Rights and responsibilities of UCSC advocates

Chancellor Blumenthal wrote the following opinion piece for the Santa Cruz Sentinel; it originally appeared on March 15, 2015

UC Santa Cruz students who sat down on local roadways to protest tuition increases and police brutality are now facing the consequences in the criminal justice arena—and in the court of public opinion.

For many in the community, including those who have historically supported student activism, the Highway 17 action crossed a line. More than 4,200 people have signed an online petition calling for the expulsion of any students who plan or participate in actions like the one on March 3 that halted traffic for hours.

Students who blocked campus entrances on March 5 are also facing the disapproval of classmates and others who have grown weary of this form of protest.

As I listen to the outcry, I worry that students are employing tactics that detract from their message and are eroding common ground. I fear organizers are alienating allies rather than galvanizing support.

There has been considerable discussion in recent days about "rights"—the rights of students to protest, the rights of motorists to move about freely, the rights of students to access classes on campus, and protesters' rights to due process.

UCSC has consistently supported the free-speech rights of students, faculty, and staff to engage in lawful protest, but I draw the line at actions that infringe on the rights and movement of others. I cannot support protests that prevent students from attending class, faculty and staff from being able to do their jobs, and thousands of people who live on campus from traveling freely to their jobs, medical appointments, and childcare. I cannot support protests that obstruct traffic and potentially put lives at risk, whether on campus or off.

Ironically, on March 5, when several dozen students blocked campus entrances to protest possible tuition increases and police brutality, participants denied thousands of their peers access to the very education for which they have already paid. One student told me he figures each class costs him about $100. Reasonably enough, I think, he expects to be able to attend each one.

Federal privacy law prevents us from discussing specific campus judicial steps being taken, but as the university student affairs process unfolds, and the district attorney's office pursues legal action, I urge student organizers to ask themselves whether these recent actions helped them accomplish their goals.

Many in the Santa Cruz community, including supporters of the university and veteran activists, are finding it hard to see beyond protest methods they abhor. I don't believe advocates of public higher education can afford to alienate our friends and neighbors, friends who have been among our most vocal champions for 50-plus years.

The stakes are high, and time is short. UC Santa Cruz faces a $7 million deficit in the coming academic year. The proposed tuition increase would buffer only $4 million of that; without it, implementing $7 million in cuts will impact staff workload, erode faculty support, and ultimately jeopardize the student experience.

Looking ahead to this spring's budget negotiations in Sacramento, the University of California and our students need every friend they can get. They need every advocate and UC graduate to speak up on their behalf. I hope you'll join me making your voice heard, peacefully and productively, in Sacramento.