BERKELEY, Calif. — On Sept. 24, the first day of classes, University of California students and faculty across the state walked out against fee hikes, cutbacks in services and classes, increased class sizes, and faculty and staff layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts.
Out of the 10 UC campuses statewide, Berkeley had the largest walkout by far; some 5000 students (out of a school enrollment of 35,000) joined a rally in Sproul Plaza that day. Observers said it was the largest protest gathering at the university since the Vietnam War days.
Also at the rally were students from local community colleges and from San Francisco State University, some faculty, and a fair number of workers from UPTE (on strike for unfair labor practices), and some from AFSCME, the UAW, AFT, and CUE. After the rally, students and workers joined a march through the campus and into the streets of downtown Berkeley behind a banner reading: “Solidarity with Students, Teachers, and Workers!” Marchers chanted, “It’s our university!” and “Defend public education!”
The walkout was promoted throughout the UC system by a call signed by over 1200 faculty members. Some faculty members at Berkeley led “Teach-out” seminars inside and outside campus buildings on topics such as “The Free Speech Movement Was Just the Start” and “Confronting the Crisis.”
The UC Board of Regents has ordered faculty and staff pay cuts of from 4 to 10 percent. In addition, UC President Mark Yudoff proposes raising student fees by close to a third—to over $10,000 a year. The university system faces a budget shortfall largely because of cutbacks in financing from the state. Many signs at the rally read, “Chop from the top.”
Yudoff, for example, has a salary of $540,000 a year—plus lucrative benefits, such as free rent for his house.
In the evening, some 500-600 enthusiastic Berkeley students assembled at a meeting to decide what to do next. Plans were made for an Oct. 24 conference in Berkeley to coordinate the struggle to defend public education across California—from K-12 to community colleges and universities. —Ari Kilpatrick