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University of California students protest 32 percent tuition increase

By Alan Duke, CNN
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Calif. tuition up 32 percent
  • Board of Regents OKs undergraduate tuition increase over the next two years
  • Officials say fee increase, deep cuts in spending necessary because of budget crisis
  • After the vote, students stage a sit-in; police in riot gear standing by
  • First tuition increase in January will cost undergraduates extra $585 a semester

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Angry students at the Davis, California, branch of the University of California refused to vacate the school's administration building Thursday evening in a show of defiance and protest over a 32-percent undergraduate tuition hike instituted by the California Board of Regents earlier in the day.

About 50 students remained in the building, which was supposed to close by 5 p.m. PT (8 p.m. ET), UC Davis spokeswoman Claudia Morain told CNN. At one point, as many as 150 students were at the building protesting the tuition increase, she said. She said she hopes campus police can resolve the issue without the need to make arrests.

CNN affiliate KCRA captured footage of students outside the building shouting, "Who's university? Our university!"

Nearly 400 miles south and hours earlier, hundreds of students marched and chanted against the increase while outside the UCLA building in Los Angeles where regents met to vote on the hike.

Protesting students and others say the increased tuition will hurt working and middle-class students who benefit from state-funded education. But officials argue that a fee increase and deep cuts in school spending are necessary because of a persistent budget crisis that has forced reductions across California's state government.

Video: Students protest fee hike

"We're fired up. Can't take it no more," students chanted as they marched and waved signs at UCLA. "Education only for the rich," one sign read.

After the vote, students rushed to the parking decks to stage a sit-in to block regents' vehicles from leaving. Campus police and California Highway Patrol officers in riot gear stood nearby.

As one regent member walked out, students surrounded his path shouted, "Shame on you, shame on you."

The situation ended without incident as students gradually left the scene.

The University of California's Board of Regents approved the plan a day after the regents' finance committee also approved the 32-percent hike in undergraduate tuition fees.

Some faculty members and campus workers -- worried about furloughs and layoffs to come -- joined the protesting students.

"Stop cuts in education and research," a sign carried by a teacher said.

Political Science Professor Mark Sawyer was in his UCLA classroom, giving a lecture on interracial marriage in Brazil, as the shouts of marching students neared. Protesters holding picket signs burst into the room shouting, "Walk out, walk out!" Sawyer said. The class was stunned, but moments later heeded the protesters' calls. And Sawyer decided he'd walk out with them, too.

"I have single moms in that class, students supporting parents, I have people who have children and they are scraping together what they can to try to support themselves and their education," Sawyer said.

Sawyer said he is angry over the 9 to 10 percent salary cut he's taken because of mandatory furloughs. But he said he worries more for the status of the university system as a place for affordable education and how it will affect the "future leaders" of the country.

"I'm also worried about the mission of a public institution," Sawyer said. "It's a gateway to the middle class and to building the California economy and the nation's economy, and these institutions are where that all happens."

UCLA senior Maritza Santilia, who participated in the protest, said she may have to take a third job to pay for the higher tuition.

The regents' promise of more aid to students from low-income families won't help her because her family is considered middle income, she said.

Her parents can't help with payments because their $40,000 annual income covers the mortgage and costs of raising three other children, Santilia said.

She concedes that the protests won't stop the fee hike, but she said students "won't take it lying down."

Santilia was arrested and briefly detained by campus police Thursday morning after an officer saw her using a radio to let fellow students know where police were posted. She was released after she was given a citation ordering her to court in January to face a charge of resisting an officer. Police took her radio and cell phone.

On Wednesday, hundreds of students, faculty and campus workers protested outside the finance committee meeting on the UCLA campus.

Fourteen people were arrested Wednesday morning after they disrupted the regents' meeting with chanting, police said. Other protests -- including "tent cities" -- were under way on other University of California campuses across the state.

Overnight, about 30 to 50 protesters had locked themselves inside the campus' Campbell Hall in defiance of the tuition increase, according to a UCLA news release. The building is the site of the 1969 shooting deaths of two Black Panther Party members who died during a dispute, according to the release. Classes in Campbell Hall were canceled Thursday.

University executives told the regents the fee hikes were needed since they've already made deep spending cuts in the past two years -- cuts forced by the state budget.

About 26 percent of the $20 billion spent each year by the system comes from the state's general fund and tuition and fees paid by students, according to a summary on the regent's Web site.

The first tuition hike, which takes effect in January, will cost undergraduate students an additional $585 a semester. The second hike kicks in next fall, raising tuition another $1,344, she said.

The fee increases would be balanced by a raise in "the level of financial assistance for needy low- and middle-income students," according to a statement from the Board of Regents. The tuition hike is expected to raise $505 million for the university system, and about $175 million of that money would go toward financial aid for low-income students, the board said.