California’s public universities are taking a budgetary beating, but the people of UCSB aren’t taking it lying down.

The first month of classes has seen protests and Days of Action throughout the state, with all 10 University of California campuses facing increased student fees and cuts to salaries and staffs.

In July, UC President Mark Yudof’s office and the Board of Regents created a UC Commission for the Future, which will carry out work groups and a listening tour of the campuses to get input from stakeholders.

UCSB hosted the first of the campus meetings Thursday, and a few hundred staff, faculty and students attended to make sure their voices were heard.

The commission’s job is to develop “a new version for the university within the context of the university’s mission and budget, while reaffirming our commitment to quality, access and affordability.”

In addition, its job is to collect input from the campuses and bring it back to the larger committees and work groups, and public comment took up the majority of Thursday’s session.

The effects of state funding cuts were a focus of the forum, but those who commented also questioned UC leadership and the commission’s intentions in the bigger picture of the campus’ future.

Stakeholders made it clear that they don’t believe their voices are being heard. The absence of the Board of Regents and Yudof was strongly felt by many — especially in light of comments made to The New York Times last month.

“Being president of the University of California is like being manager of a cemetery: There are many people under you, but no one is listening. I listen to them,” Yudof said in the interview.

Furthermore, when asked how he got involved in education, he said: “I don’t know. It’s all an accident. I thought I’d go work for a law firm.”

Thursday’s speakers proved to be quite lively, for dead people, and some attendees wore black and red shirts with zombies on them. “Zombies United — Free UC!” was printed with staggering undead silhouettes, and the backs featured “Not Yet Dead.”

Claudio Fogu, an associate professor of Italian studies at UCSB, said Thursday that the UC Regents and the president are out of touch

Claudio Fogu, an associate professor of Italian studies at UCSB, said Thursday that the UC Regents and the president are out of touch. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

“Don’t be fooled by the shirts,” said Claudio Fogu, an associate professor of Italian studies. “There’s a lot of anger.”

The commission is a much-needed conduit because of the out-of-touch regents and president, he said. “You should use the tour of forums to send a strong message to regents before the next meeting,” he said.

As one professor said, “You’re good listeners, but the real deciders aren’t here in this room.”

Professors stressed that the UC system needs its leadership to stand up for it on a state level.

“Who will make the case for the UC if our leaders will not?” Physics Department chair Mark Srednicki said. “We cannot look to the future without first understanding the past.”

Overall, the faculty and staff urged the commission to reject the idea of privatization and any changes that would make the university a lesser institution, or “education light.”

Adding more transfer and out-of-state students, who pay more tuition than California residents, and pushing for online classes were some money-saving ideas attendees opposed at the forum.

Associate professor Edwina Barvosa spoke of a virus she dubbed “corporatis swine flu,” which has symptoms of greed and the willingness to destroy strong systems to extract profit. “It got Lehman Brothers, AIG and now UC leadership,” she said. “There’s no excuse to take UC off the trajectory of the master plan.”

Students spoke out especially on the fee hikes, which could increase in-state tuition to $10,000.

“You’re taking our money to save your own a**es, basically,” said Janelle, a senior.

Others said their debt was mounting and they weren’t sure whether they could continue their education at a UC campus, and future students may be denied the opportunity to a quality public education.

“I’m a black male student,” said Jared, a math junior. Black students make up 3 percent of the population, and it’s mostly women, he said. “If you raise these hikes, I might be the last one you see.”

The commission heads to UC Merced on Tuesday and will visit all of the campuses by mid-December.

Commissioners who attended Thursday’s forum were Regent Jesse Bernal, UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang, Academic Senate past chair Mary Croughan, UCSB professor Cynthia Brown and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block.

Work groups include the size and shape of UC; education and curriculum; access and affordability; funding strategies and research strategies.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com.

A stylized hawk's head on a red background

Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com.