Skip to content

University of California’s struggle

November 20, 2009

UC Berkeley students take over building

The group entered Wheeler Hall around 6 a.m. and three students were arrested immediately for burglary as they moved heavy furniture to block doorways on the second floor, according campus police.

Andi Walden, a student among those occupying the building, who spoke to The Chronicle by phone, said the protesters had enough food and water to last four days.

“We decided it was necessary to take action,” said Walden, a Middle Eastern studies and political science major. “A lot of people have been saying, ‘Who’s university? Our university.’ So we decided to put that into action.”

Walden said the students had two demands: The reinstatement of 38 custodians who were recently fired or laid off, and to be able to leave the building without having to face any legal trouble.

The occupying students started a Twitter account, ucbprotest.

In a statement issued on the university Web site, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau declared Wheeler Hall closed and asked students and teachers to stay away from the building.

“The campus police are working to resolve a protest action that is occurring in Wheeler Hall,” it read. “Staff, faculty and students who would normally be working in Wheeler Hall are asked to remain out of the building until further notice.”

The scene around Wheeler Hall attracted several hundred onlookers and protesters, including some who banged on drums and chanted, “Education must be free, no cuts, no fees.”

Friday was the third day of protests on the Berkeley campus, reflecting student anger over the fee hikes voted on overwhelmingly by the regents that will push tuition to $10,302 by next fall and with graduate-level fee hikes.

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.

Freshman Magali Flores, and ethnic studies major, was locked arm-in-arm with other students outside Wheeler, one day after she’d returned from protests at UCLA, where the regents met this week.

“It’s horrible, how could they possibly do this?” she said of the fee increases.

Flores acknowledged the increase would not affect her because her family earns less than $70,000, and tuition remains free. However, she said that she’s already in debt from cost of living, registration fees, and books, totaling $10,000.

At one point, tension between police and protesters flared as police moved in barricades to keep the crowds back the east side of Wheeler Hall. Some students said police used batons to beat back the crowd. Several students aimed video cameras at police, who were dressed in riot gear and many of whom had their own recording devices aimed at protesters.

A 70-year-old gray-haired woman stood among the students outside and said she was a clerical worker who’d recently been laid off after 10 years at the university.

“I’m really proud of these students,” she said, declining to give her name. “I’ve been waiting for this. You can’t go down without a fight.”

At a barricade on the north side of Wheeler Hall, another dramatic conflict played out.

As about 100 students chanted “Join our strike” to passersby and suddenly, an electrical engineering student, Zach Jacobson, rushed toward the protesters yelling, “Stop it, go away, go home.”

Jacobson was soon engaged in a passionate debate with fellow student Alejandro Lama-Briseno, a peace and conflict studies major, who challenged Jacobson to join the protesters.

Jacobson was angry at the method of protest. Instead of overtaking buildings and setting off fire alarms, the students were better off supporting new state legislators who’d be supportive of funding UC, he said.

Lama-Briseno was adamant that a show of force was necessary at times.

Even though the discussion got heated, the two ended up shaking hands.

E-mail the writers at nasimov@sfchronicle.com, jberton@sfchronicle.com and hlee@sfchronicle.com.

Advertisements
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: