By Arianna Puopolo
City on a Hill Press Editor

Inside an air-conditioned room on the third floor of the UC Riverside student commons, the UC Board of Regents held one of their six annual meetings to decide the fate of the UC’s 10 campuses on March 18.

Outside, a large group convened in the 90-degree heat after protesting union wage contracts during the public comment period of the UC Regents’ fifth public three-day meeting this school year.

Together, the unanticipated protest and scheduled fiscal planning brought the point home that the UC is in for another year of financial hardships.

At least one half-hour period is reserved for a public comment period during each regents’ meeting, and, according to UCR media spokesperson Kris Lovekin, an arrest is made approximately every third meeting when speakers engage in protests.

“It’s relatively common that if the demonstration goes on long enough so the regents feel they can’t continue, they call in the police,” Lovekin said.

There were no arrests made at the meeting, but the large assembly of American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employers (AFSCME) and University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) workers left the building after regent chairman Richard Blum called the police into the room.

According to university representatives, police officers, and union members who participated in the protest, the public comment period ended after several individuals spoke in turn and then the group began to chant. Police officers entered the room at the behest of Blum. Protesters left after the police entered.

Dozens of UC employees and their supporters gathered to speak out against the administration’s sluggish negotiating. Sister Justine Church, a medical mission sister associated with the Interfaith Committee of Worker Justice of San Diego, advocated on behalf of working families’ rights.

Church said her purpose and the purpose of her organization is to protect the dignity of every party involved in this strife.

“We want to promote respect for them and their human dignity and ensure they can support their families,” she said. “As a woman, I feel especially concerned about the women [who earn low wages] because they are the ones who have most of the obligations in the home.”

Lorena Altamirano is a lab assistant at the plant pathology and microbiology department at UCR and an UPTE union member. She said the group assembled to bring attention to the ongoing financial struggle workers face in light of the lethargic contract negotiations.

“We wanted to call attention to the regents on bargaining negotiations,” she said. “We were here to try to move our negotiations toward a positive outcome.”

According to Altamirano, tens of thousands of university workers are currently struggling due to the university’s apathy and disregard for existing contracts. She said the grant money from which union workers’ salaries come provides for pay raises, but the regents have not complied.

Altamirano reported that no physical confrontation occurred between protesters and police forces, but the presence of law enforcement may not have been justified.

“It was a response, but I wouldn’t say it was fair,” she said.

In addition to a conflict of principle, there was a conflict of scheduling during the March 2009 regents’ meeting.

The meeting’s scheduled dates of March 17 to 19 coincided with nine of the 10 UC campus’s final exam schedules. Only UC Berkeley — because it runs on semesters rather than on the quarter system — did not have final exams scheduled for that week.

Although UC Office of the President spokesperson Tray Davis said scheduling is arbitrary in relation to UC academic schedules, the inaccessibility of the meetings was reflected in the absence of student spectators.

Funding and the impending action on student fees was the subject of debate between the regents during the presentations from the committee on finance and the committee on the whole.

The conclusion that followed does not bode well for students; fee hikes are inevitable, the regents decided, and extended private funding is unavoidable.

Blum, a proponent of private funding, said, “More and more we must look for public-private partnerships.”

UC President Mark Yudof commended the chancellors for the work they’ve done to cut spending while projecting more cuts. He also addressed issues of program cuts.

“If you’re in tough times, you need to identify your priorities,” he said. “You can’t just assume there will be prorating everywhere.”

Yudof anticipates the difficulty students and UC faculty face in the upcoming year. “It’s going to be a horrible year for students, it’s going to be a horrible year for faculty,” he said. “We’ll probably have furloughs, we’ll probably have fee increases.”

However, Yudof is maintaining an optimistic outlook in the face of impending budget crisis. “When we say we’re cutting, we’re really not cutting,” he said. “We’re really just doing reallocation.”

Lt. Gov. John Garamendi criticized the state’s failure to support public education.

“Just in terms of price, the budget increases tax on automobiles $500, but on students it’s $700,” Garamendi said. “The budget that’s presently in place seriously harms the university and all of its programs.”

Garamendi appraised the financial burden further.

“The budget that was signed basically requires the regents to approve a 9.3 percent fee increase,” he said.

What would appear to be an inevitable and exponential expense growth is preventable, according to Garamendi. He urges every UC student to make his or her opposition to fee hikes known.

“Push back,” he said. “Push back really hard, because you are powerful and the university does have a voice.”