Drop the Picket Signs for a Higher-Flying Hope

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    Raise your hand if you’re as burnt out on being angry about the impending student-fee increases as we are. The picket signs, teach-ins, heartbreaking anecdotal forums, commissions on the future — all gallant efforts toward change — seem to be riling a stagnant sort of heat. Nobody can take another financial hit in this economy, and the UC Board of Regents has no goddamn idea what to do about it.

    We’re trying our hardest to avoid a defeatist attitude, and, ultimately, we would like to commend the protestors. The Sept. 24 walkout, though conducted with a not-so-community-building ruthlessness and somewhat meager turnout compared to Berkeley, was UCSD’s biggest rebel-rouser since the Prop. 8 fiasco: a refreshing shot of outcry we could all care about.

    But it doesn’t come as much surprise that the walkouts ended there. Principally, we’re all students, not professional protestors — even those designated to protest by student councils and orgs have an outside life to deal with. So, thank you for trying. It’s easy for ignorant, cynical passersby and newspaper shrews to dismiss a protest as too small to accomplish anything, but that’s the fault of those who weren’t out there, not those who made whatever push they could.

    That said, the intention of student government systemwide to camp out at the Nov. 17 regents meeting — where they will vote on a 32-percent student-fee increase — is a waste of momentum. We need to choose a battle with at least some sliver of hope for victory. Despite any illusions of a “public comment period” the regents decided on this fee increase a long time ago. There is not a chance in hell they’ll compromise the prestige of our university or make more faculty cuts to keep student fees low — especially knowing there will always be applicants too apathetic or uncaring to resist a heftier tuition bill (or resist handing it off to their parents).

    Sure, the protests have been enough to scare UC President Mark G. Yudof into the depths of his office, spitting out lionhearted letters to avoid facing the pissed-off students and staff stomping around his campuses. We also seem to have scared him into propping up a mighty fine financial-aid plan (though who knows, maybe that grand gesture flowed from the sheer kindness of his Blue and Gold heart). The fact that the UCSD financial aid department has already sent 2009-10 grant recipients its updated Winter Quarter allocations to accommodate the fee increase — a paranoid effort to qualm pre-decision fears or outrage — is a clear indication that the regents already have their minds made up.

    It is indeed necessary to show the regents that there will always be a pack of watchdogs on their every move. But student leaders hold an even greater responsibility: to find ways of making a real change. It’s a much more daunting and unstable task — and requires breaking away from the standard march down Library Walk — but we’ve got to target the only real source of funding left in this devastating statewide crisis: Californians. Lord knows they’re all broke too, but taxes aren’t anywhere near a historical high. Not to mention they’re already funding a variety of causes less impactful (albeit noble) to the future of our state and nation.

    What we really need, of course, is a constitutional convention to change our state’s voter-locked funding methods which make it virtually impossible for legislators to shave spare change off less-hurting tax recipients. Chances are, even our hard-jawed governor would find it in his heart to fund higher education if he had some more leg room to ration the bank account — and many other legislators have expressed a strong desire to support the University of California. With a slightly socialist move toward more government-controlled tax revenue, it would just take a few simpler “marches on Sacramento” — as Yudof so heroically put it — to cure the rise in student fees. May’s statewide ballot measures, under the protection of 1B, attempted to preserve as much emergency funding for education as possible. In the end, it was California voters who trashed it. We need to make these voters see how important an affordable education is to their personal and public future.

    A.S. President Utsav Gupta has discussed a possible effort to lobby the San Diego community for its support of the UC cause. However, there are no signs of interest so far from his External Affairs counterparts in jumping on the initiative. If any of the A.S. budget or manpower was allotted to letting Californians know the dire situation we’re in, we might finally be making some headway in an affordable future, where it counts.

    Non-UC-affiliated citizens hear the fringe noise of angry students and see Yudof’s name in the newspaper, but unless they have a child currently enrolled in the university or are themselves alumni, the public-education plight is not necessarily at the top of their list of budgetary concerns.

    Here’s an idea: we band together to run a public information campaign targeting voters. We ask them “Where would you be without your college education?” or “Where will your child/community be without the same?” and spread it statewide on mailbox flyers and public service announcements, asking Californians to bug their representatives in Sacramento, or just keep the cause in mind on a future ballot. Through these efforts we might come that much closer to convincing those who have the power to make a difference that access to public higher education is worthy of their support.

    Unfortunately, at this point, by targeting Yudof and the dead-spirited regents, we’re attempting to beat down a bolted gate with an insufficient army. Maybe they’re just not being creative enough in the search for alternative funding — or are too wussy to try and push around the millions in graduate research — but the fact is, the leaders of the UC system have not found a solution to maintain the quality of the university without additional support from student fees. So let’s stop complaining and find it ourselves.

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