Labor & Work-Life Issues

Thousands Protest Budget Cuts on U. of California Campuses

September 24, 2009

Thousands of students and faculty and staff members at the University of California staged rallies and walkouts on Thursday on the system's 10 campuses to protest sharply rising tuition, employee furloughs, and deep cuts in state support for the university.

The largest crowd appeared to be at Berkeley, where police officials estimated that 5,000 people gathered for a noontime rally on Sproul Plaza, the historic site of protests during the Free Speech Movement. Several speakers lamented the university's dire budget situation, and protesters held signs and chanted, "Whose university? Our university!"

Smaller protests formed at campuses in Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, according to witnesses and news reports.

The unrest comes during a dismal year for the university in which state support was reduced by nearly 20 percent, leading to furloughs, enrollment reductions, and tuition increases that are likely to approach 50 percent over a two-year period.

More than 1,000 faculty members had signed a petition saying they would participate in a one-day walkout to demand changes in the unpopular furlough program and greater fiscal transparency by the university. A union representing more than 11,000 professional and technical staff members called for a one-day strike to protest the university's response to the budget crisis.

But the actions, which were timed to coincide with the first day of classes at eight of the campuses, did not appear to cause widespread class cancellations or disruptions of services. Berkeley's main library closed to the public for the day because of concerns about security, according to the campus newspaper, The Daily Californian.

At Davis, Brian K. Riley, a graduate student, said he attended a rally of a few hundred students and staff members. The group wanted "to send a strong message," he said, not only to lawmakers in Sacramento, "but to the people of the entire state that there's a crisis here that requires attention."

A spokesman for the University of California system said the university would not consider changes in the furlough program that many faculty have requested, such as allowing faculty members to take furlough days on instructional days. Doing so would punish students, he said.

"We understand that people are frustrated, and there's good reason to be frustrated with all the cutbacks in state funding," said the spokesman, Steve Montiel. "We only hope that people that are expressing the frustration realize that the true source is in Sacramento."