After Pepper-Spraying, Santa Monica College Trustees Postpone Fee Hike

Trustees bow to request from state community college official, pressure from students

By Melissa Pamer and Antonio Castelan
|  Friday, Apr 6, 2012  |  Updated 7:11 PM PDT
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Antonio Castelan, Tommy Bravo

"This is a wonderful opportunity for them to step back and really reimagine what they’re values are," says student Michael Van Dam. A controversial two-tier tuition plan is on hold at Santa Monica college. But the plan, which touched off a pepper-spraying incident earlier this week, isn't dead yet. Antonio Castelan reports from Santa Monica.

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Campus officials called the release of pepper spray at Santa Monica College an "attempt to preserve public and personal safety." That didn't satisfy student Christian Cordova. Gordon Tokumatsu reports from Santa Monica.
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At an emergency meeting Friday morning, Santa Monica College trustees voted to postpone a fee hike that prompted a student protest and pepper-spraying incident earlier this week.

The state community colleges chancellor had requested that the school delay a program that would raise tuition for summer classes to make up for cuts in state funding that have impacted public colleges across California.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for them to step back and really reimagine what they’re values are," said student Michael Van Dam.

College President Chui Tsang recommended to the Board of Trustees that the program be postponed. Students, who filled the meeting room Friday, applauded that recommendation.

Trustees voted 8-0 to postpone the program, saying they wanted more input from college teachers and students.

The meeting was held in a larger venue than the board normally uses to accommodate the crowd. At Tuesday’s regular meeting, about 30 students who tried to get into a packed board meeting were pepper-sprayed by campus police.

Some students staged a protest march on campus Thursday. Tsang said at the Friday meeting that the pepper-spray incident was "regrettable" and that an internal investigation had been launched.

On Wednesday, California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott asked Tsang to put the controversial summer-course program on hold.

Earlier this week, Tsang said the pilot program, approved in March, would offer about 50 extra "self-funded" classes this summer at the college's "actual cost" of $180 per credit unit, compared to state-subsidized classes that cost $46 per credit unit for California residents.

“SMC's cost is far below the tuition rate at the state's other public educational systems,” Tsang said. “The college's action comes at a time when SMC is confronted with the greatest budget crisis ever to face higher education in California.”

Correction: This story inaccurately reported at 12:37 p.m. Friday that the trustees had voted to postpone the program. The board was still meeting at that time; it voted close to 2 p.m.

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