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UC campuses brace for faculty-student walkout

University of California administrators say they want to keep things running as smoothly as possible Thursday – the first day of school at many campuses – when many faculty, staff members and students are expected to walk out of classes, host rallies and stage a systemwide labor strike for technical employees.

UC is facing one of the worst years in its history as it tries to close a budget gap of more than $750 million in lost revenue from the state and increased expenses. To balance the budget, administrators have ordered unpaid furloughs for nonunion employees, staff layoffs and course cutbacks, and are expected to raise tuition for next year, making it 45 percent higher than last year’s student fees.

Those actions have infuriated employees and students.

“There is a lot of anger and frustration, and people need to vent that,” said Dan Mogulof, a spokesman for UC Berkeley, where classes have been in session for a month. “The main concern is that the faculty are expected to meet their obligations to students – giving them notice about course cancellations and changes, and making sure that the course material is covered.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by administrators across the 10-campus system. The last thing they want Thursday are empty classrooms – or rooms filled with students with no one at the podium to teach them. But it’s a possibility on many campuses.

Since late August, some UC faculty members have been urging all instructors to walk off the job Sept. 24 to protest the university’s handling of its crisis and a policy that furlough days not be taken on days they teach. More than 1,000 professors and associate professors across all campuses have signed a petition urging the walkout.

Other faculty members at UC Berkeley have taken a different approach, forming a group called Save the University. They support their colleagues who plan to walk out, but will hold educational forums on UC’s financial troubles from the perspective that there are better ways to bolster the university.

Even so, many of the same faculty members may cancel classes or hold them off campus to avoid crossing a picket line by the University Professional and Technical Employees union, which plans a one-day strike because it has been working without a contract for 18 months.

Meanwhile, some student groups have issued statements in support of their instructors.

Amid all of this, campus administrators say they are hoping for business as usual.

“I think that most of our classes will go off without a hitch,” said Patricia Turner, vice provost for undergraduate studies at UC Davis, which starts school Thursday.

“We completely support freedom of speech,” she added.

It’s a message the campuses are sending to the protesters – even as they urge students and faculty to go to class.

“I understand that on some campuses, including ours, labor actions could impact the opening of classes this Thursday,” UC Santa Cruz Provost David Kliger said in a message to all employees sent Monday. “I hope that those who participate in this action try to minimize disruption to our students – the people we are here to serve.”

Some faculty members want a different message.

“I’d like them to talk to the students who are going to have to drop out because they can’t meet the (expected) tuition increases,” said Shannon Steen, a UC Berkeley associate professor of theater. “These are the students who are going to be hurt the most.”

This article appeared on page D – 5 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/09/22/BAG119QLBQ.DTL#ixzz0RyumZgMZ

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