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UC campuses hit by protests

On what was the first day of the new academic year for most of the system, students and staff protest cuts and fee increases brought on by California's budget crisis.

September 25, 2009|Larry Gordon and Maria L. LaGanga

LOS ANGELES AND BERKELEY — Protests, rallies and scattered class cancellations roiled University of California campuses across the state Thursday, on the first day of the fall quarter for many students. But predictions by some organizers that the 10 campuses could be shut down by demonstrations against fee increases and pay cuts did not materialize.

The size and intensity of the protests and related activities varied significantly across the UC system. An estimated 5,000 people demonstrated at UC Berkeley, the oldest campus; just 20 or so took part at UC Merced, the newest.

UC officials reported no arrests and said class disruptions were minimal. As part of the day's events, several hundred non-teaching employees, including lab assistants and computer techs, held a one-day strike against proposed unpaid furlough days.

At UCLA, about 700 students, faculty and staff held a noisy noontime rally at Bruin Plaza, waving placards with such slogans as "Invest in Students, Invest in the Future." Students said most courses were taught on schedule but that some professors had used the time to discuss the budget woes and ended lectures early.

Third-year psychology major Vico Melgoza of Santa Ana said he skipped two classes to join the demonstration. "This is more important," said Melgoza, 21, who said he was worried about how continuing fee increases could affect future generations.

Among the speakers was English professor Jenny Sharpe, who, along with others, denounced UC President Mark G. Yudof and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for what they described as a growing tendency to shift the costs of a public university education from the state to students. "State support for higher education has to be seen as a public good, not a private privilege," she told the crowd.

At UC Berkeley, demonstrators gathered for a boisterous noon rally and teach-in at Upper Sproul Plaza. Afterward, some protesters blocked a nearby intersection with a sit-in that lasted about two hours.

UC Berkeley classics professor Anthony Long moved his ancient Greek philosophy class to a lawn at the edge of campus so students wouldn't have to cross picket lines.

Instead of the usual subject matter, he taught from Plato's "Crito," a dialogue on the topical subject of civil disobedience. About 14 of the 35 or so students showed up, including Jacqueline Johnston, a 21-year-old political economics major who wore a red headband in solidarity with the walkout. All of her four classes Thursday were canceled or changed in some way, she said.

At UC Irvine, several hundred students, professors and workers rallied outside the administration building.

French professor Carrie Noland, who has taught at UCI for 17 years, said she is concerned that the quality of instruction may be suffering. "Everything I helped build here is under attack," she said, noting reduced research funding and layoffs of support staffers.

Seven of the nine undergraduate UC campuses, including UCLA and UC Irvine, began the fall quarter Thursday. Berkeley and Merced, which are on the semester system, began several weeks ago.

In November, the UC regents are expected to vote to raise basic in-state undergraduate fees by $2,514, in two steps, to $10,302 by next fall, not including room, board or books.

Interim provost Lawrence H. Pitts said in a statement that the fee increases would spread the pain of budget cuts across the UC community and help the university avoid a slide "into mediocrity."

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

maria.laganga@latimes.com

Times staff writer Tony Barboza in Irvine contributed to this report.

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