Tuition Hike Proposals Draw Crowd of Protesters

Students and workers demonstrate at UC regents meeting

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A member of the California Nurses Association listens in support as another member discusses the need for better working conditions at UC Davis. Photo by Elena Neale

Demonstrators turned a Jan. 22 UC Board of Regents meeting into a representation of ongoing power struggles between students and workers on one side and UC administrators and regents on the other. 

During the public comment period of the meeting, held at the UC San Francisco Mission Bay Conference Center, speakers from UC campuses spoke in opposition to proposed tuition hikes, labor outsourcing, high costs of living in Santa Cruz and Berkeley, insufficient resources for undocumented students and the UC’s investment in the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

Outside the conference center, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 workers, UC Santa Cruz graduate students, University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) CWA 9119 workers and members of UCSC’s Worker-Student Solidarity Coalition (WSSC), Black Student Union (BSU), Mauna Kea Protectors and Undocu Collective protested what they deem unfair living and working conditions across the UC system. 

Demonstrators called for a universal cost of living adjustment (COLA), a contract for AFSCME Local 3299 patient care workers, UC divestment from the TMT and UC support for the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Demonstrations Outside Conference Center

Before dawn broke on Jan. 22, 31 UCSC students and student organizers packed into a bus to attend Wednesday’s UC regents meeting. 

The students represented COLA4All, the Worker Student Solidarity Coalition (WSSC), the Black Student Union (BSU), Undocu Collective and Mauna Kea Protectors. When the students arrived outside UCSF’s Mission Bay Conference Center, their voices merged with those of AFSCME Local 3299 demonstrators.

“UC, UC, you can’t hide. We can see your greedy side!” they called. 

By 9 a.m., about 60 demonstrators moved behind the conference center to hear additional testimonies about student experiences related to housing, food insecurity, undocumented student rights and the topic that brought them together, the UC regents’ proposed tuition increases. 

Students march outside the UC San Francisco Mission Bay Conference Center in solidarity with workers. Photo by Karen Lowe

Demonstrators strung written statements between trees with wire and plastered posters to the exterior walls of the conference center. 

While many speakers made their voices heard during the public comment period of the regents meeting, others preferred to gather outside the building to voice their grievances instead, said UCSC graduate student Breanna Byrd. 

“We’re just meeting today to provide a safe space for folks who are going to be in the [regents] meetings […],” Byrd said. “[We want] to not let the regents [meeting] be the only time that they say what they need to say.”

WSSC member and active COLA4ALL supporter Arianna Nocelo and BSU President Adonay Moreno also criticized the proposed tuition increases. They viewed the proposals as another obstacle to student well-being imposed by the UC. 

“Regardless of what they say, everything [the UC regents] do is for profit,” Moreno said. “Universities — public, private, whatever — they are businesses, and they will run everything like businesses because [students] are nothing but commodities to the UC system and the regents.” 

Public Comment and Proposed Tuition Increases

“Santa Cruz cost of living is a social justice issue.” 

“Work with us. Don’t make minorities suffer what we can’t afford.” 

“We will not trade one injustice for another.”

These were some of the refrains heard during public comment.

The regents planned to vote on the proposed tuition increases at the Jan. 22 meeting but they changed the purpose from a vote to a discussion because they hadn’t notified the UC Student Association (UCSA) of the proposed vote ahead of time, said UCSA President Varsha Sarveshwar.

Students from across the UC system, AFSCME Local 3299 workers, unionized nurses, UPTE CWA workers and others turned out in droves to the public comment period to demand the regents hear their concerns, which ranged from inaction on a COLA4ALL to the proposed tuition hikes.

“High cost of living in Santa Cruz leads to lack of diversity among graduate students, which impacts the entire UCSC community. Unless we want the university entirely comprised of affluent grads who can pay their way through graduate degrees, we require the COLA,” said UCSC graduate student Yulia Gilichinskaya during public comment. “Graduate students interact with the community as students, mentors, teachers, advisers. […] Granting graduate students a COLA will increase diversity, retention and foster a socially conscious graduate student body.”

Several other speakers expressed their support for a COLA for UC graduate students, and many connected the struggles among graduate students, undergraduates and union workers. 

After the public comment period, the regents discussed two models for multi-year tuition increases. One is a traditional approach whereby increases would be pegged to inflation and applied to both new and continuing students. The second, known as the cohort-based model, would assign a tuition level to each incoming cohort of students and that level would remain unchanged for a certain number of years.

Since a portion of tuition revenue would be funneled back into financial aid, the net cost of attendance for families making up to $90,000 each year would be lower under both models. For families making $120,000 or more each year, the tuition hike models would increase the overall cost of attendance. 

However, due to the high cost of living in many California cities, some families making over $120,000 each year could ill-afford a tuition hike. In San Francisco, for example, a family earning $117,400 each year is considered low-income.

Several students argued during public comment that the UC should work with students to lobby legislators for more state funding rather than propose tuition increases that pit regents against students.

“It’s the responsibility of the state, and not the students and their families, to be funding our education. That is a message that we continue to make clear to the legislature year after year,” said Varsha Sarveshwar, UC Student Association President. “We have five months left until the legislature passes the final budget, so that’s five months where the UC can make a really strong case for why it should get more funding and why students shouldn’t be the ones footing the bill.”

UCSC and UC Santa Barbara Hold Sick-Out Strikes for a COLA

UCSC graduate students held a “sick-out” strike on Jan. 22 to punctuate their fight for a COLA.

While some undergraduate and graduate students used their unapproved sick day to attend the UC regents meeting, others posted flyers around McHenry Library detailing ways the university makes them feel sick.

“I feel sick when workers are paid starvation wages. I feel sick when undocumented students are ignored. I feel sick when I see cops on campus. I feel sick when strikers are intimidated,” read one flyer.

Graduate students at UCSB held their own “sick-out” strike the same day to bring attention to the high cost of living at their university.

“Many of us work second and third jobs, even though we’re not supposed to, and some departments make us sign agreements that we will not work other jobs,” said UCSB graduate student Cierra Sorin in a text. 

A lack of university housing, inadequate conditions in family housing and rent increases that outpace cost of living increases have created the need for a COLA campaign at UCSB, Sorin said. 

UCSB graduate students have looked to UCSC as a model to follow.

“Our comrades at Santa Cruz have been such a great inspiration to us. And they took the time […] to call into our General Assembly and answer all of our questions,” Sorin said in a text. “UCSC grads asked for our support, and we know we’ll need theirs. We can’t move forward without supporting each other. Once they said they were doing a sick-out, it was obvious to us we would be too.”

UC Davis graduate students announced on Jan. 22 they are organizing in solidarity for a UC-wide COLA.