Sheryl Vacca (left), University of California Senior Vice President and Chief Compliance and Audit Officer, talks to Regent Gould at the recent Regents meeting. Photo by Arianna Puopolo.
Sheryl Vacca (left), University of California Senior Vice President and Chief Compliance and Audit Officer, talks to Regent Gould at the recent Regents meeting. Photo by Arianna Puopolo.

Regents Richard Blum, Leslie Schilling and Russell Gould sat under the fluorescent lights of the UC San Francisco community center at Mission Bay, conducting side conversations while the regents’ senior vice president and chief of compliance and audit directed the May 7 meeting. 

The office of the regents cited  swine flu as the cause for reorganizing the event, which was adapted from a three-day conference in San Diego to a six-hour teleconference.

Thanks to the change of plans, and despite the fact that a potential student fee increase was the topic of discussion, there were none of the protests that usually mark each of the six regent meetings held every year. 

One or two students at each of the dozen participating satellite sites took turns speaking during the public comment period. Although, in some cases, these students were separated by hundreds of miles, they were joined in solidarity against the proposed fee hikes. But even after listening to 35 minutes of students crying, begging and pleading, only four of the 26 regents voted against the increase. Beginning fall 2009, student fees will go up by 9.3 percent. 

Adam Brown, a second-year engineering major at UCLA, resented the likelihood that he would see many tangible benefits from the hikes.

“If we’re not going to see any return on [the fee hikes], it’s unfair,” he said. “We’re being taken advantage of.”

Lisa Chen, a fourth-year at UC San Diego, was aggravated by the regents’ lack of accessibility.

“I’ve never felt so silenced and so marginalized as I do right now,” she said through the teleconference speakers. 

Many of the students who participated in the public comment period condemned the “high-fee, high-aid” model that the regents seem to be subscribing to. In this model, they said, middle-income and undocumented students suffer the most.  

UC President Mark Yudof dismissed these claims, saying that the UC is far from a high-fee, high-aid model. He said the fiscal implications are intended to be minimal for students.

“You are exaggerating the impact,” Yudof said to those listening in from the other teleconference sites. “Everybody has a compelling case.  We just don’t have a lot of money.”

Andrea San Miguel is a fifth-year community studies major affiliated with College Ten. She joined the Coalition to Save Community Studies and was approved by SUA to attend the conference call in San Francisco as a whiteliner, someone who has permission from the office of the regents to have the same access privileges as a member of the press.

San Miguel approached Yudof after the meeting went into private session. She wanted to discuss program cuts at UC Santa Cruz, but said Yudof was unreceptive.

“I tried to speak with [Yudof] after the meeting, asking if he minded if I got a few more seconds with him, and he said yes, he did mind, [and] that our conversation was over,” she said. 

Lucero Chavez, UC Student Association (UCSA) president and second-year UC Berkeley Boalt Hall Law student, commiserated with the student body and promised the regents retaliation if the fee hike trend continues.

“I have a very high threshold on pain,” Chavez said. “But we’re reaching a breaking point.  As students, we’ve been really quiet this year and we don’t have to be.”

Chairman Blum responded to Chavez by saying, “Please just don’t come here and complain.”

Many of the regents extended their sympathy and regret to the students anticipating financial crises due to the fee hike and blamed the legislature, denying that there might be any other solution to the budget crisis.  

Retired attorney Eddie Island was one of four regents who voted against raising fees. 

“The continuous increase of student fees changes the fundamental principle of the university creating access and affordability,” Island said. “Every time the legislature says they’ve got other priorities, the regents respond by raising student fees. It’s time for us to turn to … a model that will guarantee the funding and security of the university.”

Island said that treating this year’s fee hike like an isolated incident is inaccurate and deceitful because similar hikes have happened in seven of the last eight years. The exception, he noted, was an election year.

Lt. Gov. John Garamendi serves on the Board of Regents. He was one of the four to oppose the fee hike. Garamendi explained that his opposition reflects the respect with which he regards public education and what it can contribute to California.

“If we stay on the course we’re on with ever-higher fees, we will have lost one of the most important economic systems that can benefit this state,” Garamendi said. 

“The result of the vote to raise students’ fees will have a bigger impact on students than some of the regents and President Yudof are willing to admit to themselves,” UCSC student San Miguel said.  “Increasing financial aid does not necessarily neutralize the effect of higher fees, and it does have an impact on who applies and how hard high-school students attempt to get into four-year schools, as UCSA said in their presentation at the meeting.”