A Letter from the UC Berkeley Environmental Community in Response to Fee Hikes

On Thursday, November 20, 2014, the Regents of the University of California passed a tuition plan that will increase student fees up to five percent for each of the next five years, amounting to a nearly twenty-eight percent increase. This decision was made despite strong opposition from student groups across the state. Students formed The Open UC, a growing statewide movement demanding no tuition hikes and more transparency of the UC budget for students. The Open UC is asking for the state to reinvest in schools and is ultimately standing for an accessible system of public education in the U.S. and worldwide.

ECO, UC Berkeley’s student environmental coalition, stands in solidarity with the Open UC to stop tuition hikes and demand increased transparency. Our work makes us all too familiar with issues of privatization and misplaced investment. Student groups within our coalition are resisting commercial development on the university-owned Gill tract, fighting extreme oil and natural gas extraction, and demanding the university to divest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in renewable energies. These are just a few of the ways students in our coalition are working to ensure a more just and sustainable future. However, we are frustrated to find that we have less and less influence in the future of our own university whose public character has been jeopardized.  The Regents’ proposed hikes have come in the face of reasonable student suggestions to cut costs, many of which would save financial and natural resources.  Amid a historic drought, each year the campus uses 49.2 million gallons of potable water to irrigate campus landscapes and wastes a lot of water in order to keep campus lawns green (Berkeley Water Action Plan, 2013). Students have asked the university to design and implement lawn conversion free of charge. Student-faculty lawn conversion would promote hands-on learning and be more cost-effective. However, the university is still reluctant to give students responsibility over our campus landscape, choosing instead to contract out to the campus architect’s own landscaping company. Money and water is wasted.

For us, working in coalition with organizations fighting for affordable education is not only just, it is strategic. Our struggles share common enemies: as students fighting for control of our university we see potential in reclaiming democracy by delegitimizing the Regents and fighting the influence of corporate power in our public institutions.Unless we unite in challenging the systems in place that perpetuate inequality and oppression, a transition to a just, sustainable future will not be successful. Unless we delegitimize the Regents’ source of  power and call them out for their lack of integrity, democracy, and transparency, GHG emissions will go up along with tuition.

Many of us within the environmental community at Berkeley have been working to ground our organizing in a framework of climate and environmental justice, reconceptualizing our work as an intersectional struggle for social justice. The students and families most impacted by the rising cost of education are often those most impacted by environmental degradation and silenced within the mainstream environmental movement. Struggles against debt, police violence, and racism are struggles for sustainability, because we cannot build an effective movement for climate justice without also seeking to address the systemic violence affecting the communities who must lead the global struggle against the fossil fuel industry and climate change. Because we see our work as part of a larger project of collective liberation, we want to connect work across movements for justice, and we see the struggles for climate and environmental justice and affordable education as intimately linked.

The word economy means the management of home, whether that is a household, our university, or even our planet as a whole. At Wheeler Commons, Open UC is creating and managing a home, within an increasingly corporate university, for the amplification of student voices and the building of an intersectional movement. The first step is ensuring that our public university remains accessible and affordable to all, and with that ECO stands in solidarity.

Signed,

ECO, Environmental Coalition at UC Berkeley

ECO serves as the official coalition of UC Berkeley environmental and sustainability student organizations dedicated to advancing sustainability on campus in the short- and long-term.

The original article can be found here.

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Press Release to the California State Senate

We, the students of Wheeler Commons and the Open UC at Berkeley, are pleased to see the proposal of SB15 in the California State Senate. Though the bill is not a blanket solution to the issue of funding public education, SB15 is an important starting point: it provides an alternative solution to the proposed tuition hikes and furthers conversation about creative approaches to funding this university. We can ensure that the quality of public education is maintained without sacrificing either access or affordability. One of the Open UC’s original demands was the elimination of these tuition hikes. We are now seeing mobilization at the state level to meet this demand. We are grateful to those representatives who have already spoken out against tuition hikes, and now call all state representatives to prioritize public education and reinvest in our university system. The proposal of SB15 proves that student voices matter, so let’s make them heard.

Increased state funding for the UC system is crucial to eliminating this latest round of tuition hikes, but the issues at stake are much more fundamental. The threats to public education are systemic, embodied in the power structures of this university. A comprehensive solution will need to consider the very meaning of public education and how those running this university are straying from that vision. As we see successes against tuition hikes, we must remind ourselves that the fight for public education is just beginning.

Press Release about December 2nd

UPDATE: Today, Wheeler Commons was cleared of all posters, the food prepared for the students was discarded, and students remaining in the lobby were told to leave or face the cops. These students were simply organizing and making posters, in broad daylight and during the building’s operating hours. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Freedom of Speech Movement on this campus, but the students still do not have freedom of speech. They closed the doors on us, so we throw them open again. The rally has been relocated to Wheeler Commons, come join us!
At noon on December 2nd, the 50th anniversary of Mario Savio’s famous speech on Sproul steps during the height of the Free Speech Movement, The Open University will be hosting a Speak Out and Rally on Sproul.

Student speakers from various groups, including a student-parent from the Village Residents Association, students from environmental coalitions, and more, will be speaking. Campus and community workers including AFSCME 3299, Teamsters 2010, and fast food workers from the movement fighting for $15 hourly wage will be speaking. Professors including Khalid Kadir – lecturer in International and Area Studies and Global Poverty and Practice – and Leopold Podlashuc – visiting lecturer from South Africa in the History Department – will be speaking. Community activist Ellen Choi from Movement Generation will be speaking. We will all be speaking out about the tuition hikes. Our voices have power and we will use them not only to commemorate the legacy of the Free Speech Movement, but also to defend our public education.

Our movement is not over, and we will continue to speak out against the tuition hikes that have continued to deny Californians the right to an affordable education and against the privatization of our public education. Join us in our fight.

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!” – Mario Savio