In the Cervantes and Velasquez Conference Room above the Bay Tree Bookstore, UC Santa Cruz students met with their student representatives, student Regent Jonathan Stein and student Regent-designate Cinthia Flores on Friday, Oct. 19. The Q&A featured discussion on Prop 30 versus Prop 38, as well as the fate of the University of California.
Afterward, City on a Hill Press sat down with Stein, who was wearing a “Vote on Prop 30” t-shirt, to find out what the future looks like for UC students. Stein, who is pursuing a master’ s degree in public policy at UC Berkeley and a J.D. at Berkeley Law, has been a student Regent-designate for a year and is now beginning his term as a full-fledged student regent with voting privileges. Currently his most pressing concern is preserving the UC for future generations of students and voicing student perspectives to the UC Board of Regents.
City on a Hill Press: What have you liked about your position?
Jonathan Stein: It’ s an opportunity to meet incredibly talented student leaders across the UC system. It’ s an opportunity to help build a student movement across the state of California. Students are realizing their own power, I think, to a greater extent than they have in the recent past, and that’ s appropriate because they are now being asked, in today’s UC, to pay more for less. This is the first group of UC students who have been asked to pay more for their education than the state of California. The state of California that funded this system for decades and built it into this wonderful thing is now walking away from it, and they are leaving students on their own. Students have a right to be angry, and it’ s time for us to organize and to mobilize in defense of our interests.
CHP: What are the most immediate areas of concern to students of the UC?
Stein: Proposition 30. It is more than about taxes. Every year, the administration puts a fee increase on the table and students react to it — they protest, they march, they rally. Students have the fate of their education in their own hands. They have an opportunity, if they want, to stand in defense of their own education and be proactive rather than reactive. My immediate concern is to get as many people as possible to vote. I should be really clear that as an officer of the university, I’m not allowed to tell anyone how to vote on Proposition 30. But I am able to put out information about what Prop 30 means for your education, and what we know is that if Prop 30 passes we’ll receive $125 million to negate any fee increase, and if Prop 30 fails, we’ ll lose that $125 million and we’ll cut an additional $250 million. So there’s a difference of $375 million and the administration has already said that in order to find this money they’ll need to increase fees by 20 percent. So the passage of Prop 30 is guaranteed to result in a zero percent fee increase. And the failure of Prop 30 almost certainly means a 20 percent increase.
CHP: Statistics now show that about 50 percent of college graduates will not find jobs, yet they will be overwhelmed by student debt. Are there any plans of the regents to address this?
Stein: We’ re now seeing students delaying major life choices, such as getting married, having a kid, buying a home. Even people with good jobs are delaying major life choices because of debt loads. Undergraduate debt makes going to graduate school more difficult. Student debt is forcing students into certain … career choices they may not want to make, but they have to because they have this crushing debt. College is becoming less affordable across the country. The folks who are having the hardest time accessing the UC today are middle-income families. The number of low-income applicants is increasing, the number of high-income applicants is increasing. But for the first time, there is a decrease in middle-income applicants.
CHP: What has been the main obstacle to creating a UC budget that is large enough to continue current levels of education for students, but is affordable at the same time?
Stein: State disinvestment, no question. The state of California has cut us by a billion dollars for the last four to five years. We have cut about a billion dollars, that’s roughly 30 percent of all state funding. Decades ago, the state of California contributed 50–60 percent of our budget. Today, it’ s only 11 percent of our budget. State disinvestment is leading directly to higher fees and privatization of the university.
CHP: Do you have any exciting future plans?
Stein: Yes, I’ll be back in the spring to hopefully recruit a Banana Slug to be a student regent.
CHP: What would you like your audience to remember most?
Stein: That we once built the greatest system of public education in the world. And now we are tearing it down.