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UC regents approve 32% student fee hike

The decision was made with little debate after a lengthy committee discussion Wednesday. Thousands of students and labor union activists protested outside the meeting at UCLA.

November 20, 2009|By Larry Gordon and Amina Khan
  • UC police and CHP officers escort officials through demonstrations outside Covel Commons on the UCLA campus after the regents' vote to increase student fees by 32%.
UC police and CHP officers escort officials through demonstrations outside… (Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles…)

With the chants of protesters wafting into their meeting room and armed police standing guard, the University of California's Board of Regents approved a 32%, or $2,500, increase in undergraduate fees Thursday, but promised more financial aid to keep needy students from dropping out.

A raucous crowd of about 2,000, including students and labor union activists who traveled from other UC campuses, faced a large force of UC police and CHP officers in riot gear outside UCLA's Covel Commons, where the regents met. Across campus, about 40 demonstrators occupied a classroom building, Campbell Hall, locking themselves inside until Thursday night.

UCLA police reported one student arrested, but no one was injured in the demonstrations.

Officials said Campbell Hall was closed to classes for the day but was reopened after the demonstrators left.

The 21 regents in attendance approved the fee hikes with little debate after a lengthy committee discussion Wednesday. Only student regent Jesse Bernal voted against the increase for undergraduates, and he was joined by alumni representative regent Ronald Stovitz in opposing a sharp hike in professional graduate school surcharges.

After the vote, some of the regents were trapped in the building and in vehicles as about 100 demonstrators surrounded the garage. Later, police cleared a path and escorted the UC officials out in a hurry as students chased them, shouting, "Shame on you."

Earlier, a group of students marched into Westwood Village and briefly blocked traffic.

Colin Williams, an English major at UCLA, said that as a fourth-year student he would be mainly spared from the financial pain that younger students face, but protested in solidarity. He wore his red tambourine as a hat when he wasn't shaking it.

"We're all the same person; we're all in the same boat," said Williams, who complained that the regents were hiding "behind closed blinds."

Busloads of students and union activists from other campuses descended on Westwood.

Among them was Tommy Le, a fourth-year student at UC Santa Cruz, who left his campus at 3 a.m. Thursday on one of two buses. The American studies major said he was worried about not being able to afford the higher charges, beginning with an extra $585 for the rest of the school year.

"It's adding more stress and more burden," said Le, who added that he works two part-time jobs and sends money to his family. The fee increase, he said, is "a lose-lose situation."

Ricardo Gomez came from UC Berkeley on a bus trip that was financed by labor unions fighting UC over proposed pay cuts.

A third-year student in interdisciplinary studies, he said he has a scholarship that shields him from the fee increase, but "lots of my friends don't have that security. So I felt it was my duty to advocate for them."

Given cuts in state funding, the regents said the extra fees will help stave off further course reductions and staff layoffs. They also said at least a third of the fee increase would go toward financial aid, and they approved a plan that will use UC, state and federal grants to ensure that students from households with incomes below $70,000 would have their basic education fees fully funded.

After two increases by next fall, basic UC undergraduate fees will cost $10,302 a year, plus about $1,000 in extra campus charges. Room, board and books can add another $16,000.

UC President Mark G. Yudof said he wanted Californians to know that plenty of financial aid is available. "If people sit around the dining room table and say we can't afford the University of California, then we are in trouble," he said.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

amina.khan@latimes.com

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