ON my way to teaching my class at nearby Cal State Fullerton, I stepped over a bedroll outside the convenience store inside Langsdorf Hall, the building that houses the university’s administration.
I asked the student clerk who handed me my vanilla latte what was all the commotion about. When she told me, it didn’t register.
Students were going without food in protest of overwhelming cuts and nearly continuous tuition hikes at the Cal State Universities.
That’s right. A student hunger strike. The 10 hunger strikers, including David Inga of CSUF, according to the CSUF student newspaper The Daily Titan, ended their action last Friday shortly after a meeting of the CSU Board of Trustees. It’s not clear whether the group, Students for Quality Education, made a difference. But they are claiming victory because Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has agreed to meet with them and consider their demands: eliminate all housing and car allowances for all 23 campus presidents; rollback executive salaries to 1999 levels and a five-year freeze on tuition increases, according to The Daily Titan.
First, those demands make sense to me. Yet, the CSU Chancellor’s Office says no existing administrator has had raises since 2007 and when everyone – including part-time faculty – received 10 percent paycuts and furlough days, the administrators took the hits as well. And if there are no fee increases, a campus or two may have to close this fall.
Clearly, CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed is in a tough spot. He’s being squeezed by cutbacks in state funding. And if the governor’s tax proposal is not approved by voters this fall, the ax will fall closer to part-time professors like me, and that could mean elimination of more class sections at CSUs, UCs and community colleges and hurt students, too.
Gary A. Negin, a professor in the College of Education at California State San Bernardino, wrote an opinion piece Wednesday in a sister newspaper showing how cutbacks affect students and faculty. “For example, 8,000 fewer courses were offered in 2010-2011 than in 2008-2009 (at the CSUs). Students frequently have to interrupt, postpone, or end their studies because they cannot find seats in classrooms that are filled to capacity.”
Negin reported on an analysis by The Sacramento Bee published earlier this month that found many graduates of high schools in California applied for admission to universities in other states because they were frustrated after being rejected by a CSU. He added: “More students are leaving California than are coming to California to attend school, even though the annual costs for out-of-state residents are higher.”
Negin and the hunger strikers get it: California is losing its edge in higher education. A state that once led the nation in this area is slipping, badly.
Second, that day when I was rushing to my office to put some finishing touches on my lecture, I was oblivious to what was literally unfolding at my feet.
Students are starving themselves just to stop what has been a 318 percent rise in tuition since 2002. This fall, the latest 9 percent tuition hike takes effect, pushing the price of a year’s tuition at a CSU to more than $7,000 for the first-time ever. Pay for CSU presidents range from $259,000 to $400,000.
Students are not a voting bloc. They get ignored by politicians. The sad part is, they have to starve themselves to be heard. What will it take for the people of California to realize that the system is hurting our future leaders? Will it take a student dying next time? I hope not.
At a rally at Mt. SAC in Walnut, speakers urged students to vote. I agree that is the best way for their voices to be heard. I would admonish parents, too, since they are the ones picking up the tab for their children’s higher tuition.
I also like the students’ other demand: To directly elect the CSU Board of Trustees, instead of the governor or the Legislature hand-picking folks who agree with them. “…it will be empowering students (and) faculty to find the best representatives for the best interest of California students.”
Add my voice to theirs.