Students Defy Attack on Higher Education in
By Kate Maich and Paul Abowd
Annual fees at the
were $685. Thirty years later, they were $10,302 as the
oversee 10 campuses throughout the state voted to raise
fees by 32 percent, to begin next fall. Schools
throughout the state's three-tiered public education
system-including hundreds of state schools and junior
colleges-are also seeing fee hikes and program cuts.
September 24 walkout turns into a march and rally at UC
Berkeley-photo by Lara Brucker/Daily Californian
In response, an unprecedented coalition of students and
workers is fighting the attacks on affordable higher
education with large-scale democratic organizing,
including marches, teach-ins, strikes, and building
occupations. Technical, clerical, and service workers,
facing layoffs and cuts at the bargaining table, have
also entered the fray.
"There has never been a coalition like this on campus,"
says Claudette Begin, whose clerical workers union, the
Coalition of University Employees, called a two-day
strike together with technical workers (UPTE) at UC
Berkeley and UCLA.
the first exam is referred to as "dead week." It made a
lively comeback this December when students, workers,
and community members "liberated" Wheeler Hall, a major
classroom building, during an open occupation that
lasted four days. Students reclaimed the space for
meeting and study, holding lectures and teach-ins on
the budget crisis, distributing literature on the fee
hikes, and dancing. At the end of each night, students
diligently mopped the lobby floor.
The takeover wasn't easily accomplished. Police
videotaped protesters and threatened arrests of those
who peaceably remained inside on the first night.
Months of democratic organizing lay behind the
operations. Two- to three-hour open meetings of the
general assembly, student-worker action team, and
graduate student organizing committee drew hundreds.
Students and workers voted for three days of action to
coincide with the Regents meeting in late November,
where the tuition hike would be decided. Students also
called a three-day strike at
the clerical and technical workers' walkouts. Then on
November 20, students barricaded themselves inside the
second floor of Wheeler Hall. They communicated their
demands by bullhorn to thousands of supporters gathered
outside: rehire laid off service workers, make the
budget transparent, and reverse the fee hikes. UPTE
members set up pickets, to protest what they call the
university's "illegal bargaining tactics," and called a rally.
UC called in several police departments which were
unable to break the barricades for several hours as
students held the doors and called, unsuccessfully, for
negotiations. "They kept yelling through the doors,
'prepare for the beat-down,'" said UC grad student Zach Levenson.
Throughout the day, students linked arms in tussles
with cops, while others sat down in the street to block
police trucks entering campus. Police eventually
arrested 40, but faculty and students negotiated their
release. The cuffs came off and the students emerged
before a cheering crowd.
Service workers with AFSCME Local 3299 have helped
support student organizing against fee hikes. They
blocked a back entrance to the building, one of several
actions aimed at reversing layoffs-44 have lost their
hike and then cut services on campus?" asked AFSCME
President Lakesha Harrison.
Students at UC Davis and
occupations during the week of the Regents meeting,
which was held at UCLA. The administrators were greeted
campus workers established a tent city outside the
meeting-which took place behind a police line. As at
Berkeley, UPTE workers walked out.
Eric Gardner, a member of the Coalition of University
Employees, spent the day running between an assembly
outside the Regents meeting and another that formed
outside Campbell Hall, where dozens of students had
locked themselves in. "After they voted for the tuition
hikes, the anger was palpable," he says. "People more
or less spontaneously blocked the Regents from leaving."
For three hours, activists sat down in front of a
garage where a van full of "fee-hikers" was trying to
escape. The police attacked the students with pepper
spray. Though their demands were not met,
the culture has already changed. "Campus has been quiet
for years," he said. "We did this to show we can take
over this place."
relies more heavily on state funding than does the UC
system, which draws only about 20 percent of its budget
from the state. Summertime budget cuts turned into
department cuts, teacher layoffs, and fee hikes at CSU.
Student occupation at SFSU -photo by Luz Clemente, www.indybay.org.
population is dropping out in droves, unable to weather
new fees or find classes they need. Undergraduate Ryan
Sturges, an organizer with Student Unity & Power, says
the hikes (he paid $300 more this semester) are helping
construct a multi-million-dollar recreation center
aimed at attracting a wealthier "clientele." Sturges
and 300 students marched into the administration
building in late November as part of an open
occupation. Two weeks later, 20 students locked down
the SFSU business building for a day. Police broke
through student pickets outside and, with guns drawn, arrested them.
Huge public events don't mean that the movement has
been a huge success, however, as protests have left
some students alienated and many on the sidelines.
Nevertheless, the fee hikes remain, as do the UC
Regents-an undemocratic, appointed body with little
concern for the workers and students most affected.
The statewide resistance has brought questions of
class, race, and privilege to the fore as the new fees
will make public education unreachable for many
residents. Despite UC President Yudof's claims that
financial aid will rise, there won't be enough to
offset hikes, which will disproportionately affect
working class students and students of color-only 3.5
percent of students currently at
Organizers are crafting a different list of priorities
for the school. "We don't want to just return to the
way the university was in, say, 2007," says
Levenson. The list includes lowering the pay of the
highest-salaried administrators, re-emphasizing
outreach to communities of color, halting construction
projects funded by fee hikes, making governance
structures more democratic, and "de-privatizing" as
Levenson says. This list is essential as 80 percent of
UC funding comes from private sources.
The fight against privatization of education-a public
good-isn't happening only in
tied to a series of strikes, rallies, walkouts, and
occupations taking place in schools across the
being shared in solidarity with a much larger movement.
net, fomenting an ambitious March 4 student and worker
strike throughout the state's education system that
will bring together K-12 and higher education activists.
Kate Maich is a graduate student in sociology at
for Labor Notes. His work has appeared in Monthly Review WebZine and Electronic Intifada. For a tactical
guide to student sit-ins, go to "Strikes" on www.labornotes.org/blogs.