IRVINE — Four college students called off a 15-day hunger strike Wednesday, citing health reasons and claiming assurances from three University of California regents that the board's ban on affirmative action would be reconsidered.
At a news conference at UC Irvine where the liquid-only fast started, the four Latino students declared victory, even though their demand for affirmative action programs at the 162,000-student university system was not met.
"Our bodies and our minds do not allow us to continue with this hunger strike any longer," said UC Irvine student Cesar Cruz, 21, seated in a wheelchair.
Still, he said, the hunger strike was "a major victory."
However, a spokesman for Gov. Pete Wilson predicted Wednesday that a move to place affirmative action back on the regents' agenda on Nov. 16 would fail, because it takes a clear majority to do so.
"It doesn't surprise me that a few regents want to have it reconsidered," said Paul Kranhold, Wilson's spokesman. "It takes more than three."
The regents voted 15 to 10 in July to abolish affirmative action programs.
According to the hunger strikers, UC Regents Ralph Carmona of Sacramento, Judith Levin of Los Angeles and student member Ed Gomez from UC Riverside promised to try to put the subject on the agenda.
But Carmona, who voted to retain affirmative action programs, said he never spoke to the strikers. Levin, who was in Oregon, and Gomez, a vocal critic of the regents' vote, could not be reached.
The hunger strikers, who broke ceremonial bread during the news conference, said they will recuperate for a few days and then emerge with details about a new student movement aimed at "social justice." A fifth hunger striker had ended his fast earlier.
Earlier in the day, about 100 students rallied in support of the UC Irvine hunger strikers at Cal State Fullerton.
"It's OK they stopped," said 21-year-old Carolina Garcia, who organized the rally. "Their message has been very, very clear, and they have started a wave of awareness."
Three of the hunger strikers, who complained of headaches, stomach pains and extreme fatigue, said health risks outweighed whatever would be gained by continuing the strike.
The strikers, all in wheelchairs, had taken their protest to Sacramento on Tuesday, delivering written demands to Gov. Pete Wilson's office. The governor was out of town.
Kranhold said Wednesday: "We are glad they came to their senses and ended this fruitless effort."
UC Regent Ward Connerly, an African American who led efforts to eliminate race and gender as factors in admission, was even less sympathetic to the hunger strikers. He likened the protest to a "temper tantrum."