The University of California Board of Regents finance committee Wednesday approved a budget plan that includes steep hikes in student fees, as thousands of students and workers gathered at the system's Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses to protest the increases.
The committee met at UCLA Wednesday and voted in favor of increasing student fees for undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. The full Board of Regents will vote on the matter on Thursday. The measure is one of several responses to sharp reductions in state funding.
For undergraduate students, the proposal would increase mandatory fees by more than $2,500, or 32 percent by the 2010-11 school year, with some increases taking effect in spring of 2010.
Several thousand students, staff and workers at UC Berkeley kicked off a three-day labor strike and student walkout to protest the fee increases.
About 200 workers began picketing at five school construction sites and five campus entrances, as well as at UC Berkeley's Richmond Field Station, before sunrise, said Tanya Smith, president of the Berkeley chapter of the University Professional and Technical Employees-Communications Workers of America Local 9119. The union represents about 800 UC Berkeley researchers and technical employees. Several other unions also participated on the protests.
At about 1 p.m., she estimated 3,000 people had converged on Sproul Plaza for a rally decrying the increased fees.
Marika Goodrich, a UC Berkeley student, said "we're shutting down the university because they're shutting us out. Today we refuse to be silent."
During the rally, protesters chanted, "Whose university? Our university?"
Leslie Sepuka, spokeswoman for the UC Office of the President, said that president Mark Yudof and regents dislike inflicting higher fees on students. However, university leadership is asking students, faculty and workers share equally in the pain of absorbing a $1.2 billion budget shortfall over a two-year period while preserving the system's academic standards.
"As far as the student unrest, free speech is what the university is about," she said. "They should be offended -- it's a horrible situation."