We are all aware of the 2020 project, it’s an expansion of the campus that is supposed to accommodate a larger population of students, provide more resources, and make us a more sustainable university. In theory, this is a great plan. Most of us here have come to love UC Merced and want nothing more than to see it thrive.
However, the problem is that similar to all universities, the hidden motive behind this expansion is profit. Of course that’s not surprising, expanding the school would make it more attractive to out-of-state and international students who pay a significantly higher tuition than in-state students. Looking at the statistics for UC Irvine and UC San Diego, we can see the increase in out-of-state and international admissions while in-state admissions have not budged. In 2014, UCI accepted 9,413 out-of-state and international students compared to the meager 6,564 they accepted in 2013. According to UCI’s spokesperson Cathy Lawhon, there is not enough state funding for Californian students to be admitted, “Even if we took no more out-of-state and international students, we would not be able to take more Californians.”
The UC system that was designed to provide higher education to Californian students is now prioritizing non-Californian students. Similarly, UC Merced was built for the purpose of giving students in the San Joaquin Valley, the rural areas of California, the opportunity to attend a UC, but the majority of the students here are not from the San Joaquin valley and are mainly from cities.
Last Friday, there was a student-run protest conducted on campus in light of the 2020 Ground-Breaking event. This protest was held by a group called UPRISE (Uplifting People Power to Resolve Issues of Spaces and Equity) and their list of demands for the university can be found here. This protest was not conducted in a respectful manner as they disrupted the event; however, that wasn’t their priority when revolting.
There are two major problems with this protest. One being that it was conducted in an elitist fashion due to the fact that UPRISE was a closed Facebook group until recently. This shows lack of trust in the student body and perpetuates systemic inequality. During the protest I approached an unidentified protester and asked them why this protest wasn’t made accessible to the rest of the student body, they replied by saying, “We wanted to keep it within people we trusted.” If UPRISE doesn’t trust the student body why should we trust them to lead a movement that is supposed to benefit us all?
Many of the points made by the protestors are completely valid. UC Merced is considered the most culturally diverse UC out of all the UC’s (61% students of color) yet, we are the only UC not to have a multi-cultural center and there aren’t any plans to include one in the 2020 project. While UC Merced boasts its diversity, it is currently working to increase the number of out-of-state and international students. Eventually, we will be among the likes of schools like UC Berkeley whose student population is predominantly white and international students, less than 20 % of their students are from underrepresented minority groups.
Another important point is the militarization of our campus. While it is important to keep our students safe, we need to look at the broader picture of the relationship between the UC system and the military. Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, served as the United States Secretary of Homeland Security from 2009-2013. There has been a lot of controversy over Napolitano’s use of power and militarization of UC police, especially how she handled situation with the chancellor of UC Davis who was withholding evidence from the pepper spray incident of 2011 and engaging in nepotism and improper use of student fees.
The question that we should all be asking ourselves is what kind of campus do we want UC Merced to become? Are we willing to let go of our diversity in search of greater income? This is our campus and unlike many other older and larger campuses in the UC System, the students of UC Merced still have the opportunity to shape the future for our campus.
Picture credits: UC Merced Website