What started as a formal town hall meeting with full dinner and dessert buffet transformed into a standing-room-only, emotion-packed event in Jack Adams Hall on April 29.
Students and faculty and prominent social workers and business leaders from the Bay Area and throughout California jammed the auditorium to fight the proposed budget cuts to the California State University system –- which is up for final revision before the State Assembly May 14 -- and testify about the economic consequences to the Bay Area.
They called for ending cuts to classes, faculty, programs and services, as well as in the athletic and creative arts departments.
Student Ramon Acevedo walked to the center of the room and announced his discontent with the meeting shortly after its start and during the introduction of speaker Eric Mar, president of the San Francisco School Board.
“Yeah, hold up,” Acevedo said to the panel. "There’s about 200 students outside that are still trying to come in. If this a town hall meeting …”
The crowd interrupted the 22-year-old junior by chanting “OPEN UP THE DOORS.” They were opened. Each audience member immediately stood up, grabbed their tables and dragged them to the room’s perimeter, redefining the meeting’s atmosphere by making room for the students.
Within minutes the center of the floor was transformed into general seating and filled with concerned, cross-legged students who listened intently.
Two student speakers riled the crowd and asked the organizers of the meeting to have more students come up to the podium.
Before they turned the microphone over to the students, the scheduled student speakers set a tone of disgust at the proposed budget and abhorrence at SF State administration’s alleged strategy to pass the bulk of the burden onto the students.
“Where is the administration? Where is Corrigan?” Arroyo asked. “Because he doesn’t show up to these meetings, he doesn’t listen to us, and I think he’s a little bit afraid. ... We’re giving him a message from the students: We’re not going to stand for this shit!”
“What we’ve learned from administration is that they’re going to go ahead and they’re going to attack us when we turn our backs,” Arroyo said. “That means that when we’re in finals, and when we’re not here during the summertime, they’re going to make even more cuts. They’re going to implement even more fees, and they're going to cut even more departments…”
But after the second scheduled SF State student speaker, Cathy Arroyo, motivated the crowd to be proactive, Acevedo once again led much of the same crowd he brought in back out when he stood and announced he was going out to Malcolm X Plaza to try to mobilize students.
Before the students left, some participated in an unplanned part of the meeting by offering testimony on how SF State and its programs have fundamentally improved and enriched their lives and how atrocious the idea of the cuts are. And they called for SF State President Robert Corrigan (who wasn’t there), and other administrators to take a salary cut.
Although this meeting was planned before the start of this semester in response to the Assembly’s proposed budget revision in January, Legislative leaders sent spokespeople in their stead. The panel included staff members for Assemblymen Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, State Senator Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, San Francisco Assessor Mabel Teng, and Supervisor Tony Hall. San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly was the lone legislator that came in person.
Daly explained after the meeting that he gets along well with Assemblyman Leno and state Senator John Burton, D-San Francisco, but they are already against such cuts. Locally the Board of Supervisors has its own budget issues, but after attending Thursday’s meeting, he can bring a resolution to the board and “officially chime in on the issue.”
“With the recall and Schwarzenegger in there, and whom he owes his office to, it’s a little bit juiced,” Daly said. “So it’s going to be difficult to impossible, but the louder the voice is, the more embarrassed the governor is by the decision that he’s about to make.”
Daly and the legislative stand-ins also heard from leaders of local and state economies and services, including Barry Schiller, retired vice president of a semiconductor industry; information technology journalist Peggy Aycinena; and Ron Smith, regional vice president of the Hospital Council of Northern California Pacific Medical Center. Each spoke on the devastating impact the cuts to the CSU will have on the economy now and for years to come.
One of Thursday night’s speakers, Dr. Michael Potepan, chair of SF State’s economics department, supplied an economic impact analysis.
“I’m not going to bog you all down with numbers,” he said. He proceeded with a simplified overhead projection of how the economic disaster Californians are living would worsen from the projected loss in student enrollments from the cuts.
His report showed SF State students pump $387 million into the local economy through purchasing products, renting apartments, etc., and that the university itself and its affiliates pump $341 million into the local economy through building contracts, hiring staff, etc. He then explained that economists calculate more than twice that amount being added to the community once it hits the economy using their “Multiplier Effect.” It all adds up to nearly $1.2 billion.
“I found, even as an economist dealing with large numbers in many different contexts, I was a little surprised to see such a large number,” Potepan testified. “A billion dollars in the local economy is a strong impact.”