In their own words: UC Berkeley students on the impact of campus budget cuts

When all is said and done, the story of the 2009-10 academic year at the University of California is the story of unprecedented cuts in state funding. Numbers tell part of the story: $813 million in cuts for the UC system, nearly $150 million of that at the Berkeley campus. The shortfall has precipitated layoffs, furloughs, service reductions, sharp fee hikes, a search for streamlining and efficiencies, and months of advocacy efforts in Sacramento and protests on and off campus.

What has all this meant, in practice, to students trying to get an education? The NewsCenter spoke recently to 12 randomly chosen students in and around Sproul Plaza, to ask if and how the budget cuts have affected their personal experience at Berkeley this academic year. Here’s what 11 undergraduates and one graduate student had to say.

José Marquez‘Both of my parents are teachers. I get no financial aid whatsoever; everything for my college education is getting paid by my dad. For that reason, I had to take all my classes super fast — add classes and take summer school — in order to graduate a year early and save thousands of dollars. I’ve taken an average of 18, 19 units a semester — including three hard sciences at one time (when everyone else was taking one or two). That was a lot of stress. I couldn’t really stop and enjoy school; I just had to hurry up.’

— José Marquez, junior, molecular and cell biology, hometown: Calexico, CA


Salman Qasim‘This first year I couldn’t afford to live on campus, so I have to commute from home. I take the BART every morning, which makes things a lot more difficult academics-wise. I missed the dorm experience completely. Next year it depends on my financial aid offer. Unless I get great financial aid, I can’t live on campus again.’

— Salman Qasim, freshman, hometown: Fremont, CA


Jessica Clark‘The biggest thing is the cost of living. Tuition is higher. So how are we going to pay for housing? I’ve been trying to work odd jobs — working events at the Convention Center in San Francisco, distributing boxes for Comcast, flyer distribution. I find them on Craigslist. I just worked after school all week, from 5 to 11 p.m., greeting executives for the Cisco convention. My mom is confused and a little worried about me trying to work all these extra hours while going to school. She’s worried about my grades.’

— Jessica Clark, freshman, hometown: Manteca, CA


Patrick Rogers‘I work more hours during the summer to pay for things; I also take out more loans. Though I planned ahead; I’ve been saving. I’ve worked since I was 15 — at a steel mill, and then at Del Taco. Now, over the summer, I’m continuing to work, usually 45 hours a week.’

— Patrick Rogers, freshman, hometown: Falbrook, CA


Nick Palmquist‘It’s ironic: this year when the fees went up, I stopped working and took out extra loans — knowing that I wanted to engage in the student politics around the budget cuts. I thought it was worth my time and my experience, because I really want to get into organizing. I’m working with students and with the workers too. I’m also trying to connect up Oakland high schoolers with the budget-cut movements here — because their budget cuts are just as bad as ours, if not worse.’

— Nick Palmquist, senior, development studies, hometown: Berkeley, CA


Jonathan Peña‘I’m from an area where the budget cuts are going to have a big impact. The campus has to start getting more out-of-state kids who can pay more money — which is closing up spots for people from my community. I see my cousins or my little brothers and sisters having less chance than I did, which was already minuscule and competitive. It’s making it tougher for people in the immediate vicinity to take advantage of one of the best schools in the country.’

— Jonathan Peña, junior, political science, hometown: Hayward, CA


Jessica Vuong‘My minor is Asian American studies. We were supposed to have a discussion section in my course on Asian American women. But the department doesn’t have enough money to afford graduate-student instructors. So it was just lecture twice a week; that was it. I like discussions. I like having lecture separately, and then you come in the next day, after you’ve absorbed the material, to discuss more. You get to bounce ideas off of each other. To have lost that because of budget cuts, I think it’s detrimental to our educational experience.’

— Jessica Vuong, junior, molecular and cell biology, hometown: Orange Co., CA


Alan Farahani‘Since they’re cutting back classes, there’s fewer and fewer courses that grad students like myself can teach. It becomes pretty difficult to find a position — and we need that for funding in order to survive. I’m right now scrambling to find things to teach for next semester.’

— Alan Farahani, third-year graduate student, archeology, hometown: Newark, NJ


Tim Maloney‘Financially the budget cuts haven’t affected me as much as some of my friends. I have had added frustration dealing with the cutbacks in classes and discussion sections. Most likely a class will already be filled up by the time you can get into the TeleBears system. You show up for the class and hope you get in. You go the first day, or the first week. You might have to go for two weeks, trying to get in.’

— Tim Maloney, junior, rhetoric and film, hometown: Exeter, CA


Jenna Westendorf‘The protesting as a result of the budget cuts has impacted me personally. I’ve had students come in to my classes and start arguing with the professor — disrupting the classroom, making it difficult for the people who are actually trying to get an education…. I’m creating my own major — interdisciplinary studies with a focus on education and society. Most of the time spots in classes are reserved specifically for people who have declared a major in that department. Because of the budget cuts, there’s absolutely no room for people who are creating their own major.’

— Jenna Westendorf, sophomore, interdisciplinary studies, hometown: Granite Bay, CA


Andrew Rohrlich‘The cuts have affected me and my friends, because the campus libraries have less hours; Doe Library isn’t open on Saturday. So there’s a lot less places you can go if you need to research or study.’

— Andrew Rohrlich, freshman, hometown: Los Angeles, CA


Nicole Small‘The budget cuts haven’t had a direct effect on me. My department has done a good job of making sure that classes stay small and intimate. But I know people in the sciences have seen larger classes, or are not having enough personal time with GSIs, or not having GSIs at all. It’s a very difficult time for everyone. We students try to make our voices heard. We try to figure out a way to make this work.’

— Nicole Small, senior, American Studies, hometown: Los Angeles, CA