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Protest planned for University of California system

Rallies, walkouts and teach-ins are scheduled today, the first day of fall classes on seven campuses, in reaction to state budget decisions that are forcing higher student fees and staff pay cuts.

September 24, 2009|Larry Gordon

Rallies, walkouts and teach-ins are scheduled today across the University of California system, with professors, students and staff expected to protest state cutbacks in higher education funding and UC's handling of the crisis.

The extent of the protests was hard to predict; many faculty and students said they were reluctant to skip classes today, the first day of fall classes for the seven undergraduate UC campuses on the quarter calendar.

But large turnouts were expected at lunchtime rallies at many of the system's 10 campuses, fueled by anger over pay cuts, rising student fees and reduced class offerings.

At UCLA, classics professor Katherine King said she planned to join a noon rally and then go to the first day of her undergraduate class about ancient epic literature. There, she said, she would answer questions about the syllabus and assigned readings but would not deliver her usual first-day lecture. And she planned to encourage discussions about how to keep UC "a public university affordable to everyone," King said.

Bob Samuels, president of UC-American Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 4,000 lecturers and librarians, said the union's contract forbids members to cancel classes. But he expects many teachers to raise the budget issues during class and said some might move their sessions elsewhere to avoid crossing picket lines.

The goal is not to shut down UC, but "to create enough resistance and difficulty so people talk about the issues," said Samuels, a UCLA writing instructor who has been warned that he may be laid off next school year because of the cutbacks. He and other UC critics contend that the most painful austerities could be avoided by reducing top executives' salaries and tapping financial reserves that UC leaders insist have already been spent.

Most of the scheduled protests have been organized by support staff and technical worker unions that are fighting the university system's efforts to require furlough days that would cut workers' pay from 4% to 10%. UC officials have threatened deeper layoffs if unions don't accept furloughs.

UC spokesman Peter King, at the system's headquarters in Oakland, said he understood the anger, but added: "We just wish and hope that they direct that frustration about 90 miles up the road to Sacramento, which is where the problem is."

Meanwhile, more than 100 faculty and students from the state's other public university system staged a protest Wednesday outside a meeting in Long Beach of the Cal State trustees. Complete with hearse, a cardboard coffin and bagpipe accompaniment, the demonstrators conducted a mock funeral for the state's master plan for higher education and its promises to students of access and low cost.

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

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