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Students protest at several California universities

Rallies are held at UC and Cal State campuses in shows of support for the Occupy Wall Street movement and discontent over education cuts and tuition hikes.

November 15, 2011|By Maria L. La Ganga and Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times
  • Cal State Fullerton sophomore Claudio Soria leads fellow students in a protest over tuition hikes.
Cal State Fullerton sophomore Claudio Soria leads fellow students in a… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Berkeley and Fullerton -- As Occupy Wall Street campers faced off with authorities around the nation, students on several California university campuses rallied in solidarity with the movement and to protest education cuts and rising tuition.

The largest event was at UC Berkeley, where more than 1,200 singing, sign-waving students and faculty members rallied for much of the day on Sproul Plaza, site of the 1960s Free Speech Movement. At one point, the demonstrators chanted "Hey, hey, ho, ho, police violence has got to go," a reference to an incident last week in which baton-wielding police officers stopped an Occupy camp from being set up on the campus. Dozens of protesters were arrested in last week's confrontation and several were injured.

Tuesday's Berkeley rally was peaceful but tensions surged in the afternoon when campus police shot and wounded a man who, they say, appeared to be carrying a weapon in a computer lab at the Haas School of Business half a mile from the protest site. Four students were in the lab at the time but none was hurt and the unidentified man was taken to a local hospital for treatment. Officials said the incident remained under investigation but did not appear to be related to the protests or the Occupy movement.

PHOTOS: Occupy L.A.

After nightfall, the number of protesters had doubled and some began pitching tents on the campus plaza, defying a decision by Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau to bar any new attempt to camp on school grounds. Campus police did not take any immediate action but said they were studying how to proceed. Among the crowd were about 300 Occupy Oakland activists who marched to the UC Berkeley campus — one day after police had closed the Oakland encampment.

Officials said the great majority of UC Berkeley's 35,000 students went to their classes Tuesday, but some were canceled and others were held outdoors.

Jennifer Johnson, a graduate student in education, was out on Sproul Plaza at 8 a.m. along with about a third of her Spanish I class. Instructor Daniel Rodriguez was teaching on the plaza's chilly steps to support the protest without interrupting his students' education. Rodriguez led a bilingual teachable moment with a new vocabulary: Huelga, protestar, manifestacion — "Strike," "to protest," "demonstration."

"We have finals coming up and a lot of stuff to learn," said Johnson, 36. "We want to have our education — in a visible way, to demonstrate our commitment to education and that we also need to fight."

Classmate Nuha Masri said she has taken on $3,000 in loans this year to cover her college costs and $3,000 more for dental work. "We can't focus on our classes when we're wondering how we're going to find more money," said Masri, 22, a sociology major from Upland.

To the south, about 200 students demonstrated at Cal State Fullerton and other protests took place at Cal State Los Angeles, UCLA and elsewhere.

California State University students are planning a large rally Wednesday in Long Beach, where the university system's trustees are scheduled to vote on a proposal to raise undergraduate tuition 9% for next fall unless state funding is increased. On Monday, University of California leaders canceled a regents meeting scheduled for this week in San Francisco because of threats of violence at rallies there, but students and others say they plan a rally Wednesday in downtown San Francisco. Cal Sate and UC tuition have nearly doubled in the last five years as the state has slashed spending on higher education.

At Cal State Fullerton, student Karley White held a sign that read "We are living proof that the system is broken." White, a women's studies major, said that budget cuts make it hard to get the classes she needs to graduate and that she fears another tuition hike will sink her further in debt. "The minute I get out, I have to start paying back loans with a job I can't get," said White, 21. "I'm being pushed further and further into a hole."

Cal State Fullerton officials later allowed a group of about 100 students to pitch tents in a designated area of the campus. Psychology major Jose Covarrubias, 22, telephoned friends and asked them to bring him a sleeping bag and warm clothing after he decided to stay the night. With the trustees about to meet, he said, "We need to make a statement."

At Cal State Los Angeles, about 100 students gathered Tuesday in front of the campus bookstore. At UCLA, about 40 students attended an outdoor teach-in organized by Bob Samuels, a composition lecturer who is president of UC's systemwide union representing lecturers and librarians. Topics included the effect of tuition increases, Samuels said.

At UC Berkeley, police said they did not know whether the wounded man, who appeared to be in his 20s, was a student. They said he was in a business school elevator with a campus employee when he briefly pulled out what appeared to be a gun from his backpack. Campus police were called, located the man in the computer lab and he again pulled out the weapon, UC Berkeley Police Chief Mitch Celaya said. The man was shot when he did not obey orders to drop the gun, the police chief said.

Asked whether there was any connection between the incident and the Occupy protest, Celaya said: "We don't know. We're looking into that matter. There is nothing to suggest it is the case."

PHOTOS: Occupy L.A.

maria.laganga@latimes.com

carla.rivera@latimes.com

Los Angeles Times staff writer Larry Gordon contributed to this report.

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