Occupying Our Education

This post was coauthored with Mark Paschal.

Last Wednesday we were arrested with some 90 people, most of them fellow students, at a peaceful sit-in inside the Bank of America. We had a simple request. We would like the UC Regents, including Bank of America Board Member Monica Lozano, to pledge to refund public education in California.

The UC Regents had planned to meet in San Francisco last Wednesday, but cancelled their meeting at the last minute, fearing student unrest. The UC Regents may not want to meet with us, but we would like to meet with them. In her role on the Board of the bank, Regent Monica Lozano presided over thousands of foreclosures in a crisis that cost California communities billions of dollars -- money that could have gone to education. Before discontinuing the practice, Bank of America was also one of the top 5 private sellers of student loans and continues to hold a sizable chunk of the nation's $1 trillion dollar student loan debt.

Ms. Lozano isn't the only Regent whose resume identifies her as a member of the 1%. UC Regent Richard Blum's San Francisco investment firm is the largest shareholder in Career Education Corporation -- a large for-profit college system that directly benefits from UC tuition hikes and budget cuts. These business dealings may not be a conflict of interest in the legal sense, but it certainly raises questions over where the Regents' political loyalties lie.

At their cancelled meeting, the UC Regents planned to increase tuition 81%, barring a budget increase from the state. Five years ago, UC students paid a minimum of $5,406, a year in educational fees, fees that represent a sleight of hand around the mandate for "tuition free" education in the original California Master Plan for Higher Education. "Fees" now amount to over $12,000 a year. Our public university system is being systematically privatized, making it harder and harder for students from working class families to access higher education.

Most of Wednesday's arrestees were there because California's budget crisis not only affects us personally, but because it affects the entire state. While the UC Regents were delayed in voting to raise tuition, CSU Trustees were able to ignore the large protests outside their windows: they raised CSU tuition by 9%. Further, according to the LA Times, at least 400,000 California high school students who would normally go to community college were denied that opportunity this fall because of budget cuts at the UC, CSUs and community colleges.

Cuts to education in this state are a political choice, not a necessity. California's share of US GDP and household income are virtually unchanged over the last decade, and this is not a high tax state. We occupied Bank of America to make banks pay. You can make banks pay by helping us close corporate property tax loopholes under Proposition 13, increasing taxes on California's top income earners, and advocating for state support for a federal sales tax on Wall Street transactions to ensure access to quality education for all Californians. UC Regents -- Are you with us?

Annie Shattuck is a graduate student in the Department of Geography at UC Berkeley and a member of the Refund California Coalition. She is the daughter of a high school teacher and the product of California's public education system.

Mark Paschal is a graduate student in History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz, has been organizing within the UCSC General Assembly and is a member of the Refund California Coalition. He sometimes publishes at Viewpointmag.wordpress.com.