campus and through some buildings, including Wellman Hall, Olson Hall, Shields Library, and the Activities and Recreation Center.

The protest returned to Mrak Hall, the main administration building, before noon. As the afternoon went on, the demonstrators ordered pizza and discussed their next actions.

Janet Gong, associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs, addressed the protesters and offered to schedule a meeting with Fred Wood, Student Affairs vice chancellor, and Kelly Ratliff, campus budget director. The meeting was scheduled from noon to 2 p.m. today (Nov. 20) in the ARC Ballroom.

Despite the promise of a meeting, the protest went on. At 5 p.m., police Lt. Matt Carmichael announced that Mrak was closed to the public, and people who did not leave would be subject to arrest. The majority left.

Two and a half hours later, officers started to clear the lobby. Even then, authorities gave protesters the option of leaving voluntarily, and at least two students made that choice. In the end, 52 people were arrested and taken to the Yolo County Jail in Woodland. One woman was arrested outside the building on charges of assault and resisting arrest; the others were arrested for trespass. By 11:45 a.m. today (Nov. 20), all had been given court dates and released.

Police and sheriff's deputies from Davis and Yolo County and elsewhere in the region assisted campus police in the arrests. The campus Police Department, in fact, was eight officers short—because they had been sent to UCLA to assist police on the campus where the regents meeting took place.

Police arrested and cited 14 people at UCLA on Nov. 18 when the regents' Finance Committee endorsed the fee increases—one at midyear in 2009-10, the other in 2010-11. The Associated Press reported one arrest at UCLA on Nov. 19, when the full board approved the fee increases.

The increases are expected to generate $505 million in revenue, as the UC system struggles to make up for two years of cuts in state funding—and the prospect of a $1.2 billion shortfall in 2010-11.

Besides approving the fee increases, the regents decided to ask the state for an additional $913 million, of which more than two-thirds would undo the cuts of the last two fiscal years. (This would mean the end of employee furloughs.) The rest of the money would pay for unfunded enrollment growth, health science initiatives (including funds for the first class at the UC Davis' Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing) and the employer's share of contributions to the UC Retirement Plan.

President Mark G. Yudof said the budget “is designed to provide access, maintain quality and stabilize the fiscal health of the university."

Yudof blames political leaders

During the Finance Committee meeting on Nov. 18, Yudof likened the fee increases to “a user tax” that UC is being forced to impose on students and their families. This "tax" is necessary, he said, “because our political leaders have failed to adequately fund public higher education.”

He traced a long and steady pattern of state disinvestment in the university, a slide which began when many of today's students were not yet in kindergarten. As a result, he said, UC now receives from the state half as much in support for each student as it did in 1990.

Yudof said revenue from increased fees will allow UC campuses “to restore cancelled courses that students may need to graduate on time, along with some vital student services, such as more regular library hours. We will also use this revenue to hire more faculty, and to begin to address the issue of larger class sizes.”

The added revenue from the fee increases will address only a portion of UC’s budget shortfall, which was created by unprecedented state budget cuts of $814 million in 2008-09 and $637 million in 2009-10.

In addition, UC campuses face $368 million in mandatory costs that the state failed to fund in the last two years, and $218 million in mandatory costs for 2010-11. These costs are a result of a variety of factors—enrollment that the state has left unfunded, inflation, rising utility costs, health benefit increases, and union pay raises required by collective bargaining agreements.

Undergrad fees to exceed $10,000

Regent Eddie Island, who had never voted for a fee increase, said the university had already taken steps to cuts costs and deal with the steep declines in state funding.

“We’ve done all the easy things, and we’ve done some of the hard things,” Island said. “We have no choice now but to turn to every practical source of revenue. We’re going to ask students to participate.”

He ended up voting for the fee increases—saying they were necessary to keep UC strong.

Student Regent Jesse Bernal cast the lone vote in opposition. Bernal is a graduate student at the Gevirtz School of Education at UC Santa Barbara, working toward a doctoral degree.

The new fees will be levied in two stages, and will affect California residents as follows:

Midyear—Undergraduates and graduate professional school students will see an increase of $1,170, or about 15 percent, for the rest of the 2009-10 academic year ($585 in winter quarter and $585 in spring quarter). Fees for graduate academic students will rise $222, or about 2.6 percent ($111 in winter quarter and $111 in spring quarter).

2010-11—All students will see an additional 15 percent increase, or $1,334, beginning next summer.

