Statewide Protests Demand Affordable Higher Education - NBC Southern California

Statewide Protests Demand Affordable Higher Education

Thousands of students rallied at dozens of college campuses across California



    Cal State Students Walk Out of Classes Statewide

    Students gathered on campuses across the state to draw attention to the dwindling funds allocated to public higher education. Gordon Tokumatsu reports from Cal State Northridge. (Published Thursday, March 1, 2012)

    Thousands of students protested on dozens of college campuses across California Thursday demanding "accessible, affordable and quality education."

    The statewide protests were held in collaboration with the Occupy Education movement's call for a National Mobilization Day and the group Students for Quality Education.

    "Our goal is to bring awareness to legislatures and elected officials, including regents of the universities that students, faculty, staff and members of the community have had enough," said a spokesman for the Occupy Education movement. "(Legislatures and elected officials) cannot continue to dismantle education the way they have been doing. Funding priorities have shifted and the one percent needs to pay their share for the education of the workforce."

    About 300 students attended the Cal State Northridge protest, where students were educated on the state's funding crisis during a day-long "teach-in." Cal State Long Beach's all-day rally featured music.

    In Nov. 2011, protesters gathered outside the CSU board of trustees at Cal State Long Beach, where board members were set to vote on proposed tuition hike increases.

    CSU police officers and protestors clashed outside the meeting as demonstrators were pepper sprayed and the building's glass doors were shattered. Arrests were made and minor injuries reported.

    Students were determined not to repeat that incident during Thursday's protests.

    "This is a non-violent rally today. There will be no marching on campus," said James Suazo, Students for Quality Education member and CSU Long Beach student. "We condone that this is a peaceful event and that violence does not solve anything."

    Members of Students for Quality Education, a group active on 18 campuses across the state, said they wanted to highlight the perpetual cuts on California's higher education.

    "All of the campuses are participating on different levels," said Cathie Pecheco, a spokeswoman for the group. "Our main message today is that we want to get statewide attention to education and democratize the board of trustees."

    Although funding cuts, including recent trigger cuts, to the Cal State system came from legislation in the state's capital, many students were voicing their frustrations toward the CSU board of trustees and Chancellor Charles Reed.

    The board of trustees, established as part of the Donahoe Higher Education Act of 1960, oversees "the funds, property, facilities and investments by the system and the campuses," according to its website.

    Some students equated skyrocketing tuition costs to a privatization of California's public university system.

    "If we let that happen then we are closing the doors to all of the people who do not have access to education otherwise," Pacheco said. "What we are trying to do is keep high quality education affordable and accessible."

    But, privatizing the Cal State system "couldn't be farther from the truth," said Mike Uhlemkamp, spokesman for the CSU chancellor's office.

    The Cal State system had about $1 billion slashed from its budget since the 2010-11 school year. The board of trustees has had to re-establish student enrollment limits, forcing it to re-organize how the system could operate effectively with more applicants and less money.

    "When the state cuts $1 billion from our budget, we have to play the cards we are dealt," Uhlemkamp said. "There is a tough decision to make in every meeting."

    Still, protesters said students' interests have not been represented in the board of trustees meetings.

    Two students are appointed to the board of trustees to represent the approximately 450,000 students enrolled in the CSU system. The two students serve staggering terms, and only one has full voting rights.

    One student representing the interest of 450,000 students is not reasonable, Pacheco said, adding she wasn't convinced that the board of trustees is doing enough to convey the needs of the student body.

    Executive salaries were another point of contention during Thursday's protests.

    The presidents of the 23 different Cal States make between $270,000 and $350,000 per year, many with housing provided, according to the CSU board of trustees website. Chancellor Reed tops the list with a more than $420,000 annual pay.

    "While it's a drop in the bucket of the overall educational budget, it would be laudable of administrators to dedicate a portion of their salaries in this time of crises as a symbolic measure to help stop tuition hikes and keep faculty on board," a spokesman from the Occupy Education movement said.

    Despite the focus on the Chancellor's office not every student agrees that targeting their attention in that direction will solve the problem.

    "The most efficient means about bringing out change or securing funding for universities is to lobby the state legislature and lobby together. I do not agree that the attention toward the chancellor is the best way to make change," said Jameson Nyeholt, secretary of statewide affairs for the Associated Students at Cal State Long Beach.

    Although Nyeholt did not partake in the protests, he said he will participate in the demonstrations scheduled for March 5 dubbed "Occupy the Capital."

    Taking the cause to Sacramento may be a wise choice, since Gov. Jerry's Brown proposed tax initiative will directly affect students in public higher education.

    If voters do not approve the tax initiative in November, campuses across the state will see millions more of their state funding dollars reduced, leaving them yet again to try and figure out how to support an increased student body with a decreased budget.

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