When the UC Regents attempted to pass an 81% fee hike in Fall 2011, students and workers launched the Occupy Cal movement in protest. The fee hike ended up being cancelled soon after one of the biggest protests the University of California has ever seen. Though the UC may not admit it, the mass mobilization around Occupy Cal, which gathered 5000-7000 students, workers and community members in Upper Sproul Hall steps in November 15 for a rally and a night of occupation, is what put the 81% fee hike on hold, and pressured the UC regents and Governor Brown to call for the freezing of tuition for at least 3 years. But now, after 3 years of the freeze, Governor Brown and the State of California are talking of a budget shortfall, and the UC Regents have been discussing the possibility that tuition increases could restart as soon the 2015-2016 school year. So the question is: can we once again stop this coming fee hike?
The UC, and UC Berkeley in particular, has a history of activism against not only the tuition/fee hikes, but also the continued transformation from being an affordable public university (arguably the case up until the 90s) to one that primarily is affordable only by the children of the wealthy, and a small percentage of students from under-resourced communities (i.e. Black, Latino and South-East Asian communities especially) that can only afford it due to financial aid. For example, in 2001, the average cost of tuition and fees for a UC undergraduate
totaled just over $5,000. Today, it is close to $13,000. Furthermore, these fee increases take place in a context of rising student debt: “student loan debt surpassed $1 trillion in 2013, placing it as the second highest form of consumer debt behind mortgages”.
Along with increased tuition, a budget shortfall would mean infrastructure cuts that would lead to increased class sizes, cuts to certain departments (usually Humanities), and cuts to faculty. Campus workers would also be affected by budget cuts in the form of slashed retirement benefits, rising health-care payments, salary and hiring freezes, increased work-load and pressure to do more work in less time.
The two major movements and wave of mobilizations, the 2009 anti-fee-hike protests (against a 32% fee hike) and the 2011 Occupy Cal movement (against an 81% fee hike over 3 years), did not happen spontaneously–it took coalition building, education, and lots of groundwork to get the supports of various student campus groups, campus workers, faculty and the wider Berkeley community. Back in 2009 and 2011, the UC justified raising fees due to receiving less funding for the
California funds, but activists knew that fee hikes were used to fund the UC’s prolific construction projects for new buildings and corporate projects.
Halting fee hikes and austerity measures are possible, and has been done in recent memory. However, it won’t happen without an organized movement. In order to be able to withstand the institutional resources and power of the UC, we need to be clear and convincing in our messaging, and strong and united in our
organizing and collaboration. Part of this strategy also means to go on the offensive now, so that talks of fee hikes and budget cuts are out of the question.
We will need to be able to convince a good percentage of the campus community through education and organizing on why it is in their interest to be have their voices heard. And through an insurmountable pressure on the UC via getting the campus, parents, workers, and the community on our side to fight for proper funding of public education, we can pressure the state and the UC Regents to prioritize funding on education as opposed to giving tax breaks to corporations, the wealthy, and other non-public services.