March 5, 2010 in Nation/World

College cuts draw protests

Terence Chea Associated Press
 

Students from Evergreen State College in Olympia push a car up a hill near the state Capitol after it ran out of gas Thursday while carrying a fake coffin during a protest against higher-education budget cuts.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

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 traffic.

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,” Luljak said. “We do have a serious problem when individuals decide to become violent.”

The university was among dozens of campuses nationwide 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 demonstrations.

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

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.

At the University of California at 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. “We’re throwing away a generation of students by defunding education.”

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.

In Olympia, 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.

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