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A Tale of Two Campuses: Berkeley and Davis respond to Occupy movements

by Alan Markow, published

The Occupy movements on the UC campuses at Berkeley and Davis are being met by breathtakingly different responses by the two administrations.  Last week, Berkeley announced plans to make its campus more affordable for middle class families.  One of the major grievances of the Occupy student movement has been the rising cost of attending state universities – particularly California’s premier UC system.

On the other hand, Davis responded to the Occupy students with complaints about the cost of cleaning and repairing Dutton Hall and the outside quad area, where the protest took place for nearly two weeks.  In an announcement released under the school’s “Dateline” communications dispatches, Davis accused its students of causing $8,500 in expenses.  The churlish note that appeared in the original UC-Davis communiqué reported, “The last two occupiers left Dutton Hall at 10 a.m. Sunday (Dec. 11), and soon thereafter the cleanup and repair crews moved in — all on overtime.”

Three images accompanying the initial story showed a wine-stained carpet, a lone wine bottle sitting on an empty shelf and a close-up of a broken lock.  However, the images and some of the more egregious comments by the UC-Davis administration were removed from the article shortly after its original publication.

“Six custodians and five building services employees put in a total of 63 hours in Dutton Hall on Sunday, fixing broken door locks, removing graffiti, cleaning carpets and taking tape off windows, so that the building would be ready for Monday morning,” the current version of the article reads.

From the Berkeley campus, the message was considerably different:

“Thousands of UC Berkeley undergraduates from middle-income families will get a helping hand from a new, far-reaching financial-aid plan hailed by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau as ‘the first program of this sort at any public university in the United States’,” the school announced in its News Center publication on December 14.

The Middle Class access plan (MCap) is designed to radically lower university fees for middle-income families – defined as those making between $80,000 and $140,000.  Under the plan, families will pay a maximum of 15 percent of their annual incomes for all expenses, including tuition, room and board and books.  The 15 percent cap means that a family whose income is $120,000, for example, will now pay no more than $18,000 in total annual costs to send a student to Berkeley, according to the university.

UC-Berkeley further reported that:

“the chancellor ‘personally realized we really had to do something’ following a speech he gave two years ago on the shrinking access to higher education for middle-income students. The audience of 1,000 people, Birgeneau recalled, ‘stood up and clapped’.”

MCap is a system-wide UC program, and while it clearly was under development prior to the Occupy protests at Berkeley and Davis, its announcement by Berkeley sends a clear signal that the school is responsive to the needs of middle-income families.

Davis’ announcement of the costs of clean up from the Occupy movement seems tone-deaf in comparison, although the university clearly had the opportunity to promote the MCap program rather than publicizing the damages caused by students of the Occupy movement.  Chancellor Linda Katehi of UC-Davis has already come under fire for her management of the protest and the pepper spraying of a dozen students by campus police.  She recently participated in hearings in Sacramento in which much of the blame for the Occupy movement was laid to budget cutting of higher education in the state.

“Our students are increasingly frustrated and angry about reductions in state support for higher education,” the chancellor said. “They are frustrated and angry about repeated tuition increases. They are worried about how they will repay their loans and find jobs when they graduate.”

Why Davis chose to ignore this issue in its public communications about damages caused by the Occupy students, while Berkeley ignored any such damages and responded to the need for lower costs of education remains a mystery.

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