UC Davis students stage walkout to protest tuition hikes

UC Davis students caught in the tug-of-war over proposed tuition increases took to bullhorns, then to city streets before occupying a campus hall Monday to protest the planned hikes.

“No hikes, no fees! Education must be free!” hundreds of students chanted as they marched through the Memorial Union and into downtown Davis.

Students at Davis and other University of California campuses walked out of their classes simultaneously at noon Monday to protest planned tuition hikes totaling nearly 28 percent over the next five years that regents approved last week. The increases are considered an opening move by the UC system before months of budget negotiations with lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown, who opposes the hikes and has called on the system to cut costs instead.

As at Davis, protests at UC campuses in Los Angeles, Berkeley and Santa Cruz were spirited but peaceful, according to the Associated Press.

By 2 p.m. Monday, students had set up camp at UC Davis’ Olson Hall, where they settled in for more demonstrations, speeches and strategy sessions. It was unclear how long the students planned to occupy Olson, said Milton Lang, a university associate vice chancellor. “They may be here through tonight, maybe through the Thanksgiving holiday. We don’t know.”

Tori White, a graduate student instructor, moved her comparative literature class from Wellman Hall to Olson Hall to give students a learning experience. They discussed “utopia vs. dystopia” as they convened in tight rows on a hall staircase in solidarity with demonstrators while someone droned above on a bullhorn.

Davis students gathered on the campus quad, joined by local organized labor leaders and carrying hand-drawn signs that stated, “Raise Hell, not fees,” and “Education is not a Debt Sentence.”

“We’re sick and tired of balancing work and homework. We’re sick and tired of giving money we don’t have to UC regents,” Mina Arasteh, a second-year environmental policy student from Moraga, shouted from a bullhorn.

Many others echoed Arianna Manabat, 18, a first-year engineering student from Stockton. She fears that the cost of a UC education continues to move further out of her reach with no relief in sight. Still others fret over what they see as the continuing privatization of California’s public university system and the salaries that top administrators command.

“Most of us come from middle-class families. It’s financially hard as middle-class students. I’ve taken out $3,000 in loans, and my family is surviving on rice and beans back home,” Manabat said. “Education I can take to my grave, and they want to take that away from me? I ask, ‘What can I do for my university?’ But I want to know what my university can do for me.”

They were joined by Sacramento labor leader Bill Camp, who linked the struggles of California’s students to the state’s working class. He drew cheers, telling the young crowd, “Your fight is our fight. Your struggle is our struggle. You’re the leaders of this state.”

Amid protests at Davis and other campuses, UC officials Monday maintained that the proposed tuition increases are needed to expand access statewide, but they also called on Brown and state lawmakers to provide more funding to the UC system.

Spokesman Steve Montiel said the system needs more revenue to increase capacity at campuses. The goal is to boost enrollment by 5,000 students over the next five years.

“We’re doing that for the students of tomorrow as well,” he said. “Access is important to us.

“We have the same objectives (as students): to maintain the quality of a UC education and maintain access. We’re hopeful that in negotiations with the governor and Legislature, we can find a way to increase funding to the UC, so there’s no need for a tuition increase.”

The protests Monday at UC Davis had special resonance on a campus where three years ago last week student demonstrators were doused with pepper spray by university police during Occupy-style tuition protests. At least one demonstrator’s placard referenced the ugly incident that prompted international scorn: “Not Afraid of Pepper Spray,” the sign read.

Police appeared far less visible Monday in a day of loud but peaceful demonstration.

Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.