SFSU save our students protest

May 20, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO--Students, faculty and staff at San Francisco State University (SFSU) protested on May 14 against more budget cuts, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled plans to close a huge budget deficit with deeper cuts in education and health programs.

"I understand these cuts are very painful and affect real lives," Schwarzenegger said. "But this is the harsh reality and the crisis that we face." But wealthier Californians aren't encountering the "harsh reality" that working-class people are facing as the recession worsens.

This announcement came days before special elections scheduled for May 19, in which California voters would decide on several propositions that will impact the budget process, including Proposition 1A, which imposes a long-term cap on all state budgets and services and gives the governor more power to unilaterally cut programs.

Even if these propositions pass, the state would still be in a $15.4 billion deficit--down from $21.3 billion deficit if the propositions fail. Whatever the results of the special election, the state government has already delivered 5,000 layoff notices to state employees. Earlier this year, the Democratic-controlled Senate and Assembly passed a budget containing $15 billion in education spending cuts and $12 billion in new regressive taxes.

The California State University (CSU) administration has dramatically diminished the quality of education within the system by increasing class sizes, reducing the availability of classes, delaying graduations, laying off faculty and staff and denying 10,000 freshmen admission.

On May 13, the CSU board of trustees raised the yearly undergraduate fees to $3,354. Students must pay this fee, in addition to other fees set by each campus. Those fees come to $714 at SFSU. During the 1999-2000 school year, a full-time SFSU student paid just $1,428 in university fees. Over the past 10 years, fees have more than doubled.

LESS THAN a week before CSU raised fees, the University of California's (UC) governing board of regents decided to raise tuition by 9.3 percent--the sixth increase in seven years. At the same meeting, the UC Regents approved the appointment of Dr. Susan Desmond-Hellmann as chancellor of UC San Francisco and Linda Katehi as chancellor of UC Davis. These administrators were appointed with double-digit increase in salaries, 12 percent and 27 percent respectively, over their predecessors.

While these administrators earn yearly salaries and housing and car perks amounting to half a million dollars, Sean Tanner's life has been put on hold because of the budget cuts. At the May 14 demonstration, which had the theme "S.O.S. The CSU Is Under Water!" the SFSU senior stepped up to the bullhorn:

My problem is that I only need two classes to graduate and for the last whole year, every damn semester, the classes are full. They know that seniors need that class to graduate. It seems like a trap to keep us here and waste our time...It's not a waste of time to go to other classes, but the purpose is to get your degree and continue with your life. So I don't understand why, when there's such a demand for the classes, they just don't offer it.

SFSU lecturers are wondering the same thing, as administrators plan for more layoffs. Sheila Tully, an anthropology lecturer who helped organize the demonstration, said it best:

We are educators, and we know that public education is under attack. Students are paying more and getting less. I am also member of the executive board of the California Faculty Association representing lecturers. We are losing our work. Some of us have been here 12 and 15 years and have been told that we have no classes to teach.

If we don't teach our courses, students don't get the GE [General Education] courses that they need to graduate. We all know this, and we don't understand why this is lost on the board of trustees. We need to say to the governor that this is unacceptable and that he needs to fund public education and that [Proposition] 1A is not going to solve the problem. 1A is going to lock us into this desperate budget we've been in where we have to deal with these continual cuts.

Many of them wearing bright orange life preservers, inner tubes, raincoats and swimming trunks, some 50 protesters turned out May 14 with signs that read "It's Raining Budget Cuts: No on Prop 1A," "More Classes: Less Fees," "Stop Cuts to CSU," "Mayday! Mayday! Protect Public Higher Education," "S.O.S. Save Our Students" and "Tax the Rich."

As an adviser from the School of Ethnics Studies noted, "We need people with vision in Sacramento--new priorities. Students of color are not able to afford education and are being forced to drop out and enter dead-end jobs."

People with degrees are ending up in low-paid jobs, too. Makda, a graduating senior in social work who attended the rally, has a low-wage job at a bread bakery lined up for after graduation. She is pressed to find a better job, since she has to start paying off her school loans in six months--loans that have accrued after five years of barely getting the classes she needed.

Another student at the rally, Tabrela, will have to take on extra shifts at work to pay for school and her credit card debt from buying textbooks. On top of this, she didn't get into a required English class, which will cost her an extra semester.

As the adviser of SFSU's College of Ethnic Studies--which students and faculty won in a 1969 strike--said, "Change is not going to come from politicians. Students and teachers need a broader vision and to get active."

Katharina Neusiedler contributed to this article.

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