In Sacramento, students take a stand for the future of UC

SACRAMENTO — Fourth-year student Ryan McDaniel hopes to travel after he graduates. As an art history major, that’s important, he says. But even with financial aid, he has thousands of dollars in loans to be repaid. “I’m not sure I’ll be able,” he says. “I may have to take whatever job I can. I’m stuck.”

McDaniel took his frustration to Sacramento Wednesday, where a group of about 50 UC Berkeley students joined an equal number from UC Davis to rally on the steps of the Capitol and lobby legislators inside. Their message: “no” to continued funding cuts to public education, “yes” to structural changes needed to increase available state funds.

The day was planned on short notice, after UC regents canceled a Nov. 16 meeting, at which students had planned to protest fee increases. On the charter-bus ride north to Sacramento, conversation about state funding cuts to UC and events of recent days was intense.

“We have a lot of positive energy from this movement,” said ASUC Senator Shahryar Abbasi, referring to the Occupy movement. “We need to translate that into action.”

Similar UC days of action in recent years have called on legislators to support public education. This time, student after student cited the Occupy movement, a rising tide of student debt and a demand not just for better funding but for structural changes.

“More money needs to come from the people who can pay,” said Ph.D. student John Erickson. “The California tax and political system needs to change for that to happen.”

For sociology major Sean Rayani, the action in Sacramento was his first protest ever. “I’m seeing the momentum” of the Occupy movement, the Berkeley junior added. “There’s an immense contagion.”

Student holds sign on Capitol steps

Berkeley Law student Alexandra Havrylyshyn joins a rally against state cuts to public education funding.

From a legislative chamber inside the Capitol, students wrote postcards to legislators and — in a fast, noisy session — flooded legislative offices with cellphone calls, as their counterparts across the state did the same from their own UC campuses.

Later they held a rally and press conference on the north steps of the Capitol, where UC students spoke, along with two Berkeley campus leaders — Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer and Professor Bob Jacobsen, chair of the Academic Senate.

“I’m speaking from the heart. It is a beautiful thing to have observed for 40 years, how this community college system and CSU system and UC system created together the glory of this state,” Breslauer told the crowd.

“It takes 100 years to build that. It takes 10 years to destroy it. Please, whatever it takes, please don’t let it be destroyed.”

The UC rally and action was held just hours before the state legislative analyst’s office announced its budget projection for the fiscal year, a shortfall of $3.7 billion. If confirmed by the Finance Department in mid-December, such a projection is likely to trigger another devastating cut to UC, on top of $1 billion since 2007-08.

‘Don’t let public higher ed in California be destroyed’:
Provost George Breslauer’s remarks in Sacramento

Asked by the press about the likelihood of additional cuts to UC, Joey Freeman, ASUC VP for External Affairs, said that the day’s protest “is just the first step in a continuing conversation.”

Currently, he said, the focus is on educating students about Proposition 13 and how it has choked off available state funds. Freeman said students hoped to get a proposition for reform of Prop 13 on the state ballot in the near future.