Protesters concerned that University of California Regents will meet behind closed doors as Cal State University trustees are accused of having done this week amid loud demonstrations are threatening legal action.
ReFund California, which staged a raucous protest outside the CSU trustees' meeting in Long Beach Tuesday, says that the UC Regents are planning “to approve their 2012 budget request behind closed doors by teleconference” in order to diffuse the power of its demonstration.
However, UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein told the Weekly:
It's open to the public. Public comment in fact has been more than doubled, from 20 minutes to an hour.
ReFund, which wants big Wall Street banks to pitch in to defray rising tuition costs, says the teleconference meeting at UC San Francisco-Mission Bay, UCLA, UC Davis and UC Merced on Nov. 28 is designed to muzzle its Occupy-related demands and avoid its protests.
Cheryl Deutsch, a UCLA student and ReFund member, tells the Weekly:
The whole point of this is to try to divide the real effects of protest — trying to avoid the real numbers of students outraged by their lack of leadership.
The meeting is a rescheduled version of a two-day session that was to take place this week. That session was cancelled based on fears of “rogue elements intent on violence,” according to a statement from top UC officials that include Regent Sherry Lansing of Paramount Studios fame.
“It was a very cowardly move for them to cancel and reschedule in this way,” Deutsch says. “Of course we're going to mobilize at each of those locations.”
The fear of a closed-door meeting where Regents will decide how much money to request from the state legislature for the next school year (and if it's not enough, tuition will likely fill the gap again) comes after CSU trustees moved its Long Beach meeting this week following a strenuous protest by ReFund outside.
This Associated Press story questions whether the move was legal and whether the trustees would need a do-over to make it right. The report states that reporters were kept out of the session. State law requires that such sessions be open to the public.
CSU media relations manager Erik Fallis denies that it was a “closed-door” meeting and says the trustees will probably not reconvene to take up the same issues it voted on that day. This is his take on what happened:
In trying to get that group [ReFund California] to exit the room and building they violently tried to gain reentry and in so doing they caused injury to police officers and deliberately assualted many police officers and broke a door that's about 10 feet away from where the trustees were originally meeting.
It was an ongoing, chaotic and volitle situation. The meeting was reconvened in open session in another room. No one was excluded.
Klein of UC says that these protesters are preaching to the converted anyway: “The protesters message about cuts to public education, that's our message.”
She claims that UC's unusual plan to meet at four places isn't a reaction to Long Beach. And she said it was not aimed at diffusing dissent. Rather, Klein says, the spread-out confab was organized this way to provide easier access to the public:
It would be easier to get to these places. If you're in San Francisco what if it was in San Diego? By having it at multiple locations we're making it more accessible.
ReFund's anger at Wall Street and banks is understandable, but the connection between student tuition and those institutions is tenuous.
Deutsch notes that the UC Board of Regents has been transformed in the last two decades from a body of education experts to one of corporate power players and that the connection exists even if the members (Monica Lozano, who also sits on the board at Bank of America, and investment banker Richard C. Blum, who's the husband of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein) aren't about to open their own wallets.
She says that these folks are deft at using their power and influence to bend the rules in favor of their corporate interests, so why can't they “use that political capital to demand progressive revenue sources to fund higher education?”