This week's meeting of California State University trustees in Long Beach was a difficult one. Students protested inside and outside and also battled with police; a glass door was broken and an officer went to the hospital.
But that's no excuse for the trustees' decision to close the meeting to the public and press when they voted on a 9-percent tuition hike.
This decision is likely to backfire in multiple ways.
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For one thing, the vote is almost certainly illegal, since the press was barred and state law says reporters must be able to attend the meeting. (An attorney for the university told the Mercury News, in this smart story on the vote, that she had thought that reporters were in the room).
For another, the tuition increase in secret will spark more anger and put more heat on the trustees -- when the real heat should be redirected to Sacramento and the broken budget process, which has produced big cuts that have forced the tuition increases. This is an important message to drive -- because, as a new poll shows, the public doesn't understand why higher education is suffering cuts (or the public's own culpability in those cuts).
In a similar way, the secret vote represented a missed opportunity. A vote taken in public, in front of angry protestors, would have been uncomfortable for trustees. But it would have produced accounts and pictures that demonstrated for the public just how fierce opposition is -- but in the context of a democratic action. Instead, news accounts showed the broken glass door.
That's the fault of both the trustees and the students whose protests went too far. It's time that students and trustees realized that they are on the same side -- and their real fight is with Sacramento and with California voters, who have erected the budget system that is squeezing Cal State, higher education, and the state's future.