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UC Regents meeting: Students voice concerns over tuition fees, police violence

Hundreds of students angry over rising tuition fees and campus violence against peaceful protesters converged on University of California campuses as the UC Regents met via teleconference on four campuses in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Merced and Davis. No arrests were made at any of the UC campuses, UC officials said.

About 100 people attended the packed teleconference at UCLA in the James West Aumni Center. UC Regents chair Sherry Lansing opened the meeting addressing the “deeply disturbing” recent incidents of university police violence at UC Berkeley where police jabbed protesters with batons and UC Davis where they pepper-sprayed peaceful protesters sitting on campus.

Video of recent police violence on campus went viral, inflaming many in the Occupy movement and students already upset with tuition fee increases and education budget cuts.

In response, UC Davis issued multiple statements and placed three police officers on administrative leave pending a review of the incident. UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi has asked that all charges be dropped against arrested students and for UC to cover medical bills of students who received medical attention, Lansing said.

“We fully and unequivocally support your right to protest peacefully,” Lansing said. "You may be surprised to know that many of us who serve as regents were student activists during our college years.”

More than 100 of the 150 people waiting to address the UC Regents spoke during the public comment period, university officials said. The comment period is usually about 15 minutes and was extended by the regents to about two hours, in order to accommodate the overflow of public interest. The meeting was initially scheduled for November, but was postponed and held instead by teleconference because of security concerns, Lansing said.

Students, union leaders, professors and lecturers at the four campuses took turns addressing the regents. Most spoke passionately against the increase in tuition and cuts to education funding. Students pushed for the regents to improve transparency by adding more student regents and to sign the ReFund California Pledge, which aims to shift costs to the wealthy. Lansing said she will be meeting with members of the group to learn more and ask questions about it.

The regents emphasized early on that no tuition fees would be discussed at the meeting. Instead, officials talked about the expenditure-only budget that needs to be sent to the governor.

“The governor is putting together a budget proposal and must know what UC needs,” said UC President Mark Yudof. He said the system is hoping for a $400 million increase to $2.7 billion.

“That is roughly $500 million less than the state’s funding at its high point a few years ago,” Yudof said. “…We’re only asking for a partial restoration. But if we can do that, we can avoid asking for increased tuition.”

UCLA graduate student Cheryl Deutsch dismissed the comments regents made about trying to restore funding. She called them bankers, financiers, real estate developers and members of the corporate elite.

“You are not representatives of the people of California, and you are not representatives of the students of the UC,” said Deutsch, who is also head of UAW local 2865, to loud applause. “You are the 1%. You said here today you’re going to go ask the state for money, but you have no concrete proposals of where that money is going to come from or how it’s going to get to the UC. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

Harrison Weber, undergraduate student government president at UCSB, said a system that costs $22,000 in tuition is a “betrayal” of the state’s promise of public education and an “assault” on the future of that promise.

Nick Valdez, a lecturer at UC Merced, is also a graduate of the UC system: “I have the massive student loan debt to prove it,” he told the regents Monday.

“By pursuing a policy based on numbers alone, we can expect in the near future UC will be for the already privileged alone.”

Regents chair Lansing said dialogue would continue over the next few weeks as she and other regents try and visit campuses to talk to students. She said she hoped to organize a protest in January where the regents could march side-by-side with students at the state Capitol to oppose education budget cuts.

“We can use our voices and your voices,” Lansing said.

Shortly after the end of the public comment period, at about 11:45 a.m., students at various campuses interrupted the continuation of the UC Regents meeting with chanting. Protesters yelled "Mic check!" and shouted in unison, forcing the UC regents to leave the room. At UCLA students demanded the regents "evacuate" immediately and said the meeting was an “unlawful assembly.”

UCLA graduate student Anthony Trochez led the students in a chant with them repeating each line after him.

“We now declare this space. The peoples’ regents. Where we will discuss. Our visions of the UC. So now as facilitator. I turn it to us. What is it we want to see at our university,” Trochez said.

When Lansing tried to speak, she was told by chanting students: “Wait your turn, wait your turn.”

The regents ultimately left the room and went next door to continue their meeting via teleconference.

The regents unanimously approved a budget for next year that includes a $411 million dollar additional request from Sacramento. If granted, it will help UC hire instructors, increase enrollment and avoid raising tuition. Students in the regular meeting room rearranged the chairs into a circle and held a teach-in. Meanwhile, the roughly 150 protesters outside chanted — their numbers slowly dwindling over the next hour.

Police waited in the wings in riot gear to prevent students from crowding into the regents meeting room. A mutual aid request brought police from throughout the South Bay to campus.

After the meeting Lansing expressed frustration that a small group of students disrupted the meeting and that they were unwilling to comply with speaking procedures; instead, students broke into the meeting at various points with vocal comments from their seats in the audience.

“I love the students and I want to work with them, and I can only work if there’s dialogue on both sides,” Lansing said.

Lansing and another UC regent Eddie Island along with Chancellor Gene Block, UC Riverside Chancellor Tim White and UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake then returned to the first meeting room to speak with students gathered in a circle.

The group spoke for about 30 minutes and agreed to sit down and hold another meeting in the next few weeks to discuss student concerns.

Lansing also said she had no objection to students wishing to attend meetings or be in the room. Students were told others who wanted to join them could do so as long as it did not create a fire hazard. Students asked that police be sent away and university officials agreed.

“Put your questions on a piece of paper as we do, I beg you,” Lansing said. “…And those questions will be answered.”

Lansing left for another meeting on education the W Hotel and told students they were welcome to join, but she had to go.

Students remained in the room talking for an hour afterward. Several expressed dismay over the power dynamics of the discussion.

“This was more like a PR move,” said Samantha Blanco, a senior UCLA anthropology student. " 'We talked to them and we left'…You have to trust we are intelligent enough to have a discussion.”

UC officials are currently reviewing protocol regarding peaceful protests on campus and police use-of-force policies after amateur video spread online showing UC Berkeley police using batons against limp protestors and a UC Davis police officer releasing large quantities of pepper spray into the faces of sitting students who would not move but otherwise offered no resistance.

Bob Samuels, a lecturer at UCLA and president of the University Council - American Federation of Teachers, spoke during the public comment period Monday. He said he has looked at various police codes on UC campuses and found them inconsistent. Samuels said the use of nonlethal weapons creates a gray zone, and that police should be unarmed, as they are in other countries.

The UC Berkeley Police Officers' Association released an open letter to the Cal community Monday:

UC President Mark G. Yudof spoke with all 10 UC campus chancellors after the incidents on campuses and ordered a system-wide review of use-of-force policies on campus, and police training and protocol regarding peaceful protests.

Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, said via teleconference at the UC Regents meeting that he was “deeply offended and appalled” by what he saw in the videos, and impressed by how students chose to handle the incidents, for example, by choosing to respond to Chancellor Katehi with silence.

“We all talk about the fact that we value the rights of students to express themselves and we value the First Amendment,” Perez said. “But clearly what we saw in the police response was incongruous with our expressed values, and it really raises the question of what message we’re sending throughout the institution if that was a response the police officers thought was appropriate.”

Former LAPD chief Bill Bratton will undertake an independent fact-finding review of what happened on campus and prepare a report within 30 days to present to a task force of students, faculty and staff. On Monday, Yudof said former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso will chair the task force. The group will review the report and make recommendations.

“We can't change the past but we can change the way we act in the future,” Lansing said.

Tami Abdollah can be reached at and