Assemblyman Marty Block called it the “elephant in the room.” But he, other lawmakers and Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi had no trouble talking about that elephant during a joint legislative hearing earlier this week on student unrest.
“The root to all of this, frankly, is the underfunding of higher education,” said Block, D-San Diego, chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, which joined with the Senate Education Committee in holding the Dec. 14 hearing.
“Budget cuts have been horrible, and, frankly, we are only dealing with the resources that the taxpayers of California give us,” Block said. “Higher education has absorbed the brunt of the burden already.”
The lawmakers — addressing the response by campus police to recent protests at UC Davis, UC Berkeley and California State University Long Beach — took testimony from experts in policing, a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, students, and UC and California State University administrators, including Katehi and UC President Mark G. Yudof.
In her prepared remarls, Katehi emphasized the issues that underlie the protests.
“Our students are increasingly frustrated and angry about reductions in state support for higher education,” the chancellor said. “They are frustrated and angry about repeated tuition increases. They are worried about how they will repay their loans and find jobs when they graduate.”
Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, a member of the Higher Education Committee, issued a news release in which she said the protests “were born out of outrage and hopelessness that many feel are due to the increasing disinvestment in higher education.”
$100 million ‘trigger’ cut
The hearing came the day after Gov. Jerry Brown announced a “trigger” cut of $100 million in UC funding, on top of the $650 million that the state already sliced from UC’s budget for 2011-12. See box for UC’s response.
A shortfall in state revenue triggered the new cut, as required in the budget deal that Brown and the Legislature crafted earlier this year.
Voicing optimism for a better deal for 2012-13, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, told the legislative hearing Dec. 14: “Higher education should be a higher priority of the California Legislature.”
Katehi has committed to redoubling her advocacy at the Capitol, telling the lawmakers: “We all need to work together to make higher education more affordable and accessible, or there will be continued frustration from students, both from those who protest, and from those who only want to go to class without distraction.
“They are justifiably frustrated, and so am I.”
UC Davis’ latest round of protests began Nov. 15 with rallies and marches that led to an “occupy”-style encampment on the Quad, in violation of campus policy. Police went in Nov. 18 to remove the equipment, resulting in the arrest of 10 protesters — nine of them students — and the pepper-spraying of 11 people.
“Did I direct the police to use pepper spray? The answer is no,” Katehi told the lawmakers. “Did I direct police to use force? The answer is no.”
Block asked her what she would have done differently Nov. 18, drawing this response: “If I knew the police could not remove the tents peacefully, we would not have removed them.”
As she has done previously in a number of talks with faculty, students and staff, the chancellor accepted responsibility and vowed to make reforms to ensure there students can safely engage in peaceful civil disobedience.
She noted the five investigations that are under way to determine what happened on Nov. 18 and why.
Among them is UC’s review of police policies and procedures on all the campuses. UC President Mark G. Yudof told lawmakers his intent is not to micromanage chancellors or campus police.
“Nonetheless, the recent incidents make clear that the time has come to take strong action to recommit to the ideal of peaceful protest.”
Assemblywoman Yamada agreed: “Something positive will come out of this.” …
Funding shortfall. Yes… keep going. Why? California is broke. Yes… keep going. Why? Irresponsible borrowing over the years. Yes… keep going. What were we borrowing money for? … uh …. uh …. War.
Bingo. Until you talk about the war, no, you have not yet talked about the elephant in the room. (See my past entries showing how California pays more than its share, more billions of dollars than have been so far cut for education, for the wars we are fighting. )