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Students, UC regents protest proposed budget cuts

Times Staff Writer

The prospect of a sharp reduction in state revenues for higher education triggered protests from students and anxiety among faculty and administrators at Thursday’s meeting of the UC Board of Regents.

The 10-campus UC system, which enrolls about 220,000 students, could face hikes in student fees, limits on enrollment and a salary freeze under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to cope with the state’s budget gap. Decisions on such actions will be made in the upcoming months even as educators lobby in Sacramento for extra revenue.

“We have to stand up and with one voice and very clearly say this is one of the stupidest things to be done,” regent Norman Pattiz said of the proposed cuts. “It just makes no sense to be cutting an engine for growth during a period when business isn’t good.”

About 50 students carrying protest banners attended the meeting at UCLA and pleaded with the regents to not follow the governor’s plan to raise undergraduate fees by at least 7.4%. That would bring fees to about $8,000 a year, not including such other costs as housing and books. And some students said they feared the fee hike could wind up being 10%.

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“We need to stop using student fees as Band-Aids to cover the university’s budget problems,” said Louise Hendrickson, a UC Riverside graduate student who is president of the systemwide UC Student Assn. She urged the regents to remind the governor and Legislature that the higher costs might discourage many low- and middle-income students from attending UC.

Among the other speakers was Justin Reyes, a second-year student at UC Santa Barbara, who said he had more than $20,000 in student loan debts and was worried that fee hikes would make life harder for many students and their families. The state budget crisis, he said, “is not the students’ fault, and it is not the students’ responsibility.”

One of the first issues facing administrators is the possibility of reducing or eliminating the anticipated 2.5% increase, or about 5,000 additional students, in undergraduate enrollment in the fall. That would be tricky because freshman application deadlines have passed and most enrollment offers will be made by March.

Most regents said they wanted to avoid enrollment reductions even if it means cutting more deeply into other spending and programs.

“I’m not convinced that our answer is to limit enrollment,” said board Chairman Richard C. Blum. “Our first duty is to the people of California and certainly to the students.” He said UC should seek savings by cutting its “bloated administration” and wasteful spending.

Wyatt R. Hume, the UC system’s provost and chief operating officer, said the mood in the university is to avoid an enrollment freeze. However, he said the state’s finances mean “we have to look at all options.”

The Cal State University system, which usually keeps application periods open until late winter or even into the spring at some campuses, announced last week that it would close application windows Feb. 1.

In 2004, UC denied admission to 5,800 eligible students and told them to enroll at community colleges and transfer later to UC. That move triggered protests from angry parents, and the plan was rescinded by summer.

Many of those students by then decided to forgo UC’s admission offers and enroll elsewhere. On Thursday, regents said they wanted to avoid a repeat of that confusing episode.

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larry.gordon@latimes.com


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