October 20, 2006

UCSC student protest erupts Wednesday

By Roger Sideman, Sentinel Staff Writer

UC Santa Cruz students shut down a rare public hearing hosted by the University of California Board of Regents in a 90-minute campus standoff Wednesday afternoon that had regents trapped indoors and demonstrators clashing with police.

The regents — making an official campus visit for only the second time in 40 years — were forced to cancel the remainder of their campus tour when roughly 150 students protesting a host of issues, from cuts in humanities programs to UC nuclear research, blocked the doors to a campus lecture hall aoround 4:30 p.m.

The activists demanded the release of three protesters who had been detained inside by university police.In a scuffle at the hall's entrance, police pulled the three into the building and used pepper spray and batons to subdue the crowd outside. The three — two students and an alumna — were arrested; one will face three felony counts of battery against a police officer, according to campus spokeswoman Liz Irwin, while the others face misdemeanor charges of disrupting a public meeting. One officer was injured, though the extent of his injuries were unknown.

About 15 officers were inside the lecture hall and other officers in riot gear were called to help control the crowd outside and ensure a smooth exit for regents.
"I'm standing in there for an hour thinking, 'I wish they had come inside during the public comment period,'" Regent Odessa Johnson said afterward. "We didn't even know what the issues were."

Students never faced off directly with university leaders. A spokesman for the protesters said their original intent was to bar regents from entering the building. The public comment process, they said in a statement to the press, is "a farce," because regents don't take student input seriously.

With clusters of students blocking every exit to the new Humanities/Social Sciences lecture hall, administrators in the building used cell phones to talk to officials who were negotiating with student leaders outside to clear the way for the regents to leave.
"This isn't the best situation — people are essentially being held hostage inside," student leader Samantha Aranke told fellow students.

After much back and forth, Aranke and UCSC professor Paul Ortiz, who arrived during the standoff, were allowed to check on the condition of those arrested. Ortiz attempted to put the crowd at ease.

"I'm going to be inside, and I guarantee you I'll be there until the students are released, whether it's five minutes or five years," Ortiz said into a megaphone.
Under heavy security, the regents swiftly boarded a shuttle bus at a rear exit shortly after Ortiz and Aranke entered.

Second-year student Charles Berman said he had hoped the protest would "make a statement," but not through yelling, kicking and punching.

Acting Chancellor George Blumenthal said that trying to prevent others from speaking goes against the principles of community "where people listen to each other." Blumenthal, a former regent when he served as chair of the statewide Faculty Senate, said regents do listen. Earlier in the day at a rally, he drew a round of applause from students for showing up to listen.

Regent Johnson met with 25 members of a student diversity organization earlier Wednesday and said she would work to fully fund a student-directed diversity outreach program, the fate of which was a major issue for protesters.

During regent visits to other UC campuses during the past year, students have protested issues ranging from rising student fees to UC investments in Sudan. But students never have disrupted the regents' visits to this degree, said UC spokesman Trey Davis.

The regents were in Santa Cruz on a routine round of visits to all UC campuses, according to Davis. The visit had been planned since the beginning of the year.
More than a dozen members of the public were allowed to speak to the regents during the public hearing.

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt said she too felt her sentiments regarding campus expansion have gone unheard. The county and the city of Santa Cruz are preparing to file lawsuits against the university over its long-range growth plan.

"We hope that we will get a better meeting in court," she told regents.

In a separate demonstration Wednesday morning, campus service workers blocked off the main entrance to campus for 45 minutes. The protest over wages for lower-paid workers, held in solidarity with UC campuses across the state, was unrelated to the regents' visit.

Wednesday's protests echoed a 1968 visit to the campus by then-governor Ronald Reagan, who came to meet with UC regents. For three days, university students blocked buses, heckled speakers and held rallies to protest a decision to restrict Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver from speaking on university campuses. Protesters also demanded that the new College 7 be named in honor of Malcolm X, and that the United Farm Workers-sponsored grape boycott be respected in university dining halls.

The regents are expected to continue their visit to UCSC this morning before heading to the NASA Ames research facility in Silicon Valley. Students have said they will not protest at a public hearing scheduled for 9:15 this morning at the campus Music Recital Hall.


Post a Comment

<< Home