Still basking in the glow of national rankings that placed its graduate programs among the best in the nation, the University of California Board of Regents met here Thursday and was immediately brought up short.
More than 80 protesters, angry about the regents’ decision this summer to roll back affirmative action at UC, made it impossible for the board to conduct its scheduled business by chanting, waving signs and in one case, threatening regents’ lives.
“Remember 1992 on the streets of L.A.! Prepare yourself for war!” warned Cesar Cruz, a UC Irvine student who was among many raising their voices to address an increasingly agitated board. “Your life might be taken!”
Three times, police formed a human shield between the regents and the audience. Twice, the regents adjourned and left the meeting room as the crowd shouted, “Affirmative action must not cease! No justice, no peace!”
After a third outburst, board Chairman Clair W. Burgener ordered police to clear the room and the meeting continued with only UC personnel and a few reporters in the audience.
Some protesters warned that the disruption of Thursday’s meeting--the first general meeting to be held since the regents cast their affirmative action vote in July--would pale in comparison to a planned nine-campus protest on Oct. 12.
On that day, many students are planning to boycott classes and some protesters have called for the forced occupation of UC buildings until the regents rescind their vote.
But the protesters themselves are not united. Several students said Thursday that they are frustrated that their efforts have been tarnished by a small group of outsiders--some from as far away as New York and Michigan--who are trying to capitalize on the affirmative action issue to draw attention to their own causes.
One of those outsiders addressed the board Thursday: Shanta Driver, who first told reporters that she was a community activist from Berkeley but later admitted that she is a member of the Revolutionary Workers League from Detroit.
“You have shown you are unworthy to govern,” she told the regents during the board’s public comment period, adding sarcastically, “Thank you for giving us the time to build a mass social movement!”
But Hatem Bazian, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley and one of the coordinators of a student group called Diversity in Action, said Driver does not represent student views. While Driver and others said they were determined to shut down the regents’ meeting, Bazian was among many students who wanted the meeting to continue so their views could be heard.
“What you saw today is not representative of UC and what we are doing,” Bazian said. He said organizers at UC Berkeley are hoping that 70% of students--or about 15,000--will participate in the Oct. 12 walkout.
But Driver represents “an attempt of a far-left faction to insert themselves into an issue,” Bazian said.
Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, an ex-officio member of the board, agreed.
“What we witnessed today in the main was a group of professional agitators whose antics were totally counterproductive,” said Davis, who opposed the regents’ rollback of affirmative action in hiring, contracting and admissions. “Today’s action, if anything, solidified support for the regents’ action in July.”
UC officials confirmed Thursday that the furor over the affirmative action decision has caused the regents to take special safety precautions. Meetings that had been scheduled at several UC campuses in the coming school year will be moved to UC San Francisco, whose basement meeting room can be easily secured during protests, officials said.
“The facilities at the [other] campuses are such that it’s difficult to provide a secure facility in which to conduct the meeting,” said Terry Colvin, a UC spokesman.
The protests over affirmative action did not end Thursday until midafternoon, when demonstrators were forced to leave the room, and the board finally got back to its agenda four hours behind schedule.
Then, the board’s finance committee briefly discussed the need to improve financial controls at UC’s Office of Risk Management, which is responsible for protecting the university’s assets from fraudulent claims.
UC recently filed suit against an administrator in that office who allegedly embezzled nearly $1 million by filing and approving a series of phony claims payable to herself and her daughter.