UC President Visits UCSD Unannounced to Meet with Students, Faces Protestors

University of California President Janet Napolitano made an unannounced visit to UC San Diego on April 17. She had two invite-only meetings with students regarding the issues of the basic need resources and general issues of student life.

Napolitano first stopped at the Hub, where she was confronted by student protestors from the United Students Against Sweatshops Local 94. Students from USAS handed her two fliers about the discrepancy between workers’ needs and the University’s offer. UCSD Labor Commission and USAS member, Prajay Lolabattu, questioned her when workers will be able to get a contract.

“We have been trying to get a contract, but we need the union to meet us at the table,” Napolitano responded.

She was then interrupted by Lolabattu who questioned her bargain team’s late arrival to the recent bargains. To this, Napolitano denied the accuracy of the information.

Lolabattu later told the Guardian that they heard about this information from the union workers who were present at the meetings.

Another student protestor then asked Napolitano about the fairness of a 3-percent increase in workers’ wages without step increase.

Napolitano did not answer this question directly.

“We have offered the union to stay on the current pension plan, have they told you that? You are welcome for that,” Napolitano said, ending the conversation with the student protestors.

According to Lolabattu, the students were aware of this outcome.

The pension plan has been a point of argument between the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employee Local 3299 and the university, and it is a point that the university was willing to concede. The current pension plan is a steady pension payment funded by the university, which will pay the employees over the course of their retirement period. However, the UC Regents have voted to use a 401(k)-style pension plan as an alternative to the current one, which places more risks on the workers.

After the conversation with Napolitano, the student protestors rallied in front of the Hub, but their rally was later stopped by Assistant Vice Chancellor Patty Mahaffey, who claimed that they were violating student policy by interrupting the meeting.

“You can have your signs up, but you are not allowed to disrupt the meeting using a microphone[amplified noise],” Mahaffey said to the student protestors.

While the students were still gathered outside, Napolitano was having an invite-only meeting with students from the Hub, the Triton Food Pantry, and A.S President Kiara Gomez, to discuss the issue of basic needs, which covers essential resources like food and housing, on campus.

In their meeting, students pointed out the disparity between the increasing demand due to the increasing student body and UCSD’s limited infrastructure that is not able to meet this demand.

“Triton Food Pantry now serves about 800 students a week, and we are running out of food for four days out of the two weeks period that we get food shipments,” Gomez told the Guardian.

According to Gomez, Napolitano was interested in the CalFresh program, also known as the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. She saw this as another way for students to access Basic Needs resources apart from the Triton Food Pantry. However, she did not offer any further details in regard to the demand and supply gap of basic needs raised by the students.

Gomez quoted Napolitano saying, “I will look into that.”

The meeting proceeded for about 40 minutes. Napolitano then moved to a conference room in the Student Services Center for her second meeting, which allowed students from various academic departments and student organizations such as the CARE at the Sexual Assault Resource Center and Student Sucess Coaching Program, to discuss the many problems faced by students.

Issues raised in the first half of the meeting included a greater level of support for transfer students and undocumented students, an increase in funding for research in the arts and humanities departments, and sexual assault issues. In the second half of the meeting, students discussed what resources on campus have been helpful to them.

According to Abraham Velasquez, a student representing the Student Success Coaching Program, many problems were brought up but the meeting time was very limited.

“I was looking for more detailed answers but for the most part it was just re-establishing the resource and support we have and what we can do,” Velasquez said. “There were no specific responses.”

Napolitano immediately left after the meeting, and there is no knowledge that she has made visits to other UC campuses.

Photo by Vivian Yang.