About 50 students on Monday gathered at UC Merced to publicly call for state and federal lawmakers to reinvest in higher education to stave off future tuition increases and to call on the UC Board of Regents to help them promote that message.
The Board of Regents met by teleconference at four sites Monday morning. Regent Fred Ruiz was the lone board member at UC Merced, where students voiced their concerns in a nonviolent manner both inside and outside the meeting room.
“They need to help us get an education,” said UC Merced student Rafael Maravilla, who helped to organize the demonstration. “It benefits the state, the nation and the world. Our students change the world.”
About two dozen people gathered outside the Leo and Dottie Kolligian Library and peacefully demonstrated throughout the morning and afternoon. Some carried signs that read “Save our future,” “Do you think I’m rich! No more fee hikes!” and “Pupils Unite!”
Another two dozen students attended the meeting inside the library, with many of them participating in a public comment period that lasted nearly two hours.
Maravilla and other students said recent tuition increases are pushing higher education out of reach for more and more Californians. With financial support from the state declining sharply, the Board of Regents has approved two tuition increases this calendar year. Students now pay more in tuition than what UC receives from the state — a dramatic shift.
Chancellor Dorothy Leland said the day marked a milestone of sorts for the campus, which saw one of its first significant peaceful assemblies.
“The university community gathered together — in solidarity with sister campuses throughout the UC system — to express its frustration with the state’s continued disinvestment of public higher education,” Leland said in a statement. “I congratulate our student protest leaders for ensuring their concerns are heard. Participating in the open democratic process is one of many experiences to be had both in and out of the classroom.”
Yuliya Matlashova, a UC Merced freshman, has been working on transfer papers to schools in her home state, New Mexico. With the tuition increases, she’s unable to afford to stay at UC Merced.
“I’m feeling a lot of stress,” she said. “No student should have to go through that. Education is a critical part of our life, but I don’t want to be in debt for the rest of my life.”
The student demonstrators listened to the meeting outside by putting a microphone next to a computer streaming the live audio. They cheered as students and others spoke during the public comment period.
A group of demonstrators went into the conference room where the meeting was held. There were a few disruptions during the meeting, but order was maintained and the meeting was able to remain open to the public.
After the meeting ended, Ruiz, Leland and UC Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Lawrence H. Pitts held an impromptu discussion with students about the issues that had been raised during the meeting and demonstrations.