Friday, March 05, 2010

Rowdy protests target funding cuts at US campuses

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By TERENCE CHEA, Associated Press March 4, 2010

BERKELEY, Calif. – Students staged raucous rallies to protest education
funding cuts on college campuses nationwide Thursday, but some
demonstrations got out of hand as protesters threw punches and ice chunks
in Wisconsin and shut down a major freeway in California during rush-hour

In Oakland, protesters clambered onto Interstate 880 near downtown Oakland
just before 5 p.m., forcing the closure of the freeway in both directions
for more than an hour and causing traffic to back up for miles.

Police arrested more than 150 people who blocked the freeway after
breaking off from a peaceful rally at Oakland City Hall, said Officer Sam
Morgan, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol.

One protester suffered serious injuries after jumping from the elevated
freeway while officers were making arrests, authorities said.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee police arrested at least 15 people
protesting tuition hikes after protesters tried to enter an administrative
building to deliver petitions to the school chancellor. When police turned
them away, some protesters threw punches and ice chunks, university
spokesman Tom Luljak said.

No serious injuries were reported in the melee that followed.

"We have no problem with a protest," university spokesman Tom Luljak said.
"We do have a serious problem when individuals decide to become violent."

Kas Schwerdtfeger, a national organizer for Milwaukee Students for a
Democratic Society, said demonstrators were peaceful but persistent in
approaching the hall.

"What we did was try to assert ourselves peacefully and nonviolently," he

The university was among dozens of nationwide campuses hit with marches,
strikes, teach-ins and walkouts in what was billed as the March 4th
National Day of Action for Public Education.

Organizers said hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, parents and
school employees were expected to participate in the nationwide

The steep economic downturn has forced states to slash funding to K-12
schools, community colleges and universities to cope with plummeting tax

Experts said schools and colleges could face more severe financial
problems over the next few years as they drain federal stimulus money that
temporarily prevented widespread layoffs and classroom cuts.

In Northern California, rowdy protesters blocked major gates at two
universities and smashed the windows of a car.

Protesters at the University of California, Santa Cruz surrounded the car
while its uninjured driver was inside. Earlier, demonstrators blocked
campus gates.

University provost David Kliger said there were reports of protesters
carrying clubs and knives, but Santa Cruz police Capt. Steve Clark could
not confirm those reports. No arrests had been made.

An advisory posted on the school Web site urged people to avoid the campus
because of safety concerns.

At the University of California, Berkeley, a small group of protesters
formed a human chain blocking a main gate to the campus. Later in the day,
hundreds gathered for a peaceful rally in the middle of a busy
intersection near Sproul Plaza.

"We're one of the largest economies in the world, and we can't fund the
basics," said Mike Scullin, 29, a graduate student in education who plans
to become a high school teacher. "We're throwing away a generation of
students by defunding education."

At UC Davis, about 75 police officers were called to the scene after
nearly 300 students tried to block a freeway onramp near campus, said
university spokeswoman Claudia Morain.

A tense standoff between students and police ended police after fired
pepper spray into the crowd and one female student was arrested, Morain
said. There were no reported injuries.

At the University of Illinois, about 200 professors, instructors and
graduate faculty marched through campus carrying signs that read "Furlough
Legislators" — a reference to recent furloughs and 4 percent pay cuts
imposed on thousands of university employees.

The state is $487 million behind on payments to the University of
Illinois. State government has a budget deficit of $13 billion.

In Olympia, Wash., a group of about 75 protesters arrived at the Capitol
bearing a faux coffin emblazoned with the slogan "R.I.P. Education."

They were later ejected from the state Senate gallery after interrupting a
debate with a protest song that followed the tune of "Amazing Grace."

"I once could eat, but now I find, I can't afford the food," they sang.

Several Democratic senators applauded the performance, as security guards
escorted the protesters from the building.

At the University of Texas at Austin, about 100 students and staff rallied
on campus to protest a 5.4 percent hike in tuition and fees approved by
regents a day earlier. Protesters complained the quality of education was
taking a backseat to the university's bottom line.

In Alabama, Broderick Thomas, a 23-year-old Auburn senior, attended an
annual higher education rally in Montgomery and said he feels "it's the
moral duty of the state to give back what they promised."

However, the chairman of the state Senate education budget committee, Sen.
Hank Sanders, D-Selma, curbed the enthusiasm, saying it would be hard to
find additional funds for higher education this year.

"I wish we could give all the money higher education needs," Sanders said,
as some in the crowd groaned. "We're having to cut up to $460 million out
of the budget the governor recommended."

Hundreds of students, teachers, parents and school employees from across
California gathered in Sacramento for a midday rally at the Capitol to
urge lawmakers to restore funding to public schools.

Linda Wall, a state Department of Mental Health employee, said she had two
children attending Sacramento State University. Hikes in student fees and
mandatory furloughs for state workers have strained her budget.

"Their tuition has taken a big chunk of my paycheck and my paycheck is
shrinking, so it's a double whammy," Wall said.


Associated Press Writers Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco, Robin Hindery in
Sacramento, Calif., David Mercer in Urbana, Ill., April Castro in Austin,
Texas, Bob Johnson in Montgomery, Ala., Curt Woodward in Olympia, Wash.,
and Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee contributed to this report.

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