Illustration by Matt Boblet.

With $22 billion budget deficit facing the UC system, it is only natural that we should witness difficult — even painful — cuts across the board. But where one would expect the administration to make careful, perhaps surgical cuts around the UC’s heart there is instead a likeness to that of the cleaving of a butcher’s blade.

At UC Santa Cruz, the students have come to know this all too well. Most general education courses once offered at UCSC with classes of fewer than 100 students have been all but wiped out. UCSC Extension programs? Gone. Arabic language courses? Gone. Classical music minor? Gone. The American studies department? Suspended. (But in the words of Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name…”)

As the university slashes away the programs that make UCSC what it is, it is important that we not respond with apathy. Steadily, UCSC has seen a progressively smaller turnout from students protesting against program cuts and fee hikes. In comparing the hundreds of students creating an uproar about the 2009 fee hike to the roughly 30 that gathered to object to the American studies program getting slashed, it is clear that students have started to feel complacent.

But this is our university, and we should fight to protect it.

UC president Mark Yudof once described the position of the president of the University of California as “like being manager of a cemetery.” True to form, we — at UCSC alone — have seen $32 million worth of campus units sent to the grave under his presidency, not including the $28 million one-time cuts felt mostly by UCSC’s staff and faculty and their salaries.

Sadly, soon to join the list of the dead is the aforementioned American studies program, reduced now to only a handful of staff and faculty due to the administration’s fund-starving initiatives. This major, unique to UCSC has gone out with a whimper.

The implications of cutting yet another long-standing “nonstandard” program of UCSC is not only absurd but altogether detrimental to the quality of its students’ educations. As a degree that had something to offer those interested in literature, race and ethnicity, politics, history, economics and U.S. culture and society, the administration’s decision to cut the program only further discourages pursuits in interdisciplinary education.

While nobody ever likes to be portrayed as the villain, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the student body to sympathize with those holding UC’s purse strings. In the face of a beleaguered, yet animated statewide student body that has repeatedly mobilized and protested against their decisions, the UC regents have provided little else but over $4,000 worth of fee hikes per student and zero indication that the program cuts will end.

At least Dr. Evil had the decency to laugh maniacally when he did a dastardly act.

Grotesquely, the shorter a student’s time spent in the UC system, the better off financially the student will be. With Gov. Jerry Brown’s predicted $500 million slash to the UC budget on the table, there’s little doubt as to who will bear the brunt of the blow.

College-bound students might have once asked, “How soon can I get into college?” In the face of the mounting wall of UC debt, they’ll soon ask, “How soon can I get out?” Yet, as the proverbial walls to California’s systems of higher education shudder, threatening to collapse on the students they shelter, there remains hope.

Within former Gov. Schwarzenegger’s approved budget for this year were $305 million restored to UC funding. Top that off with the additional $620.8 million predicted to be generated annually from the two consecutive fee hikes approved by the UC Board of Regents, and there’s a sizable sea of green to keep our schools afloat.

But how the money is used and where it is allocated will always be the issue, and it remains up to the students to keep the pressure on the regents to spend appropriately. That opportunity is coming on Jan. 18 in San Diego, where the UC Board of Regents will meet to talk for the first time this year.

As the UC reevaluates its priorities, we must remind them that our voice still matters.