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Walkouts, Teach-Ins Mark UCSD’s First Week

Above: UCSD students took part in a system-wide University of California walkout and strike today to protest furloughs, layoffs and tuition hikes stemming from state budget cuts.

— The fall quarter at UC San Diego begins with students scrambling to get to their classes. That's normal. But much of yesterday wasn't.

Hundreds of students, professors and other employees marched along campus streets with signs and banners protesting the University of California Regents’ response to the system's money problems. Some faculty members walked out of their own classes and sent their students to the rally and a campus-wide teach-in.

“I got there and our professor explained to us the whole issue of the walk-outs and what was going on and encouraged her students to come over,” said Roberto Martinez, a UCSD student who says student fee increases might force him out of college.

He was one of hundreds of students who said they were proud of their professors. Freshman Emily Okerlund had read about the demonstrations on Facebook and was planning to ditch her history class because the march was more important.

“I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to go because of that class. When (the professor) canceled it, I knew I had to show up,” Okerlund said.

UCSD joined UC campuses up-and-down California yesterday in rallying against budget cuts to higher education. And even veteran professors at UCSD were surprised to see so many students, employees and faculty coming together on this campus. UCSD is more known for its science and research than political activism.

But organizers say that may change this year. The UC Board of Regents has raised student fees by 9 percent and reduced spending by about $300 million. The results have been employee furloughs, layoffs and hiring freezes. Enrollment has been cut and even more fee increases are expected. State financial aid programs are also in jeopardy.

UCSD freshman Jessica Carr says she's worried about her future.

“I'm taking out loans because the university can't offer enough aid to help,” Carr said. “Its hard with my parents because of the economy. So I'm depending on this aid, but if I don't get it, I won't be able to finish.”

UCSD Chicano Studies professor Jorge Mariscal says enough it enough. He says its time to overhaul the entire UC system, beginning with UCSD. In fact, he apologized to students at the campus-wide teach-in for not speaking up years ago.

“UC tuition has been going up consistently for a decade-and-a-half. As faculty, we weren't with you then. We were doing our research, teaching, living in the Ivory Tower. But we're ready now. We're awake now. We're ready to fight and struggle to the bitter end to save this university,” Mariscal said.

Mariscal and other professors say the problems in higher education are bigger than just budgets. They're angry at what they call the privatization of the UC system, the lack of diversity on UC campuses, and the push to get more out-of-state and foreign students on campus. They're upset over the way public education is funded, and the lack of political will from the UC Board of Regents and state lawmakers.

UCSD Sociology professor Bud Mehan says he wants to use this moment to show the system is broken. He says faculty must tap into the political activism that was often evident in the history of the UC system.

“Certain political changes have been made in the system through activism,” Mehan said. “This is a new generation and they don't know that. So we have an obligation, those of us with gray hair, to make this energy pointed in the proper direction.”

And professors say one direction is making sure that students and faculty have a place on UCSD's budget taskforce. Letters are also being sent to state lawmakers. A ‘Save UCSD’ website has been formed. And more teach-ins and rallies are expected next month.

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