By Gabby Areas and Alexa Lomberg
Following 20 minutes of public comments during the UC regents meeting on March 18, about 30 students, mostly from UC Berkeley, stood on chairs in the forum section and threw fake money toward the regents, chanting “Raise up Richmond, not tuition,” and “Put people over profit, regents step off it.”
The demonstration was in protest of tuition increases and the UC’s failure to sign a community benefits agreement for the Berkeley Global Campus (BGC) in Richmond, California. The students were quickly met by about 15 UCPD officers, some in riot gear, threatening arrest upon remaining in the building. No arrests were made.
The BGC, UC Merced’s 2020 Project, tuition hikes and black students’ concerns at UC Berkeley were among three of the pressing topics people addressed during the public forum.
Gov. Jerry Brown was not present during the public comment section and many speakers voiced their desire to address him.
Berkeley Global Campus In Richmond
Several students and residents urged the UC regents to sign a community benefit agreement — a legally binding agreement between a community and a developer — to protect Richmond residents and workers from any effects of building the BGC, a collaboration between UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
The BGC is proposed as a UC Berkeley satellite campus, which UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said will eventually serve 10,000 students and faculty to “conduct interdisciplinary research on climate change, world health, big data and urban studies.”
Part of the message of the student protest that occurred directly following public comments was the need to prioritize “people over profit.”
UC Santa Cruz undergraduate and Chief of Staff for External Affairs Guillermo Rogel said if the UC wants to put its best foot forward, the agreement is crucial.
“The UC really has a chance to bring that community up to par with all the other communities where the UCs are hosted,” Rogel said. “But the UC really should be conscious in building a campus right there, just to make sure the community members really benefit from the building of this campus.”
Richmond resident Melvin Willis said the Richmond community is in danger of being displaced and that the agreement will make sure everyone is protected from being “kicked out or priced out from Richmond.”
“This development is the biggest economic development since the shipyards in World War II and too many times businesses have come in and out of Richmond and not benefit the immediate community,” Willis said.
Marium Navid, current Associated Students of the University of California senator at UC Berkeley, said the project has potential to be a huge asset to the UC, but she couldn’t watch a community be displaced or disrespected. She urged them to “truly value the idea of shared governance.”
UC Merced 2020 Project
The regents approved $1.3 million for the design of UC Merced’s Downtown Center to consolidate administrative offices and create more space on campus. The downtown building is a part of the university’s 2020 Project, which will work toward enrolling 10,000 students in the next five years.
“Without growth, there will be a pipeline of historically underserved students with no place to go,” said UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland.
UC Merced currently serves 6,200 students, and while the campus received 17,000 application last fall, it accepted fewer than 10 percent of the applicants because of a lack of capacity. Applications for UC Merced rose 14 percent for fall 2015, the highest in the UC system, with nearly 20,000 frosh and transfer applicants.
Council member Mike Murphy expressed support for the plan, which he said would create up to 11,000 “desperately needed jobs for the region” through facility construction and generate up to $2 million in direct and indirect economic activity.
UC Chief Financial Officer Nathan Brostrom said the project could be risky, considering it proposes long-term relationships with private developers. The board raised questions surrounding the previously unattempted method, including if it would really end up saving money.
Undergraduate and graduate UC Merced students spoke during the public comment section, advocating for the regents to support the project and accessibility to public higher education.
“There are many students like me who will never get a chance if we fail to protect quality public education,” said UC Merced Ph.D. candidate Emily Wilson. “The lack of space for teaching and researchers is already limiting UC Merced’s ability to admit students who would benefit, as I have, from a focused, interdisciplinary educational experience.”
There has not yet been an official regents vote for the 2020 Project. The board is expected to revisit the plan in an upcoming meeting.
Improving the Black Experience at UC Berkeley
Students from UC Berkeley’s Black Student Union addressed Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ lack of response to the organization’s list of demands. It called for institutional changes and improvement for conditions and the campus climate for black students, including the creation of a retention center. UC Berkeley has an African American undergraduate population of 3 percent.
“Black students, staff and faculty at UC Berkeley’s campus are in a state of emergency requiring immediate attention,” said fourth-year and UC Berkeley Black Student Union member Lauren Butler.
Chancellor Dirks failed to respond by the deadline and address each demand, and she said this shows the “comfortability and progress of black lives on his campus do not matter.”
Butler said the chancellor has not prioritized the dire needs of black students.