SFSU teach-in against the cuts
SAN FRANCISCO--Hundreds of San Francisco State University (SFSU) students attended a February 26 teach-in in Jack Adams Hall to address the California budget cuts and their effects on public education.
Titled "Reclaiming Public Education Amidst an Economic Crisis: Understanding Access, Equity, Quality and Social Justice," what initially began as a show of top administrators explaining the "reasons" for the budget cuts ended with a strong call to action by students bearing the brunt of the crisis.
Campus organizers are mobilizing for a March 12 walkout, rally and march to City College of San Francisco.
In a rare public appearance, SFSU President Robert Corrigan attended the event, asking students to start a letter-writing campaign targeting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic-controlled State Legislature. But Corrigan's attempt to deflect attention from his own role in carrying out the budget cuts didn't go unchallenged.
The idea that this budget will hit working people the hardest was not lost on Samantha Adame, a student representative on the first panel with SFSU President Corrigan. As Adame said in her speech:
These cuts have had an enormous impact on the job security of faculty and staff. Some 1,500 talented lecturers throughout the CSU [California State University] system have already been lost. For students who aren't able to register for all the necessary classes to graduate, we are forced to attend another semester or two, which may lead to greater debt to finance such prolonged college careers.
In 2008, the average student graduated with more than $20,000 in loan debt--which amounts to indentured servitude...It may go without saying that these cuts are happening when folks are more cash strapped as the cost of food, housing and health care is increasing.
Adame also countered the idea that students, faculty and staff can unite with those responsible for administering the budget cuts:
Two years ago, the California Faculty Association (CFA) and the CSU administration were on opposing sides of a labor dispute--with President Corrigan attempting to disparage the tactics of the CFA.
If we are to have an alliance based on good faith, wouldn't it be necessary for all sides to mutually respect one another and aim to ensure an encouraging environment where intellectual development further matures? Instead, we have some administrators in the public sector, who have consistently fought to increase their own personal wealth.
It should be noted that Corrigan earns up to $298,749 per year on top of a $60,000 housing allowance and a $12,000 car allowance. Thus, instead of fighting the budget cuts, the CSU Board of Trustees have fought to give raises to top CSU executives, Corrigan included.
Of course, administrators tell a different version of the story. In a January 9 memo to all employees of the CSU system, Chancellor Charles Reed explained that his administration "has been taking actions to reduce costs while doing everything we can to protect our students, faculty and staff and to preserve the quality of our universities."
But Reed somehow sees no contradiction in asserting this while denying 10,000 new students entry into higher education this fall and imposing a 10 percent increase in student fees.
SCHWARZENEGGER SAID he was absolutely delighted by the new budget, which was passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate and Assembly. The budget contains $15 billion in education spending cuts and $12 billion in new regressive taxes to reduce the state's $42 billion budget deficit.
All of this has left students fighting mad. Jasmine Leblanc's frustration literally resonated through Jack Adams Hall as she screamed into the microphone. "I'm pissed! They're trying to take the one thing we have? Our education? You all need to be pissed, too!" she belted.
It should be noted that the United Educators of San Francisco have organized a rally and march to City Hall for later in the same day that CSU students will be demonstrating. Teachers want the city to tap into 25 percent of the Rainy Day Fund eligible to schools under San Francisco law.
Francis Mead, a SFSU student and member of Student Unity and Power, called upon students to engage in direct action suggesting the "need for a radical movement against these cuts to education and social services."
Such militant actions are not new to SFSU. The longest campus strike in U.S. history took place on this campus during the 1968-69 school year. The solidarity of students and faculty won the nation's first ethnic studies department.
We are not merely victims of an economic crisis and an administration bent on bolstering the universities' bottom line. As students, faculty and staff, we are potential agents of progressive change--if we get organized. Empowerment comes through building social networks, having face-to-face interactions and mobilizing for real change.
Now is the time for students fed up with attacks on public education to join forces with the student antiwar movement and demand that money be spent on jobs and education not war and occupation.