The Highway 6

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If you live in or near Santa Cruz you have probably now heard of the “Highway 6”, which refers to the six UCSC students who last Tuesday blocked off the entrance to highway 17 in protest over increasing tuition fees. The move caused hours of traffic delays on the county’s busiest highway, and is estimated to have cost the community hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost economic activity. The effort also nearly resulted in the death of a small child whose first response vehicle was caught amongst the disarray. The protestors, who had chained themselves together using barrels full of cement, were finally freed using jackhammers and promptly arrested. They were initially charged with felonies (later reduced to misdemeanors), and were each met with a 14 day suspension right before the final two weeks of the quarter.

Unfortunately for the protestors, their tactics seem to have overshadowed their cause as over 3000 members of the Santa Cruz community responded by signing a petition to have them expelled. All this while the topic of chronically underfunded higher education goes into the background.

Now, no one can deny the power of 3000 people actively expressing themselves, but a petition alone doesn’t tell the whole story and definitely doesn’t allow for opposing views, of which there are plenty. We at Civinomics decided to pose the question to our members in the hopes of fostering a broader dialogue, the results of which would prove quite astounding.

First and foremost, almost all of the participants who weighed in on our site agree that the cost of higher education is far too high. The fact that tuition at the UC system alone has increased an average of 10 percent a year for the past 10 years is outrageous, and is something that should keep our state elected leaders and UC administration awake at night. We have posted about this before, but received nowhere near the amount of participation as we did with this issue.

The question, “Should UCSC Expel the Six Students who Blocked Highway 17 in Protest?” was posted on Thursday (3/7/15) in the early afternoon, a full day after the petition to expel the students was published. Since then, the initiative has been viewed over 6,000 times, and has received 85 votes and 30 comments. This is the fastest rate of voting since the debate over the Public Safety Task Force Recommendations, which received over 800 votes in 2 days (spread over 12 different recommendations).

And the results: a dead heat.

As of 8:30 am this morning the voting totals were evenly split at 50-50, making this the most controversial issue ever covered on the site. And it’s not surprising, especially given all the different pages and networks it was shared on (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn, etc.).

People have been very vocal about their positions, both for and against. The arguments generally follow a couple of main paradigms of thought. Those in favor of expulsion make the case that the protestors knowingly caused such significant damages to the community that they have forfeited their privilege to go to school here. Elaborating further, many feel that the protestors should not have engaged in tactics that harmed innocent people, and because they crossed that line they should be made an example of.

Those against expulsion are split into two camps, again, generally. There are those who believe that the protestors, while acting inappropriately, have been punished enough, and that the damages incurred are not worth depriving them of their educational rights beyond what has already been done. And then there are those who adamantly support the actions of the protestors, harkening back to other social movements where similar acts of civil disobedience were committed. And while others respond that this is categorically different, the sentiment is certainly familiar, especially in Santa Cruz.

And finally, the last camp generally argues that if the students don’t like the cost of attending UCSC, they can go somewhere else. In other words no one is forcing them to pay that much when they can attend community college, or a CSU, etc.

All of these arguments have merit. And even though the more paramount topic of higher education is being superseded by a debate over punishment, the issue is very real to this community. UCSC is the largest employer in the County, and a huge portion of the Santa Cruz City population count themselves as slug alumni. Any decision of this nature should be careful and considerate.

Should the student protestors be expelled, or is there an alternative way to reprimand them? Can the act of protesting garner enough organic attention without having to resort to inconveniencing (or even harming) others? How can we resolve the issue of our chronically underfunded public education system? What would you have done in their position – protest in a more constructive way, or simply go somewhere else? These are all very important questions, and I hope you seriously consider them before voting. All comments are welcome.

Should UCSC Expel the Six Students who Blocked Highway 17 in Protest?

On Tuesday March 3rd, six UCSC students chained themselves together and blocked Highway 1 to protest the increases in UC tuition.

4 Comments

  1. Matt Farrell says:

    I don’t think that it is productive to expel these protesters. I suggest that there should be some consequence related to community service or some continued public discussion of the impact of their actions. I also think that your point that this action has really distracted people from the original issue of the cost of a university education. While it is true that these students can go elsewhere, that position ignores the dramatic increase in the cost of a college education across the board; and the lack of commitment by our generation (the baby boomers) to our children and their children.

  2. Lisa johnson says:

    I congratulate the students who took a stand. The bigger question is why should it always take a drastic action when voices are not heard? These students knew full well that their action would cause disruption and possibly jail time. Tuition increase is all of our problem, young and old. We need to revisit the big old elephant in the room, the iniquities and inequality in the structure of 1978s prop 13. Commercial corporate properties are not reassessed at the same rate as normal, hardworking everyday people. The little people are left with the bill for the few/big moneied, and we will continue to gut the middle class particulRy young families.

  3. John says:

    the students involved did not commit the alleged activity on campus property. there have been no court hearings of evidence presented with resulting verdicts against them. therefore, i think the two week suspension is abusive and runs counter to the process where “presumed innocence” is primary in those matters of law. if anything it seems reasonable to challenge the latter as an option separately.. also the so-called code of conduct is discriminatory because it only applies to a particular group of people reaching their majority status vs. everyone else in the community.. it’s also redundant in most matters, except for a few related to on campus conduct ….

  4. Gary says:

    I think the solution may lie with the students themselves. It matters to me as to whether, with hindsight, there is any contrition from any of these individuals now that they are aware of the impact their actions have had on individual lives and the community at large. Remorse would go a long way as to what the ultimate punishment should be and I believe in second chances. Anyone who would consider going back to the drawing board for a similar or upgraded prank reaching or exceeding the community tolerance of this last one………..loses my support. If you want to peacefully protest, attend community meetings, get some literature together which spells out the issues…….I’m all for it.

    I would suggest the University interview these students and find if ironically, they have learned anything and work with local officials to make recommendations for each of the “Cement 6.”

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