Officials, celebrities chide budget

    State Treasurer Phil Angelides, UC Regent George Marcus, “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson, author Arianna Huffington and producer Lawrence Bender joined student leaders from UCSD and San Diego State University to speak out against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed fee increases and budget cuts for higher education at Price Center Plaza on June 1.

    Billy Wong

    The rally at UCSD was the beginning of a day-long state tour for the officials and celebrities, with final stops at UC Santa Barbara and CSU Hayward. It coincided with a meeting by the state Legislature, which discussed the governor’s proposed budget for the 2004-05 fiscal year.

    A.S. President Jenn Pae began the protest with UCSD and SDSU students in attendance by highlighting the effects of the governor’s budget plans on the UC system.

    “The University of California is renowned for providing an affordable, first-class education to a diverse student population,” Pae said. “My fear is that these fundamental precepts are at risk and will be put in grave jeopardy by the state’s proposed cuts to higher education.”

    According to the May 11 compact budget agreement between the governor, UC President Robert C. Dynes and CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed, undergraduate fees would increase by 14 percent in 2004-05 and another 8 percent in 2005-06 and 2006-07. Twenty to 33 percent of fees will be allocated to financial aid each year, compared with a current static 33-percent return-to-aid ratio. In addition, Schwarzenegger did not allocate state funding for K-12 academic outreach programs in the compact agreement.

    “We feel that the compact misrepresents the priorities of students, particularly the 7,000 UCSD students who have expressed dissatisfaction with the fee increases,” Pae said.

    The UC Board of Regents approved the proposed fee increases by a 14-2 vote at its May 20 meeting. Former Student Regent Matt Murray and Marcus voted against the fee increases.

    “I’m not going to allow the university to deteriorate on my watch,” Marcus said at the protest. “We’re going to fight for the resources, we’re going to get those resources and we’re going to win with your action, your activities and your support.”

    Angelides was the first statewide-elected official to object to the Schwarzenegger administration’s budget cuts for higher education. In January, he conducted a statewide tour of high school and college campuses to voice his concerns about the consequences of the proposed cuts.

    “We cannot afford to allow this great university system to be decimated,” Angelides said. “We cannot turn the clock back on opportunity. We cannot allow this governor to break a 40-year compact with the people of California. We must once again say that we’re going to educate as many young people as possible so California can lead the global economy in the 21st century.”

    According to Jarad Sanchez, vice president of external affairs for SDSU Associated Students, college students across the state have rallied together against the cuts.

    “For the last six months, we — the students of the CSU, community college and UC systems — have stood together for one common cause, and that is to save our universities,” Sanchez said at the protest. “We refuse to believe that education is a privilege, not a right.”

    Huffington, Bender and Jackson also spoke at the protest about the importance of higher education.

    “Going to school definitely helps to educate you in so many different ways,” Jackson said. “People say to me, ‘Half of the people in the music industry don’t even finish ninth grade.’ Jay-Z didn’t finish eighth grade, but I mean, Jay-Z is one in two hundred billion people that can become successful not doing that.”

    According to Bender, who produced “Pulp Fiction” and both volumes of “Kill Bill,” people who go to college earn about $1 million more over the course of their careers than those who do not.

    “Each one of you can make a difference,” Bender said. “Each one of you can go out there and raise some hell … We can win this fight, and all the people who have the grades can go to school like they’re supposed to.”

    Members of various groups protesting the budget cuts and fee increases were also present during the rally.

    “[This issue] is really important because [fee increases] are the last thing we need to be worrying about as we’re going into finals,” said Earl Warren College senior Sara Johnson, and a member of the San Diego Stop the Cuts Coalition. “We shouldn’t have to be stressing about our fees next quarter. We should be able to focus on our finals and know that we’re going to be able to afford our education next year.”

    A spokesman for the governor did not return calls seeking comment.

    Pae felt that the day’s rally went well and emphasized the importance of raising awareness about the issue.

    “It was wonderful to see members of the community … all across the state come out and support us and to speak on higher education,” Pae said.

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