California State University trustees on Wednesday approved a 9% tuition increase after a raucous session in which police used pepper spray and batons to clear protesters who had disrupted the meeting in Long Beach.
The board voted 9 to 6 to raise tuition by about $500 for fall 2012, bringing the annual education charges for undergraduates to $5,970, not including campus-based fees that average $1,047.
But the meeting descended into chaos when members of the audience began chanting "we are the 99%," and demanding that trustees sign a pledge to force financial institutions to pay more taxes to fund higher education.
After several minutes, trustees left the boardroom, and university police herded the protesters outside where they joined about 100 other demonstrators, including students and members of the activist groups Occupy Long Beach and ReFund California.
Several tried to force their way back in, and baton-wielding police used pepper spray. Cal State officials later said that police responded after protesters first used pepper spray. The clash shattered a glass door, and the demonstrators retreated as Long Beach riot officers arrived. Four students were arrested, and three university officers suffered minor injuries, officials said. Damage was estimated at $30,000.
Trustees reopened the session in an adjacent room, which officials said is authorized by state law when order is disrupted. However, several members of the public and media said they were forbidden access by security. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a trustee, urged the board to put the tuition hike back on the agenda at a special meeting scheduled for Dec. 5.
"At that time, the full Board can hold an open debate, with full public comment and members of the media present, so that the people of California can be confident that these decisions are being made in the open and decision-makers — myself included — are being held to account," Newsom said in a statement.
After the meeting, Chancellor Charles B. Reed decried the disruptions.
"It is distressing that the influence of external groups contributed to this level of destruction and disruption," he said in a statement. "This is the first time in the 13 years that I have been Chancellor that this has happened, and I regret that the outside groups have behaved in this manner."
California State Student Assn. President Gregory Washington said the disruptions reflected widespread anger among students who are unable to keep up with rising education costs.
"It's an embodiment of a lot of frustration building up in students for awhile," said Washington, 21, a Cal State Fullerton student. Christopher Carman was among a group of about 50 students from San Diego State University who came to protest the fee hike. He said he works at a bar and relies on veterans' benefits to pay tuition.
"It's getting harder and harder, and I'm only in my second year," said Carman, 32, a sociology major. "The trustees need to stop making the institution a business and start focusing more on students' needs."
His thoughts were echoed by several trustees who argued that raising tuition absolves the governor and Legislature of responsibility for sufficiently funding higher education.
Newsom noted that UC regents chose not to ask for a tuition increase to make a stronger case for state support. Cal State and UC each lost $650 million in state funding this year, and the Legislative Analyst's Office issued a grim economic forecast Wednesday suggesting that lower-than-anticipated revenue could trigger $100 million more in cuts for each system next school year.
"We should send a strong message and reject this," Newsom said. "That will get a strong reaction in Sacramento."
Trustee Roberta Achtenberg, however, noted that rejecting the tuition hike would mean less access for students. "We have an obligation to make this institution run properly," she said.
In other action, the board approved a 2012-13 budget that seeks an additional $333 million in state support, $155 million of which would be used to enroll 20,000 new students. Reed told trustees that rejecting the tuition increase might result in enrollment caps.
In recent weeks, students, faculty and labor groups have intensified pressure on UC and Cal State leaders to oppose further fee hikes and education cuts. Protests on Cal State's 23 campuses are scheduled throughout the week, and faculty say they will stage a one-day strike Thursday at the East Bay and Dominguez Hills campuses to protest a salary dispute.