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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