Nanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
(03-02) 04:00 PST Sacramento — Five UC students were arrested Monday at the office of Assemblyman Jim Nielsen after refusing to leave unless the Gerber (Tehama County) Republican pledged to preserve funding for higher education and increase student diversity.
Dubbed “the Nielsen Five” by fellow students, those arrested at the Capitol were part of a 200-student lobbying effort intended to be a departure from the raucous, sometimes violent student protests on university campuses in recent months. More buttoned-down but equally angry, the students aimed their demands for more funding at state legislators Monday.
As Nielsen refused to meet with the students, California Highway Patrol officers guarded his door, and Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, tried to mediate the situation. He praised the five as they were led away.
“My hat’s off to them,” said Yee, who favors increased funding for UC. “Those are brave students.”
It was a dramatic moment that stood in contrast to a day when small groups of students in business attire met with lawmakers or their aides to express frustration at Sacramento’s failure to maintain its world-class public university systems. The students urged them to create a dedicated funding stream for higher education, fully fund Cal Grants and roll back fee increases.
But they got few firm commitments.
Nestor Espinosa, 20, a UC Berkeley sociology major, told an aide to Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, that he has to work two jobs to stay in school because tuition was raised and his financial aid lowered.
He and the other students told the aide that UC’s quality is declining: Libraries are closed on weekends, students clean the school themselves because janitors have been laid off, and classrooms and labs are so overcrowded that students have to sit on the floor or can’t get in at all.
The students asked the aide if Corbett would commit to holding up the tenets of the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education, which UC Berkeley student Elliot Goldstein, 18, said means no fees.
The aide promised to ask.
Some students met with Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria (Santa Barbara), and nominee for lieutenant governor, who spoke Spanish with them. He said his own daughter – a student at California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo – accused him of underfunding higher education.
He praised Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal in January to give UC $371 million, which is a small portion of the $913 million the university is requesting for its budget next year.
Later, Brandin Engersback, 21, a pre-law student at UC Santa Cruz, said he found the meeting with Maldonado frustrating.
“There were times I wanted to stand up and roar out – no, the governor does not support higher education!” Engersback said. “But you have to have some civility.”
Around midday, about 250 students marched and chanted through the streets around the Capitol. They had come from UC campuses around the state, some on buses supplied by their school administration with nonstate funds.
UC Student Association President Victor Sanchez addressed the crowd from the north steps of the Capitol.
“Higher education needs a stable source of funding!” he cried as the students cheered. “I’m sorry, Sacramento, but we ain’t done. We can’t stop. We won’t stop!”
As the students chanted outside, Assemblyman John Pérez heard them. He was being sworn in as Assembly speaker and told his audience that they should “join with me in working to turn around an upside-down system where we demand students pay more every semester for classes they can’t get.”
During the day, UC regents lobbied lawmakers alongside students, as did UC President Mark Yudof and some chancellors.
They also met with Schwarzenegger, who invited Yudof, Regents Russell Gould and Dick Blum, Sanchez and another student, Terrell Green of UC San Diego, to talk.
“With all due respect, we’re losing a public good,” Sanchez told the governor.
Yudof told him his offer of $371 million was the “best game in town” so far.
But Schwarzenegger said there is little more he can do until lawmakers create a rainy-day fund to stabilize the budget – an approach voters have rejected and legislators have ignored.
Later, Yudof said he thought it went well. The money the governor proposed for UC “will stabilize us – it won’t let us reduce fees, but we can end the furloughs.”
Sanchez was less pleased, but called the meeting a “good opportunity” to air the students’ views.
Chronicle staff writer Marisa Lagos contributed to this report. E-mail Nanette Asimov at firstname.lastname@example.org.