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Learning to Listen: Napolitano and UC Tuition Protests

Kristian Kim, a student at UC Berkeley, throws fake money as part of a protest during a UC Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco. Source: Jeff Chiu / Associated Press

“We don’t have to listen to this crap,” Janet Napolitano was caught on video saying at a recent UC regents meeting. The “crap” she was referring to was a student demonstration that occurred during public comment when about 30 students stripped off their clothing to reveal their undergarments and threw fake money at the regents, all in protest of the planned tuition hikes. After warnings from the police, the students left peacefully after ten minutes and no one was arrested.

Napolitano apologized the next day for her comment, but also added that public comments should be “expressed seriously.”

As president of the University of California system, Janet Napolitano does have an obligation to listen to this “crap.” It is her job and she is being paid a base salary of $570,000 to do so. To be fair, Napolitano’s salary is less than the previous UC president, but that doesn’t mean she is any less obligated to hear the concerns of students. After she was voted in as UC president, Napolitano said, “Perhaps the most important things I will bring with me to California are my ears. I have much to learn about the University of California and I plan to listen.”

The student demonstration was unexpected during public comment, but students’ concern over the tuition hikes is still a legitimate, serious topic. Although deemed raucous, the students still deserved the ears of the president of the university system they attend, do they not? One regent, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, seems to agree when he defended the students prior to Napolitano’s apology, saying that the protest was a “natural response to the top-down, one-way conversation that the UC is having with [the students].” Clearly, there needs to be much more cooperation between the UC Board of Regents and students which makes sense since students are the ones who actually attend the universities.

In addition to this debacle, the University of California Student Association passed a vote of no confidence in the UC Board of Regents against UC President Janet Napolitano whose decisions directly impact students—students whose concners they seem to have no problem ignoring. But maybe Napolitano really is listening and using her ears like she promised at the beginning of her term.

“Public universities require public support,” Napolitano said after Governor Jerry Brown released his budget plans last year, proving she isn’t all that bad. She’s using her political background to secure more funding by using students as a bargaining chip. Unfortunately for Napolitano’s popularity ratings, UC students are not interested in being held hostage by their tuition. The Committee of Two was formed by Napolitano and Brown in order to come to a compromise on tuition, but the Committee has yet to yield any concrete results.

Featured image source: Amanda Hart/Daily Californian