About 700 students, faculty and staff attended a noontime rally at UCLA's Bruin Plaza
today as part of a systemwide day of protests against UC fee hikes, class reductions and pay cuts.
The enthusiastic but peaceful rally did not seem to disrupt the rest of life on campus on the fall quarter's first day of classes.
Among those in the crowd was third-year psychology major Vico Melgoza of Santa Ana. He said he was skipping two classes today to be there. "This is more important. That's my personal belief," said Melgoza, 21, adding that he was worried about how fee increases will affect not only his future but also future generations of low-income students. The fee hikes and cutbacks, he said, "are beating the people who are already beaten."
Among the speakers at the hourlong rally was English professor Jenny Sharpe, who like others denounced both UC President Mark G. Yudof and lawmakers in Sacramento for what she said was shifting the cost of public higher education from the state to the students. "State support for higher education has to be seen as a public good, not a private privilege," she told the crowd.
UCLA police said there were no arrests made and that the day promised to be a peaceful one on campus.
At UC Irvine, several hundred students, professors and workers rallied on steps outside the administration building to oppose state budget cuts.
Campus officials had no official estimate of how many classes were cut short or canceled, but protest organizers said that in at least half a dozen large lecture courses, students were handed out syllabuses before class and dismissed to attend rallies timed for the first day of undergraduate classes.
More than 70 faculty members signed an online petition opposing budget cuts.
Much of the anger at the noontime rally was directed at Yudof ("Lay off Yudof," some chanted), the governor and other state leaders.
In speeches, signs and chants, students in the hourlong rally protested tuition increases, fee hikes, layoffs, expanding class sizes and decreased course offerings.
"They say cut back, we say fight back" some chanted, others marching in a circle holding signs, playing hand drums and holding signs with phrases like "Don't tread on public education," "no fee hikes," and "Defend UCI" with a drawing of the university's mascot, an Anteater, shedding tears.
At UC Berkeley, meanwhile, campus police estimated that a crowd of 1,500 to 2,000 took part in the protests in Sproul Plaza near the main administration building and on the balcony of the nearby Martin Luther King Jr. student union.
Hundreds of chanting demonstrators filled the sunny plaza, waving signs that proclaimed "Chop from the top," "Si se puede" and "Lay-off Yudof." To the beat of a loud, fast drummer, they declared: "No cuts! No fees! Education should be free!"
-- Larry Gordon reporting from UCLA, Tony Barboza from UC Irvine and Maria LaGanga from UC Berkeley