Peaceful rallies and public speeches defined the majority of UC Riverside’s campus activities during the first day of the UC Board of Regents meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 18. ASUCR activities at the Bell Tower stood out among the rally-related events scheduled for that day, although the same cannot be said of Thursday when the massive protests absorbed the attention of the campus population.
The first event of Wednesday was an ASUCR-sponsored presentation by Student Regent Alfredo Mireles, Jr. and Student Regent-designate Jonathan Stein. Although the turnout for the 8:00 a.m. presentation was weak, the two student leaders proceeded to give speeches in which they reiterated the importance of student advocacy. “Here’s how you get the regents to listen to you: you go to public comment or talk to them in a sidebar conversation and tell them your personal story about how these policy changes are affecting you and your family’s lives…share why we’re frustrated with all these cuts, why we’re frustrated with the regents,” advised Mireles.
Stein spent his presentation addressing the significance of educational opportunity and lamenting on the state of the university. The next agenda item, following the start of the regents meeting and the public comment period, was a presentation by Fix UC President Chris LoCascio and board member Alex Abelson. LoCascio elaborated on the proposal and highlighted the benefits to be gained from a system in which graduates could pay for their education after they have attained a career. The proposal, which has recently gained national media attention, was met with positive yet worried reactions among intrigued crowd members who expressed their initial skepticism towards the plan.
The next presentation was provided by UC Riverside fourth-year student Chris Riley from the California Coalition for Higher Education. The goal of the coalition is to “return funding that’s been lost over the years, resulting from the disinvestment in public higher education,” according to Riley, who stressed the importance of voting and the mobilization of like-minded student voters.
At approximately 11:00 a.m., UC Riverside History Professor Devra Weber gave an impassioned speech before a group of protesters which left them cheering in approval. Weber praised the protesters for their commitment to protest and their ability to stand up for what they thought was right. “When people protest, you saw it with Bank of America and their five dollar charge—they get nervous when people are outside and it makes them a little uneasy,” stated Weber. Weber continued to speak about what she wished would be addressed when it came to the budget crisis, including the taxation of oil companies, a partial repeal of the Proposition 13 (increasing the property tax on large corporations, while keeping it low for family homes), and the wage repression of many middle-income workers, which includes many students trying to support themselves in school.
Aside from prompting organizations such as ASUCR and the Free UCR Alliance to host advocacy events, the UC Board of Regents meetings also forced many students to assess the dire financial situation faced by the university. “We have regents who are [the most] successful business people in the whole state and this is the best that they can come up with, raising tuition? And they couldn’t come up with anything else?” wondered one second-year student.
For others, the regents meeting allowed UC students from numerous campuses to join together under shared beliefs ranging from educational views to views regarding proper police response to student protests. “’I’m basically here to stop fee hikes or protest against it and I think we need to raise our voices louder because [students have too] many loans, it’s just too much. I’m really impressed with the amount of people here right now and even though they’re not saying anything, their presence speaks a lot,” noted UC Santa Barbara student Caroline Chavez, who attended the Fix UC presentation.
Another student expressed his concern regarding the presence of police in riot gear, stating, “I pay to feel safe [at the university] and they’re making me nervous because every time I see the police they’re holding onto the tear gas.”
Individuals affiliated with the Occupy Movement were also present in large numbers on Wednesday. “We came down because we wanted to support UCR and help Occupy UCR develop and build up from this UC Regents meeting, mostly because [the UC regents] represent private interest. Because of prices going up so much, you end up graduating into debt then you have to do whatever it takes to survive and the job market is terrible right now because they keep filtering people and then they don’t get people to follow their passion,” stated Jessica, visiting from Occupy Los Angeles.
Students on campus were shocked to see that the lawn to the west of the bell tower was being occupied by numerous tents. When asked whether the police campus police or university administrators had made any orders to remove the tents, an Occupy advocate noted that the group of protesters had not been approached by either party. The lack of response from law enforcement may be viewed as an exercise of caution given the university’s recent encounter with tents; November’s notorious pepper spray incident at UC Davis occurred during protests that were taking place after Chancellor Katehi had called for the tents to be removed. As of Sunday evening, several Occupy tents remained on the lawn.