On Tuesday, November 18, many graduate and undergraduate students here at UCR participated in a UC-wide day of action on the eve of an important vote by the UC Board of Regents to approve a tuition plan proposal by UC President Janet Napolitano. This plan, approved as of Thursday, November 20, is set to increase tuition by approximately 27.7% within the next five years unless the state makes a significant reinvestment in the University.
We walked-out of our classes to visibly display the potential results of this tuition plan, rallied at the Bell Tower, and eventually made our way to Hinderaker Hall to directly target the Chancellor for his unwavering support of the tuition plan. We were (and remain) collectively disappointed and angry with the Chancellor for his stance, especially in light of the fact that the Chancellor just recently received and accepted a 5.1% increase to his salary, bringing it up to a whopping $383,160. As we protested, we demanded a response from Chancellor Wilcox and pleaded him for a valid justification for his actions (though this arguably does not exist). Wilcox stepped out of his ivory tower to address students for a few minutes before fleeing from the crowd of protesters and returning to his cozy, luxurious office. In the brief encounter we protesters had with Wilcox, our claim that Wilcox is wrong with regard to the tuition plan was only reaffirmed. While Wilcox tried to dissuade students from protesting, I can say that Wilcox’s bread and circuses did not work.
Chancellor Wilcox is wrong, plain and simple. First, the Chancellor praised Napolitano for her ability to “frame” the issue. However, as one protester pointed out later, this argument neglects the concept that students should not be tools in any political battle for money from the state. Students are people, not “frames.” In this political gamble, Napolitano has indeed secured financial security for the UC. Whether the state reinvests or not, the UC will get the money it wants because tuition increases are now securely in place should the state fail to reinvest. Yet, while the state and the University play a game of hot potato with the funding of the University, students remain in the middle, with our financial security and education on the line.
Second, the Chancellor reaffirmed a misrepresentation of our financial aid system that has been a central component to the propaganda distributed in its pitch of the new tuition plan. This claim, that 55% of students receive full-financial aid and, thus this plan will not affect the neediest students on our campus, is a gross misrepresentation of our financial aid system and conveniently neglects some burdensome facts. Specifically, financial aid does often cover tuition and fees, but these are not the only costs associated with attending the University. While financial aid might certainly cover the increase in tuition, what is likely to happen is that this financial aid will come in the form of loans or will increase the likelihood of us having to take out loans to meet other costs. This is at a time when student loan debt has already surpassed the trillion-dollar mark. That is not even considering the other 45% of students that do not receive full financial aid packages. While some of these students may be well off and able to pay for costs out of their pockets, this 45% also includes many middle-income students. These are students that are barely able to cover costs as it is and for which an increase in tuition could very likely make the difference between them being able to attend out University or not.
Third, the Chancellor refused to give us a direct response to our question of whether he finds it fair for him and other administrators to be receiving salary increase while students are being told that there is simply not enough money to make ends meet and whether he would reject his salary increase as a means of standing in solidarity with the students on his campus if the plan were to be approved. Instead, the Chancellor avoided giving us a direct response and instead simply stated that he has no choice in the matter and that his salary is set according to the market. One student rightly yelled out “But you take that salary!” in direct response to the Chancellor’s attempt to brush off his responsibility and complicity. Not only does his response reflect the common trend of administrators using a business model to operate what is supposed to be a public institution. It is no wonder that the Regents and UC leadership do not find the privatization of our university as alarming as we students do.
Fourth, and finally, the Chancellor was wrong to flee from students. While some individuals have complained that students should not have yelled at the Chancellor while he tried to speak, it is clear that these individuals are ignorant of the history of activism in the UC and of basic organizing fundamentals. Moreover, these individuals likely lack empathy for the protestors, which are students and other individuals only genuinely interested in protecting the affordability and accessibility of the University and certainly also directly affected by any tuition increases. The Chancellor ought to assume a more serious leadership role in this situation by withdrawing his support for the tuition plan, acknowledging the mutual responsibility for this situation by the state and the university, and working with students to push for funding solutions that will actually fix the root of our funding problem—such as Proposition 13 reform and decreased spending on incarceration.
Of course, this is a non-exhaustive list of reasons why Chancellor Wilcox is wrong to support the new UC tuition plan, especially in the way that he has done thus far. However, it is important that we think critically of the role that every individual has in perpetuating the shameful status quo in our university. We must not be afraid to challenge individuals in administrative leadership capacities. Rather, students must rise up collectively and be supportive of one another in our common fight for an affordable, accessible, and quality education at the University of California.