Tuition increases were not on the UC regents’ agenda Thursday, but student protesters still angry over past fee hikes -- and worried about future ones -- disrupted the officials’ meeting at UC Riverside and even blocked some from leaving.
Two demonstrators were arrested for allegedly assaulting police officers, UC Riverside spokesman James Grant said, and there were no serious injuries, although four officers suffered minor cuts.
During the regents’ morning session, 18 students staged a sit-down demonstration, causing the meeting to stop for about 50 minutes and then resume with limited public access.
There were no arrests in that incident, but protesters continued to gather outside the building where the regents were meeting.
When some regents and university staff tried to leave for the day, students climbed on top of several vehicles and blocked them. With about 200 protesters gathered in the campus roadway, the remaining officials waited inside for about two hours to avoid a confrontation. Police eventually escorted them out on foot via an alternative route.
Yolanda Ochoa, a UC Riverside freshman from Anaheim who was at the rally, said she disagreed with the tactic of disrupting the vehicles.
Though she receives some financial aid and has taken out loans, she said, she and many other students have trouble paying their UC bills -- which now top $30,000 annually, including room, board and books.
“I want an education. I want a better life. But I can’t have that if tuition keeps increasing as it has,” she said.
While the regents did not discuss tuition levels, they said they expected to consider the topic over the next few months.
If Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan for temporary tax increases fails, state higher education funding could be sharply reduced and tuition increases will be more likely, officials said.
In another matter, the regents took the very rare step Thursday of dismissing a tenured faculty member -- a UC Riverside international finance professor who has had a series of legal and financial disputes with the university system.
The vote against Sarkis Joseph Khoury took place in closed session and was announced in a terse written statement that did not mention him by name because of concerns about confidentiality.
Khoury, however, recently confirmed that he was the professor in question and contended that he had been the target of UC harassment because of his Republican political views, his Lebanese heritage and his defense of minority candidates for hiring, among other things.
Over the last 15 years, Khoury and UC Riverside tangled in several court cases over the allegation that he violated system rules by taking pay from other universities during his UC sabbaticals.
Khoury, who is 65 and joined the university in 1984, denies those charges and said he took only expense stipends while on sabbatical.
In a phone interview, Khoury said he was bewildered by the vote, since he said he had recently retired.
UC officials refused to publicly discuss his case, although some privately said the regents did not consider Khoury’s retirement finalized.
The regents also voted to deny him the emeritus status in retirement that allows some former faculty access to campus offices. Khoury still could collect his pension.
In an email, Khoury said he would challenge his dismissal in court.
“The university may have the public money to waste and an army of unscrupulous lawyers. I have the truth on my side, and I will see that it is exercised,” he wrote.
Khoury’s firing comes after much review by fellow faculty and administrators.
UC spokesmen said such a dismissal had occurred only about six times in the last two decades.