Campus Prepares for October 7 Public Education Protests

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A year after drastic student fee increases and furloughs sparked massive protests throughout the UC system, students, staff and faculty at UC Berkeley and around the nation are gearing up for another week of sit-ins, walkouts, teach-ins and teach-outs in defense of public education.

Similar to last year, unions will picket campus, some classes will hold sections outside of the campus's administrative offices at California Hall, professors will speak at teach-ins and activists will rally on Upper Sproul Plaza on Oct. 7.

But this year, without the immediacy of a 32 percent fee increase, activists say the week's protests will be less about achieving specific demands and more about convincing the campus community that - though furloughs are over and fee increases have been implemented - the long term effects of massive losses in state funding on the university are only now coming into focus.

Student activists and professors alike point to a recent announcement by campus officials to lay off 200 campus employees as part of an effort to make the campus more efficient, a freeze in faculty hiring, a proposal to develop online courses at the UC, a rise in out-of-state student enrollment and the elimination of four intercollegiate athletic teams last week as signs of how the UC is changing after losing hundreds of millions of dollars in state funds.

With California facing a $24 billion budget gap last year, the state cut $637 million in funding to the UC system. Though Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a $370 million increase for the system this year, it is unclear whether that funding will materialize, as state leaders continue to quibble over this year's state budget, which is 96 days late as of today.

"I think (Oct. 7) is just getting people oriented towards the struggle for the public good the same exact way that (the Sept. 24 walkout) was," said Ricardo Gomez, the ASUC external affairs vice president, who has been organizing many of the events of Oct. 7. "It wasn't necessarily getting the demands met, it was about getting people on to the idea that there is something wrong with the way our society is going in terms of support for public goods."

Similar to the national scope of March 4 - a day picked by California activists in 2009 to "defend public education" - the themes of Oct. 7 have resonated around the country. The University of Georgia, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University at Albany, State University of New York and dozens of other public universities around the nation have protests, rallies or other actions planned for Oct. 7. The American Association of University Professors has also endorsed the day of action.

"(Oct. 7) is much more about trying to rally people about the fact that long-term support for public education has been slowly shrivelling," said Richard Walker, a professor of geography at UC Berkeley who is set to speak at a campus teach-in Wednesday. "That is less dramatic than some fee increase, but is just as important because all the fee increases and all the cutbacks are all because of state cutbacks for public education."

As the scope of this week's protests becomes larger, the demands and groups taking part in actions are also increasing. On Wednesday, members of UC Berkeley's Latino community will rally at California Hall to protest drops in Latino enrollment at the campus. At a meeting held two weeks ago to plan for Oct. 7, demands ranged from stopping the layoffs of 200 campus employees under Operational Excellence to establishing financial aid for undocumented students.

Though some at the meeting criticized the sprawling nature of plans and demands, others say that diversity is a hallmark of the still-developing student movement.

"Never have students across the board united in one vision and organized actions to support that vision," said Viola Tang, ASUC academic affairs vice president, in an e-mail. "I believe that the multitude of demands are united in their over arching theme and idea, which only strengthens the movement."


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

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