California resident undergrads, therefore, will be charged $10,292 a year for their UC educations by next fall, up $2,504, or about 32 percent, from $7,788 at the start of the 2009-10 academic year. The systemwide fees do not include campus fees, or room and board and books.

The regents also approved increases in professional school fees, ranging from $280 to $5,696. More information on professional school fees.

Yudof urged people to view the fee increases in the context of the overall budget plan and the ongoing financial downturn that has all but paralyzed the state budget process.

“We can no longer tolerate fiscal uncertainty and continual cutting as we wait for Sacramento to navigate through this crisis,” he said. “We will keep working hard with state political leaders to restore the university’s funding to an appropriate level. In the meantime, however, we must act now to shore up our own finances if we are to preserve the quality and ensure the access that California expects from the world’s premier public research university system. 

“I know this is a painful day for university students and their families, but as I stand here today I can assure you this is our one best shot at preventing this recession from pulling down a great system toward mediocrity. In the long term, that would not be good for the students of today or tomorrow. And it would be devastating for California as a whole.”

A boost to financial aid

As has been past practice, UC will allocate more than a third of the added revenue from the fee increases—about $175 million in this case—to financial aid.

Not only that, but the regents this week approved an expansion of UC's Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, so that students wiith household incomes of $70,000 or less will have all their systemwide fees covered if they are eligible for financial aid. With the expansion, the plan is expected to provide full fee coverage to an additional 800 undergraduates; UC projects that, overall, 52,000 undergrads will be covered under the Blue and Gold in 2010-11.

UC officicials said three-quarters of students with family incomes under $180,000 will receive sufficient aid money (along with Cal Grants, federal Pell Grants and federal tuition tax credits) to cover all of the 2009-10 fee increases (the one at the start of the academic year and this new one, at midyear).

Further, with Project You Can (a systemwide, $1 billion fundraising drive for student support) and expected increases in UC grants and Cal Grants for 2010-11, the 45 percent of students who receive these awards will have enough extra money to cover the 2010-11 fee increase. Students with family incomes up to $70,000 per year typically qualify for Cal Grants and UC grants.

Other students with financial need will have half of the 2010-11 fee increase covered if their parents’ income falls below $120,000—an increase in the cap from $100,000. Also, middle-income families will continue to benefit from federal higher education tax credits in 2010.

As hundreds of students engaged in protests around the system, about a dozen students from UCLA, Berkeley, Riverside and Irvine testified during the Finance Committee meeting.

Graduate student Adam Fowler said professional school students would be particularly hard hit. "The idea that we are future earning machines, that we're all going to be wealthy doctors and lawyers is mistaken," he said. "We need your support. We ask that you re-examine old stereotypes."

The regents halted the committee meeting three times when people in the audience began shouting and singing. police cleared the room, and eight audience members who refused to leave were arrested and then released. Six students were given citations for disturbing the peace and released.

Students rallied outside Covel Commons where the three-day meeting took place. They carried out two days of fee protests, camping out on the UCLA campus and continuing the protest during the final board vote.

Yudof urged students to join him and the regents in taking the fight to Sacramento and Washington, D.C. UC has launched a new advocacy campaign, UC for California, to convince state lawmakers to fully fund the university's budget request. Yudof also is calling on the federal government to play a bigger role in funding higher education.

The regents' request for an additional $913 million in state funding breaks down as follows:

$637.1 million to restore academic offerings, faculty hiring, student services and other programs cut due to state budget reductions.

$155.8 million to support the 14,000 students who are attending the university, but for whom the state provides no funding.

$10.4 million for health science initiatives: $10 million for a new medical school at UC Riverside and $400,000 to fund the first class at the UC Davis nursing school.

$109.8 million as a state contribution to the UC Retirement Plan and retiree health benefit costs. UC and its employees have not contributed for nearly 20 years, because of a contribution "holiday" that began when the plan's investments brought in a big return.

Now, as the global economic downturn cuts into the plan's return on investments, and as payouts go up and accrued liabilities are factored in, the plan's funded status has dipped below 100 percent—to 95 percent, according to the latest actuarial valuation report.

Therefore, the Board of Regents has scheduled a restart in employer and employee contributions for April 15, 2010.

In asking the state to pay the employer's share ($96 million a year to start), UC officials point out that the state has saved more than $2 billion by not putting in anything during the long contribution "holiday."

Fact sheet on fees and financial aid

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556, dljones@ucdavis.edu

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