Illustration by Joe Lai.
Illustration by Joe Lai.

The UC regents may have reached a new low. Or high, rather.

In the proposed fee increase, set to be discussed at the upcoming Nov. 17 regents’ meeting at UCLA, resident undergraduate fees will more than likely experience another upward jolt, this time including a mid-year fee increase in addition to planned spikes for the 2010-2011 school year.

While it’s fair to say no UC student would happily invite a tuition increase, this merits more than a few grumbles. Resident undergrads can expect to experience a $585 increase mid-year, $633 for nonresident undergrads. Graduate students will be similarly affected. Assuming everything goes according to the regents’ plan, all student fees will exceed $10,000 by Fall 2010. The decision to lay this on us in the middle of November, a mere two months before the mid-year line, shines a light on a bigger, continuous problem with the regents: their relationship to students.

The regents make a big point of talking to the public, hinting at proposals and potential changes through impersonal e-mails and brief open sessions during their meetings. The problem is, there is currently no productive way for us to talk to them.  While we are always welcome to fire off an angry e-mail or elbow our way to the microphone during open sessions, these options represent little more to us than a running wheel to a hamster.  An e-mail is far too easy to ignore, and the typical schedule for regents’ meeting allows them to meet privately regarding each topic prior to opening the floor to the public — and even when the public finally takes to the floor, their time to speak is capped at a disrespectfully brief 20 minutes. Any exclamation of emotion during the open sessions is treated as an unruly interference and the offender, often a union member, teacher or student, is escorted forcefully from the room and barred from reentering.

It would be foolish to believe that what’s said by the attending public has any real effect on the regents’ votes. It’s far more likely that many minds are made up before we can even say a word.

This new fee hike proposal leaves us especially helpless. We’re already in school, close to having a third of this year done, and many of us are well into our long-term academic tracks. Proposing increases for next year is one thing, as it allows us to finish out our year and plan accordingly. But applying these fees mid-year feels like a trap: pay the increase or leave. And unless we want to stunt our well-earned momentum from this quarter, paying more seems to be our only real option.

The severity of this situation highlights the amount of harm the regents have caused to their would-be significant others: the students. Assuming these proposals do pass on Monday, which is practically a given, we will be stuck with a decision we have no venue in which to effectively react. These choices directly influence us and our ability to get a UC-caliber education, and yet reflect nothing of our voice. The reverberations from previous fee hikes have become more apparent, and yet, as we look ahead to further increases, we remain unable to influence regents’ future decisions.

As economy and budget struggles continue to hinder our university, it is imperative that we have more say in what happens to us. At the end of the day this is still our university.  It is an establishment which should be centered around our education and our needs.

No one knows our needs and thoughts better than we do, and until we are given a productive, effective way to express them, no one ever will.