Tax oil companies, not students

July 27, 2009

LONG BEACH, Calif. --About 300 students, faculty and staff gathered outside a meeting of the California State University (CSU) Board of Trustees July 21 to protest impending fee hikes and budget cuts.

The rally was called by Students for Quality Education, an organization with affiliates throughout the CSU system, and participants mobilized from campuses up and down the state. The multiracial crowd picketed and joined together in chants of "Budget cuts have got to go!" and "Tax the oil companies, not the students!"--a reference to State Assembly Bill 656, which would tax oil extracted from California soil to raise money for college spending.

The new CSU budget plan includes a 20 percent student fee increase--amounting to nearly $700 annually per student--on top of a 10 percent increase already approved in May. Moreover, enrollment is slated to be reduced by 40,000 students over the next two years.

These cuts are especially devastating in light of the fact that CSU "has been one of the country's most affordable universities and has large numbers of low-income, minority students who are the first in their families to attend college," according to the Associated Press.

As Gaby Serrato, an undergraduate at Cal State Los Angeles, said, "We're here protesting what is shaping up to be a 30 percent fee increase--in one year. We're paying so much more, and receiving less and less."

Dulce Medina, a community college student who is transferring to University of California-Los Angeles, spoke to the need for forging connections between students on different campuses. "We have to be here showing our solidarity, no matter what part of the California education system we're in," Medina said. "It doesn't matter if you go to UC, CSU or LAUSD."

The UC system recently approved similar funding cuts on its campuses, while Los Angeles Unified School District has laid off more than 2,000 teachers. Several members of United Teachers Los Angeles joined the demonstration.

CSU faculty and staff are also profoundly affected by the budget plan. According to Sacramento State University professor Stan Oden, the California Faculty Association (CFA)--the union representing CSU faculty--is being presented with "two bad choices: either accept furloughs or layoffs," and the furloughs are no guarantee against future layoffs.

In a vote completed later in the week, the CFA agreed by a narrow margin to take furloughs amounting to a 10 percent pay cut--the staff union had already accepted furloughs. Some 80 percent of CFA members also approved a vote of no confidence in CSU Chancellor Charles Reed.

Pointing to the necessity for a progressive tax policy to deal with the budget shortfall, Oden remarked, "The university ought to be a people's institution, paid for by taxes on the rich in this state."

Following the picket, protesters entered the building, with spirited chants of "Make the bosses take the losses!" and "Same enemy, same fight--workers, students must unite!" reverberating in the hallways outside the meeting room.

The trustees voted overwhelmingly in favor of the fee increase and against recommending the passage of the state oil tax bill. They were met with chants of "Shame on you!" as they exited their chambers accompanied by police escorts.

In spite of this defeat, activists vowed to carry forward the struggle by organizing rallies at CSU campuses in the first week of the fall semester.

David Rapkin and Jerald Reodica contributed to this article.

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