Students' Cries Fall on Deaf Ears in Gubernatorial Debate

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Gubernatorial Debate and Protest

Students attend the gubernatorial debate between Democratic Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman. Some organized a protest for higher education, which also took place.



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DAVIS, Calif. - As Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman sparred at UC Davis in the first of three gubernatorial debates Tuesday, around 40 UC Berkeley students protested outside of the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, hoping their presence would push funding for the state's university systems to the top of the two candidates' agendas.

But despite the students cries from outside the center asking both candidates, "What's your plan?" neither laid out concrete proposals for the future of the University of California.

Instead, both said they value the state's three public university systems as essential to California but said they could not guarantee reductions in student fees.

Responding to a question from a UC Davis student, Brown said he could not guarantee restoring UC budget cuts, which totaled $637 million in the 2009-10 fiscal year alone.

"Would I roll all the fees back? Not in my first year with a $19 billion deficit," he said at the debate. "We have to get real here. I certainly don't want to see them go up."

Whitman said she would give $1 billion to the UC and CSU systems through welfare reform and cuts to government, though her plans have been criticized as "dubious" by some economic experts.

When asked by the moderator if she would reduce student fees, Whitman said she would leave it up to campus chancellors to decide how to spend her planned savings.

"If we can give you back a billion dollars over the next two or three years, would you want to invest that in research, faculty, reduce fees? What's the best way to make your campuses great for every child?" she said.

Many UC students who watched the debate said both candidates' plans were lacking in substance. Joey Chen, a junior majoring in political science and ASUCD Controller at UC Davis, said he expected their positions to be abbreviated given the time constraints of the debate, though he objected to Whitman's plan to let campus chancellors divvy up new funds. He said his campus's administration had been secretive when they made their decision to cut four sports teams in April.

Kat Lockwood, a UC Berkeley junior who made the roughly 70-mile trip to UC Davis, said after the debate that prioritizing higher education was her number one issue in the November election, though she could not come to a decision between the two candidates.

"They need to have a way more detailed plan in order to get the vote of California students," she said.

Lucas Zucker, chair of UC Berkeley's chapter of CALPIRG and organizer of the bus trip dubbed "Tailgate the Debate," said the debate was the best opportunity to make higher education a priority for the candidates given its UC locale. Brown and Whitman will debate again on Saturday at Fresno State University.

"We've already seen a lot of the student activism have an impact on our current governor and to the extent that these two candidates have already put out platforms on education, is because students have been calling for it," Zucker said.

Kevin Quach, a freshman at UC Davis, watched the debate with 40 other students at a campus dormitory and said though both candidates said they would try to restore funds to the university, he is not holding his breath.

"Obviously it is a bad budget, a huge deficit and something will have to be sacrificed," he said.

Tags: GOVERNOR'S RACE, UC DAVIS, CALPIRG, MEG WHITMAN, JERRY BROWN


Javier Panzar is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected]



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