Forum Discussion Centers on Call for Free Tuition

    Free tuition was the topic of discussion at a public meeting in the Visual Arts Facility Nov. 2, where several dozen students, faculty and staff gathered to discuss the impending UC Board of Regents vote to increase student fees 32 percent.

    The meeting featured a panel of speakers, followed by an open discussion on the feasibility of such a plan.

    “I want to push for politics that are visionary — having our own demands,” UCSD alumna and event organizer Micha Cárdenas said.

    Cárdenas said she organized the forum in response to ongoing state budget cuts and corresponding reactions from the UC community, such as the Sept. 24 systemwide walkout.

    “I just don’t buy the rhetoric of the crisis,” Cárdenas said. “We should be lowering tuition. We’re not really limited to some kind of supply-and-demand system, where if someone said we had zero tuition, we would have higher taxes. I think it’s more complex than that.”

    The panel consisted of ethnic studies associate professor Denise Ferreira da Silva, visual arts assistant professor Ricardo Dominguez, visual arts professor Fred Lonidier and A.S. Vice President of External Affairs Gracelynne West.

    Panel members addressed the ways that the university’s rising tuition affects both students and the surrounding community.

    “We have stories, we have families — we’re deeply impacted by these fee increases,” West said.

    According to Dominguez, the goal of the discussion was to reestablish the mission of the UC system.

    “At its core, the forum is about reimagining the university beyond what it currently is, beyond what the UCOP and the regents framed the possibilities of the universities to be,” Dominguez said. “That’s a university that faces a complete privatization or a university for the people of California. Reimagining the university is about what is possible — what can be created as an alternative solution.”

    Prior to the event, a letter discussing the possible concept of a free UC education was circulated on the Internet, much like recent letters written to the UC community by UC President Mark G. Yudof. The letter was composed by Dominguez and Cárdenas, among others.

    “We will seek to create an educational and research vision for a UC [system] that will offer free access for all those who wish to have higher education in our communities,” the letter said.

    Dominguez said the letter was confused by some reciepients as an official letter released by the UC Office of the President.

    “We had e-mails from the LA Times and bloggers and tweeters out there,” Dominguez said. “For at least a moment, the circuit was disrupted. It allowed another possibilty to occur — and that’s to reimagine what the university can be.”

    Lonidier added that significant political action would have to be taken in order for UC students to receive a free education.

    “In the ’60s and ’70s, there were massive student movements that produced things like affirmative action,” Lonidier said. “A lot was pushed onto the university by students. There has to be a challenge to the institution that it takes seriously, and that requires numbers.”

    While event organizers said that such a system would take a number of years to devise and implement, supporters of free tuition see the event as the first step toward their goal.

    “It is just a beginning that we think is worth starting rather than just sitting around,” Dominguez said.

    Readers can contact Ayelet Bitton at [email protected].

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