Berkeley students are painfully aware of the Regents of University of California’s approval of a 32% tuition increase last November, and of the widespread, unnecessary rioting that followed. These protests displayed many students’ complete lack of understanding of the plan’s necessity, and of the actual details.
Many incoming freshmen to the University of California were made aware of the issue by a series of angry riots throughout the 2009-2010 school year. However, the protesters inaccurately characterized the situation as a stark “good guy, bad guy” conflict between the students and the administration, and gave incoming freshmen a false view of an important issue: their tuition. Students should know the facts of the matter, which were generally absent from the shouts and signs of the protesting masses.
Of course, nobody likes to pay more, but the plan approved by the Regents came about due to state spending cuts made necessary by a bad economy and plummeting revenues. Consequently, the University of California is expected to encounter a $1.2 billion budget gap this year. In order to bridge that gap, the administration has had to make several difficult but necessary choices. This has meant furlough days, increases in out-of-state enrollment, and program cuts. Despite these efforts, the University still could not sustain its prestige without making further adjustments. The recent student fee increase will generate an additional $913 million in order to prevent additional cuts that would adversely affect the quality of education. As UC President Mark Yudof stated, “We’re being forced to impose a user tax on our students and their families.” Although it is painful for a student to see his tuition increased by 32% from the previous year, this change is vital for our underfunded university.
Protesters often claim that poorer students will be hit hardest by this new development and will no longer be able to continue their education. This argument is a result of an apparent lack of research and knowledge on the part of the protesters, who hear the words “fee increase” and immediately raise their signs, interrupt classes, take over university buildings, and block streets and highways. In fact, a new financial aid program known as the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan will offset the cost of the fee increase for resident students whose family income is less than $70,000. Additionally, half of the fee increase will be covered for resident students with a family income below $120,000. This is made possible by an additional $175 million budgeted towards financial aid.
Despite the widespread protests against the tuition increase, students at UC Berkeley voted in favor of the expensive “B.E.A.R.S. Initiative” 70-30 during the 2010 student elections. According to the initiative’s website, the $220 million project aims to “revitalize Lower Sproul, emphasize sustainability, and promote student interests,” and will retrofit Eshleman Hall, renovate the Student Union building, and create a meditation space, among other unnecessary additions and modifications. Roughly half of the project will be funded by the University, with the remaining $110 million supported by new student fees in the next few decades. The approval of the B.E.A.R.S. Initiative reflects an inconsistency among the vast number of students who were protesting tuition increases throughout last year. It shows how quickly many students at UC Berkeley turn against their own alleged opinions and it reveals a lack of realism concerning the financial issues facing students.
Students are free to believe what they want, but when large numbers of protesters misrepresent the issue of tuition increases, it significantly skews the views of other students who haven’t had the time to research the matter. The incoming freshman class at UC Berkeley should explore all the facts before constructing an opinion. An informed opinion is the best immunity against the ignorant groupthink of a protesting mob.