At campus rally, eMails speak louder than chants

Student fees rose 32 percent at UC Santa Cruz last year.

This year, protesters at UC Santa Cruz have used marches, performance art, and poems to express their objections to successive budget cuts. But they can never be sure if their chants of “No More Cuts” reach the ears of the budget-makers in Sacramento.

So, on May 19, as part of a statewide campaign by Stand Up California, an advocacy group championing the tax extensions Gov. Jerry Brown is asking for to help balance the budget, rally organizers took a high-tech approach.

Those in attendance were invited to use laptops set up in UCSC’s Quarry Plaza to eMail state legislators.

“We like to call it an action-oriented rally,” Stand Up California coordinator Mary Gutierrez said. “We know the audience is tech-savvy, and we want to turn that into something positive. We tried the computers at a rally at a senior center once, and it didn’t go so well.”

Brown said recently that, despite improved state revenue projections, the UC system still faces a $500 million cut in state funding.

That figure could double if certain taxes set to expire this year are not renewed, and if the state implements an all-cuts budget. UCSC’s portion of the cut is roughly $31 million. An all-cuts budget would double that amount.

For 2010-11, UCSC received $170.8 million from the state, 30 percent of its total budget.

Layoffs will be a part of the cuts on campus, UCSC officials have said, but the details are still to come.

Some UCSC instructors stood at the rally holding pink pieces of paper with black, block letters reading “Pink Slip” to symbolize the employees who have lost their jobs, and those who will be unemployed by summer.

“We are waiting for the ax to fall,” UCSC Spanish lecturer Maria Morris said. “The climate has changed dramatically in my 21 years here. Students can’t focus on actual intellectual growth; it is a frenzy to get required courses and get out.”

In a meeting this week, the UC Board of Regents indicated that tuition increases are likely no matter the final amount of the cuts.

Last year, student fees rose 32 percent, and another 8 percent increase was approved for the 2011-12 school year.

The in-state student fee will rise to $11,124 in the 2011-2012 school year, a $7,695 increase from 2001, marking the first time that students contribute more money to their education than the state.

UCSC sophomore Melissa Garcia said the jump in tuition has strained her parents, who have another daughter starting college in the fall.

“The cuts will affect people at poverty-level the most,” the Coachella Valley native said. “Education is the best way to get out of poverty, and the cuts threaten those opportunities. I have peers who are worried that they will not be able to return to school next year.”

After the rally at UCSC, Garcia and 12 others traveled to Salinas to present letters to State Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, who has objected to Brown’s proposal to allow California voters decide on the tax extensions.

Cannella was not there and the office was closed, so the protesters slipped their letters under the door.

“We wanted to talk to him,” Garcia said. “But we each got our message across through our letters.”

Copyright (c) 2011, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif. To see more of The Santa Cruz Sentinel, go to Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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