Santa Cruz walkout over cuts

By Héctor A. Rivera

SANTA CRUZ, Calif.--Over 250 students walked out of class and rallied in protest on April 22 at the University of California-Santa Cruz (UCSC) in opposition to the devastating statewide budget cuts sweeping the public university system.

Through Facebook, text messages and flyers, the walkout was organized in three days by several groups, including students from the Coalition to Save Community Studies, the Coalition to Save Latin American and Latino Studies Lecturers, Engaging Education, Students Informing Now, the Campus Antiwar Network, the New UC, the Movement for Immigrant Rights Alliance and the International Socialist Organization.

Due to the statewide budget shortfall, the state government has cut $115 million from the university's funding for the upcoming academic year. The University of California has decided to raise tuition by 9 percent system-wide, which is close to $1,000 per year and will drive more students deeper into debt. At UCSC specifically, the cuts amount to $13 million, and the university administration has prescribed 10 percent cuts across the board.

While the full extent of these budget cuts is not yet known, they will affect retention and recruitment services for students of color, since these cuts will deplete the funding for ethnic resource centers on campus and student-initiated outreach programs that bring in underrepresented students.

In terms of departments and majors, Dean of Social Sciences Sheldon Kamieniecki has proposed what amounts to shutting down the Community Studies department and terminating the employment of two founding members of the Latin American and Latino Studies department. Furthermore, the Language Studies department is getting cuts to their staff support. In addition, the major in Environmental Toxicology and the minor in Music will be liquidated, and Earth Sciences and the Marine Sciences will be combined into a single department.

As if that wasn't enough, the university is also raising the rent for students living in the Family Student Housing apartments and threatening cuts in funding to the Women's Center and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Center.

Outraged at these cuts, groups of concerned students sprang up all over campus to address the issue and raise awareness. However, seeing that the university administration was unmoved by their concerns, the students decided to act and called for a walkout.

During the walkout, students marched with signs that read "Cut from the top" and "Bailout the barrios, not the banks."

Leah Blair, a senior in anthropology and antiwar activist, said that this first action "was a great opportunity to come together to build a coalition and a movement to get our voices heard."

After the walkout, students met to plan a second walkout and to continue building momentum with a "teach-out" organized by campus unions and a protest for immigrant rights and workers' rights on May 1.

While the walkout was a welcome step forward in the fight against budget cuts, students will need to organize on more campuses to make a difference. As Blair put it "Ultimately, we will need to connect with other students being affected by the cuts to mobilize to Sacramento and demand more money for education."