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The Value of Education: Crisis in the Budget

José races down the courtyard between Royce Hall and Powell Library as he hurries to meet me. As he runs, all he can think is that in two days he will be taking his first midterm at UCLA. The quarter has been bittersweet for the AB 540 freshman. Although attending his dream school, he finds himself in a world of financial insecurity.

Like thousands across California, he knows that the UC Regents meeting on Nov. 18-19 will impact his future. If the Regents raise fees yet again, this time by 32%, his dream of becoming a doctor will prove more difficult.

Both UC President Mark Yudof and Chancellor Block stated that the decline in state funds is a major factor in fee increases. “The State has become an unreliable partner through chronic underinvestment,” said Yudof in an October letter to students and parents.

José grew up in Tijuana, Mexico. “My mom worked three jobs and still wasn’t making enough…she came to the U.S. to work.” Economic problems pushed José’s family to move often. To escape gang violence in his low-income neighborhood, José worked any job he could and opted to pursue a higher education. “I always tried to make the best of it and seek the resources. Whatever I could do,” José said.

Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC) president, Cinthia Flores, is committed to raising awareness about the issue. “We have been organizing an educational campaign in partnership with the External Vice President’s office,” she said in an interview with La Gente. Partnering with Block, USAC reinstated Night Powell, a 24-hour library service.

2009 has been a year of unemployment in which Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama gave billions to financial goliaths such as AIG instead of the ailing American people. California’s Governator chose to close the state’s massive budget deficit by slashing $637 million from education, according to Yudof.

Californians have come to terms with the grim economic reality. But let us reflect for a moment; a democratic society should provide its members quality education as an unalienable right rather than a privilege.

What is democracy, but an institution founded “for the people and by the people”? The future of any democratic society depends on the quality of education by which individuals can develop an appreciation of the democratic principles that make America so great and actively engage with the promises of democracy. While we question how the proposed fee increases and cuts in services affect UCLA’s 34,000 students, we must question the California’s values as it continues to undermine and marginalize quality over costs.

José doesn’t have the luxury of contemplating the principles of democracy. He has to take his midterm while crunching numbers to figure out how he can afford another quarter. “Honestly this is all new to me, I am the first in my family to go to college. It’s a privilege, but I am sometimes frightened because I don’t know exactly what to do, having that feeling of constant uncertainty and financial insecurity,” José said.

Rallying for Education

By Samantha Lim and Esmeralda Alvarez

LOS ANGELES – The two day protest at the University of California Regents (UC Regents) meeting demonstrated a state-wide solidarity against fee hikes in California’s universities. Zealous students and staff stood together outside Covel Commons holding signs with expressions such as “Bail Out Education” and “Regents: Happy Thanks-Taking.” Students in all black held banners with “Mourn the Death of Public Education” painted in red as well as cardboard tombstones saying “RIP Public Education.”

The passion of UCLA fifth-year physics and Asian-American studies student, Pao, was particularly remarkable, especially in the morning hours. Calling out “who’s university?” Pao rallied protesters to “take that one little step” in voicing their opinion. Nearing the end of his career as an undergrad, Pao commented that these fee hikes were not going to affect him as much as others he knew who can barely survive as it is. He protested for them and for future generations asking, “If we don’t do this now, who’s gonna fight for them?”

Just to the side of the noisy, sign-holding crowd, was an advanced modern/postmodern dance class practicing Tai Chi. Ian Isles, a senior worlds arts and cultures (WAC) student at UCLA explained the WAC department’s decision to close the building and hold classes outside “so everyone comes to support [the protest and] so people can see what we’re doing.” Though silent, the class’ display was one way of showing the Board of Regents precisely who and what their decision affects.

UCLA students made up only part of protesters, with students and faculty from every UC campus arriving throughout the day and sleeping overnight in an on-campus “tent city” in order to protest the Nov. 19 vote. UC Santa Cruz Political Science student Reymundo Sauceda expressed a sense of loss of our public institutions that resonates across UC campuses. “Every year their proposed increases makes [the UC system] more privatized. Can we still call ourselves public?” Sauceda asked. Further, he expressed the sense of despair and abandonment that students so furiously felt and continue to feel, remarking, “The Regents are supposed to be the gate keepers…they should be taking a step with us…they should unite with students. They can’t see that they’re going against us by just having the vote on the table.”

The 20-1 vote passed an increase in fees from $7,788 to $10,302 beginning next fall, as well as a 15% fee increase this January.

Click here to read UC President Yudof’s letter concerning fee-increases.

Footage of the protest is also available here.

Update: Nov. 30, 2009

The UC Academic Senate issued this statement in regards to the protests held Nov. 18-19.