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Rage at UC Fee Hike in L.A., Berkeley Protests

by Nanette Asimov and Jill Tucker

LOS ANGELES -  The UC regents are expected to put the final seal today on a hefty 32 percent tuition increase as students resume the protests that shut down their board meeting three times Wednesday and required campus police in riot gear to maintain calm.

UC Berkeley graduate student Alex Dubilet marches through Sproul Plaza to oppose 32% fee hikes before a huge rally in Berkeley on Wednesday. (Photo: Paul Chinn / The Chronicle) Students, furious at the increase that will bring their yearly fees above $10,000 for the first time, rushed the UCLA building where the regents were meeting, throwing food, sticks and vinegar-soaked red bandannas meant to look like blood.

UC police arrested 14 people for disrupting the meeting and resisting arrest.

Wednesday's vote by the regents' finance committee was also protested at UC Berkeley, where about 1,000 students, faculty and university workers filled Sproul Plaza for a noontime rally. About 300 protesters turned out at UC Santa Cruz. The full board is to vote today.

Students at other campuses signed petitions or traveled to UCLA to oppose the fee increases and set up tents to camp out and carry on their protests today.

UC President Mark Yudof had recommended the undergraduate and graduate fee increases to help close a budget gap of $535 million this year - largely the result of reduced state funding and inflation. Yudof said UC has lost more than $1 billion in state funding since last year, leading the university to lay off some 2,000 employees, reduce faculty pay through furloughs and cut course offerings to students.

Fees to cover losses

The new fees are expected to generate more than half a billion dollars, enabling the university to restore some of its worst cuts, Yudof said.

The UC president said he intends to ask the state for an additional $913 million - a longshot request as the state projects a $21 billion budget gap and the state legislative analyst reported Wednesday that increased funding for higher education was unlikely.

At the regents meeting, Yudof said he was sympathetic to the students' anger - and might even have joined them in his earlier years - but said the regents had no choice but to raise fees again. The increase would be the eighth since 2002.

"The students' rightful expectations exceed the resources of California," he said after the vote.

Over and over, students rose during the public comment period to tell Yudof and the regents that UC is an intellectual refuge that will be lost to the immigrants, students of color and low-income people who have come to depend on it.

"Say goodbye to diversity," said Corey Matthews, chairman of the Afrikan American Student Union at UCLA.

"We're bailing out the banks, bailing out the auto industry - where's the bailout for a UC education?" demanded Sonia Diaz, a student.

Protesters disrupted the regents meeting three times before the fee vote, singing the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome," chanting loudly and even swearing at the regents. A dozen students were among the 14 arrested.

"We're not criminals, the regents are!" cried one student before police escorted him and others out.

Berkeley protest

At Berkeley, students at Sproul Plaza at noon were greeted by feisty pickets chanting, "No cuts, no fees, education should be free" and several signs, including one that read, "Welcome to UC ." Protesters then left Sproul Plaza and marched through downtown Berkeley.

The march passed Berkeley High School, then took an unexpected detour into Berkeley City College, where the protesters disrupted classes by climbing flights of stairs and filling the school's atrium area. The crowd stayed for about 10 minutes before heading back toward the UC campus. No arrests were made.

Undergraduate fees are expected to rise to $10,302 next fall, with an incremental increase of 15 percent beginning in January. Graduate level fees will rise 18 to 32 percent.

Although the protesters emphasized the impact the new fees would have on the neediest students, about 30 percent of undergraduates will pay no fees at all. That's because the university's Blue and Gold program covers tuition, though not living expenses, for students from families earning up to $70,000 - just raised from $60,000.

The regents said they regret raising fees, which is likely to hit middle-class students the hardest.

Regent Eddie Island had never voted for a fee increase before, but said the budget crisis was so severe he had no choice.

"I understand the burden that fee increases place on students and their families," he told the board. "Some people around this table were poor and had very humble beginnings. But we've got to balance the budget. I believe the increases are now necessary."

Only student Regent Jesse Bernal opposed the fee increase. The graduate student from UC Santa Barbara abstained on the vote to recommend an increase in graduate professional degree fees.

Chronicle staff writer Justin Berton contributed to this report. Nanette Asimov reported from Los Angeles. Jill Tucker reported from Berkeley.

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