UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake shakes hands with chemistry grad student Jason Deckman as fellow chemistry grad student Edward Branigan looks on during the "Budget Write-In" Dec. 1 at the Phineas Banning Alumni House. Steve Zylius / University Communications

Budget cuts spur write-in campaign

California legislators and Gov. Schwarzenegger get the message from UC Irvine: It's time to re-invest in higher education.

A UC Irvine student writes that her single mother is supporting four smart children – two in the UC system and two more in the pipeline. She wants lawmakers to know that her mom can’t afford any more fee hikes.

A UCI alumnus who lives in Los Angeles makes a trip to campus because he has a son in high school and wants him to benefit from the same high-quality university education he enjoyed. Without more state support, he tells legislators, that goal may soon be out of reach.

The stories were varied, but the message was the same Tuesday, Dec. 1, at a “Budget Write-In” attended by UCI students, staff, faculty and alumni. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislators such as Chuck DeVore, Tom Harman, Mimi Walters and Jeff Miller will get handwritten letters pleading for re-investment in higher education. In all, the event yielded 152 letters.

“This is exactly the kind of advocacy we need to help our elected officials in Sacramento make the right decisions,” Chancellor Michael Drake told the crowd at the Phineas Banning Alumni House after penning two letters of his own. “I’ve had the opportunity in my role to meet many legislators, and they see people all day every day in their offices talking about what’s important to them. But one of them told me: ‘If I get a handwritten letter from a student, it makes all the difference. I tend to notice that.’”

The write-in, sponsored by UCI’s Associated Students, Alumni Association and Office of Community & Government Relations, as well as the UC Office of the President, was as much pep rally as advocacy. Mini pompons and “Go ’Eater” megaphones sat on writing tables next to gold lapel pins that proclaimed “We’re UC and We Vote” and “All Together Now.” Drake urged attendees to make it to the next basketball game, while also describing the dire conditions that led to the UC Regents’ recent vote to hike student fees and the resulting protests.

“These increases are a burden on students,” he said. “I’ve gone to almost every Regents meeting for the last 10 years, and I’ve seen no vote taken more reluctantly than this one. When we raise fees, we decrease diversity and access on our campuses. But I think the Regents realized we’d done everything we could to balance our budget. This was a last resort, and it’s not in anybody’s best interest.”

“We need to make sure the legislature hears how important the university is to us,” Drake continued, “and that they need to protect us in the future and make this the end of the cuts.”

Anyone who still wants to write a letter can do so at the Anteater Advocate Web site. In addition, a student-led town hall on budget cuts and fee hikes is planned for 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, in the Student Center’s Doheny Beach rooms C and D.

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