UC students, staff protest budget cuts

September 24, 2009 6:46:45 PM PDT
From U.C. Berkeley, and campuses up and down California, the call goes out to "Save Our University." On Thursday, a huge statewide demonstration was held, aimed at ending an era of budget cuts and fee increases.

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Students and faculty walked out en masse on all 10 campuses in the University of California system. They were loud, angry, and determined to fight cuts they believe are cutting into the core of one of the best universities in the country.

Earlier this summer, the legislature made more than $3 billion in cuts to state colleges and universities and the U.C. system had to absorb a huge chunk of that money. Nonetheless, it's the way U.C.'s Board of Regents and president Mark Yudof have imposed cuts in the form of tuition hikes and layoffs -- that fueled Thursday's protests.

The massive protest was a symbolic move meant to send a powerful message.

The crowd changed "Who's university? Our university!"

Students, faculty, and campus staff walked out of class and off the job to protest budget cuts and the tuition increase U.C.'s regents are expected to approve that would raise tuition to more than $10,000 a year.

Campus police estimate 5,000 people spilled into Sproul Plaza.

"Last week the university in the spirit of quote sharing the pain, saw fit to lay off 34 custodians. That's a quarter of the people who clean the campus," said gardener Kathryn Lybarger.

"They tried to make education not a human right but a privilege that can only be afforded by the rich," said student Luis Angel Reyes.

The protests began before dawn outside campus and continued at the U.C. headquarters in downtown Oakland. Marchers circled campus and then took to the streets. Entire departments, like the group from anthropology, walked out. Even the youngest students couldn't help, but be reminded of another era.

"40 years ago, with Mario Savio on these same steps, was here it was a free speech movement," said a student to the crowd.

Regardless, for some it was just another day of class.

"There are other way of solving this problem besides skipping class and doing this. If you really want to make a change, vote," says senior student Muhammad Binmahfouz, a political science major.

Campus officials say it's impossible to know how many of Berkeley's 2,000 professors cancelled class. Some held class outside, others turned the classroom discussions to the state budget. Those who did walk out said they had good reason.

"We're gathering together to tell Mark Yudof and the regents and ultimately Arnold Schwarzenegger, that the solutions that are being proposed are completely unacceptable," said Lyn Hejinian, a professor of English.

Berkeley officials ABC7 spoke to said they feel the pain of the protesters and they blame the state for having to impose these cuts. Thursday's protest was largely peaceful. Police made no arrests. Perhaps the most tangible impact was that the campus library was forced to close for the day because employees participated in the walk out.

A full list of times and places for the picket sites for Thursday's protests is available at www.upte.org/strikelocations.html.

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