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Protest Against Prop. 209 Briefly Disrupts UC Regents Meeting

Education: Demonstrators then march on Berkeley campus, but turnout is down sharply from last week's action.

November 15, 1996|AMY PYLE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — A rowdy band of Proposition 209 protesters twice disrupted the UC Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco on Thursday morning, then headed to UC Berkeley, chanting, "No university without diversity" and "Defy 209."

The regents meeting continued after a short delay, and there were no arrests at either place.

In the wake of the measure's passage last week, student organizers said they were trying to keep up the preelection momentum by urging officials of the nine-campus UC system to refuse to comply with the ballot initiative.

Sabrina Smith, a UCLA graduate working as a field organizer with the UC Student Assn., said plans are in the works for numerous campus rallies, followed by a statewide "day of action" against the implementation of Proposition 209, which bars race or gender considerations in admissions decisions at the public universities.

But if Thursday's protests were any indication, Smith and her fellow opponents have their work cut out for them now that the original battle has been lost.

Despite news releases from various student groups promising that "hundreds of students" would speak out at the regents meeting, only about 50 turned up. Then, their ranks barely doubled during a meandering noontime march through hallways and classrooms on the Berkeley campus, where a week earlier 23 students had been arrested after more than 1,000 people turned out for an overnight occupation of the university's bell tower.

Students involved in Thursday's protests blamed their lean ranks on widespread depression about the election's outcome, general exhaustion and a rampaging virus that has weakened many of the most active participants.

"We were working so hard with the campaign and the [bell tower] thing," said a hoarse Lupe Ponce, 19, a UC Berkeley sophomore. "We didn't get any sleep."

At Berkeley, the marchers stomped and pounded their way through three classroom buildings and a library, drawing more sighs and rolled eyes than recruits. Although Berkeley is world-renowned for student activism, times have changed. The campus newspaper endorsed Proposition 209.

"Most students were against 209, I think, but they feel like it's over," said junior Jason Wolfe, as he watched the marchers shout their way through his economics lecture.

The regents, who last year approved their own preference ban for the 164,000-student university system, also largely ignored the morning's first disruption--which broke out during the public comment period of the meeting. When the protesters interrupted the meeting an hour later with clapping and chanting, the regents took a 10-minute break while university police cleared the room.

But by the time some of the participants had made their way back to UC Berkeley, the incident had become an inflated rallying cry.

"I'm happy to say that we shut down that meeting," shouted Yvette Felarca, who works with a controversial outside activist group called the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action by Any Means Necessary. "We caused the Board of Regents to flee their holy table."

Protesters were buoyed by California State University Chancellor Barry Munitz's decision not to order any immediate changes in admissions policies at the 23 campuses he oversees. Some said they hoped to elicit a similar promise from UC Berkeley Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien at a town hall meeting scheduled on the campus this afternoon.

Tien joined with UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young to publicly oppose Proposition 209 before the election, but Thursday he said the best he can do now is continue efforts to beef up programs such as minority student recruitment.

"I have made my feelings known," Tien said as he left the regents meeting. "But now I have to follow the law of the land."

In other action Thursday, the regents tentatively approved an $11-billion budget for 1997-98, which includes a nearly 10% rise in student fees unless supplemental state funding can be found. The proposed increases would add $330 a year in general fees and another $40 for technology, for a total of $4,536 in fees annually for California residents. The fee hikes were opposed by several regents, including Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, who said, "It's not wise to be constantly looking to bleed every last dollar out of the students."

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