Student protesters disrupted a University of California regents' meeting as the university board asked for more state funds to avoid a tuition increase next year and bolstered its investigation of the recent pepper-spraying of students at UC Davis.
Gathering at four campuses and linked by teleconference, the regents Monday first got an earful of criticism from students about the Nov. 18 incident in which UC Davis police doused nonviolent student protesters at close range with the chemical spray. During a 90-minute public comment period, students also urged the regents to embrace a campaign, organized mainly by unions, that seeks tax changes to generate more revenue for the state's colleges and universities.
UC leaders emphasized Monday that they support students' rights to demonstrate peacefully and promised to thoroughly investigate the Davis incident, which was caught on video and sparked outrage nationwide.
UC President Mark G. Yudof announced that former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, a retired UC Davis law professor and civil rights expert, would lead a university task force that will review an independent investigation into the incident. That inquiry will be led by former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton.
"We can not change the past. But we can change the way we act in the future," regents Chairwoman Sherry Lansing told the crowds gathered at UCLA, UC San Francisco, UC Davis and UC Merced. "We want all of you to know we fully and unequivocally support your right to protest peacefully."
But as the regents began discussing next year's budget, students started chanting slogans, including "We need to make UC public again," and declared a "people's regents meeting." Reluctant to order police to use force against the students, the regents retreated to nearby rooms to finish their discussions at three locations. The disruption was on a smaller scale at UC Merced and the sole regent there was able to stay in the original room, campus officials said.
No arrests or injuries were reported at any of the four campuses. And although the police presence was large, authorities took less aggressive actions than they have in years past in ejecting protesters from regents' meetings.
The regents were originally scheduled to meet Nov. 16-17 in San Francisco but postponed that session after police warned that protests could turn violent.
At Monday's rescheduled meeting, the board voted unanimously to seek nearly $412 million in additional state funding for the 2012-13 school year. That aims partly to offset the $650-million cut UC received this year and an additional $100-million reduction under consideration if automatic cuts occur midyear. If UC receives all of its $2.78-billion request in state general funding next year, a tuition increase can be avoided, officials said. But given the state deficit, an increase in funding to the university is unlikely.
UC leaders said they would wait for the governor's budget proposal at year's end before they decide on any tuition increase for next year and would not vote on the issue before March. Tuition at UC has tripled in the last decade, and now stands at $12,192 for a resident undergraduate, not including room, board and campus fees.
Earlier, at UCLA, about 20 students sat on the floor and refused to leave the hall in the West Alumni Center vacated by the regents. A large contingent of campus police surrounded the protesters. In an effort to defuse a tense situation, Lansing, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and several other top UC officials later met with the students for 40 minutes.
The UC officials went along with the Occupy protocol in which speakers take their turns. Lansing promised to meet with them again at a later date, and Block said the students could stay in the room without police surveillance for an additional four hours until the building closed. The students later left peacefully.
Cheryl Deutsch, a UCLA urban planning graduate student and president of the statewide union that represents teaching assistants, said the visit by Lansing and other UC leaders seemed like a public relations "stunt" but added that she was happy to see regents sitting with students and following their rules. "It's a paradigm shift for students and, hopefully, for the regents," she said.
At UC Davis, some students stayed away from classes Monday to protest rising tuition costs and the pepper-spraying. About 300 packed the ballroom where regents met.
David Buscho, a mechanical engineering student organizing the protest at UC Davis, joined others calling for the resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi.
"I think the chancellor needs to be held accountable," Buscho said, saying Katehi's decision to send police in riot gear to the Nov. 18 rally led to the incident.
Nearby, UC Davis student Roxanne Faure, a conservation biology major, was re-pitching her tent — one of about 40 set up in the campus quad since the pepper-spraying — and said she had joined the daylong walkout of classes.
"If they keep raising fees, I probably won't be able to continue" attending the university, she said.