By Nikolas Zelinski
Students rallied in front of Sproul Hall on the UC Berkeley campus on Tuesday as part of their fight to keep tuition fees affordable and for more transparency in the university budget.
Their organization, the Open UC movement, is opposing tuition increases and is attempting more generally to bring attention to the runaway commercialization of education.
The effort, which included a seven-day occupation of Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley, is a response to the UC Board of Regents decision to increase tuition by five percent per year for the next five years. The total increase in cost would be around 28 percent.
The protest on the steps of Sproul Hall came on the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) leader Mario Savio gave his famous speech on the same steps.
Savio was once dubbed one of the most powerful student organizers and political activists in America. In the Sixties, he was one of the students who joined the Mississippi Summer Project, which worked for voting rights in the South.
When he returned to school, Savio helped lead the FSM and gave his now famous speech on Dec. 2, 1964, calling for students to sit –in at the university, to throw their bodies on the gears to “machine” to bring it to a halt to defend free speech and the right to be active in the fight for civil rights.
Students at the Tuesday rally felt that it was important to have the demonstration on the same date because “We are fighting the same fight.”
The tuition hike was opposed by faculty, the student body, and the governor. The Democratic-led Senate has introduced SB 15, which would essentially nullify the tuition hikes made by the board.
The bill would add $156 million to the higher education budget next year from the general fund, but it will simultaneously cut $102 million from the middle-class scholarship program, according to a report from the Sacramento Bee.
Senate Democrats are also calling for cash incentives for California State University students who finish before the six-year average. San Diego Sen. Marty Block said, “If students take 15 units per semester, they will get out in four years instead of six years and save about $60,000 compared to the typical six-year student,” according to the report.
The bill and other recent actions by university administration are seen as a farce by some students.
“Education is a right, not a privilege,” said one student who asked that her name not be used. “It’s not just about the education itself that you want people in the community to have access to, but all of the things that come with having an educated society, (making people) more likely to vote, more likely to work, etc.”
“These are things that makes a democracy work,” she said.
Courtesy of the Berkeley Post, December 4, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)