'Alliance for CSU' seeks state-wide support from students
March 20, 2008 2:13 PM
SF State hosted a teach-in Monday in McKenna Theatre as part of a sweeping, campus-wide movement to address the California State University’s ailing financial situation and gain support for an advocacy group dedicated to protecting the 23-campus, 417,000 student system.
The Budget Fight Back campaign kicked off two weeks ago and has received strong support from each campus it has visited. SF State was the 10th campus to hold the meeting and was attended by about 700 students, faculty and staff members. Every campus in the system is expected to hold a meeting.
The primary goal of the meetings is to gain support for the Alliance for the CSU, an advocacy coalition that will gather to lobby at the state capitol April 21 in a major effort to secure more funding from the state, which is grappling with a $14 billion deficit, and avert another 10 percent fee increase.
“These meetings are to accomplish three things,” said California Faculty Association president Lillian Taiz. “To explain the problem, to talk about how to get the message out and to launch the alliance and discuss how to take action.”
Taiz, an SF State alumna who teaches history at CSU Los Angeles, said it is crucial to gain as much support as possible for the CSU before the budget is finalized this summer. She said it is important to view the CSU as a solution to the state’s budget crisis.
“If people understand the problem, the magnitude of these cuts, they will see that any and everyone will suffer consequences if we can’t fund the CSU,” Taiz said. “This institution changes people’s lives, and we cannot sit around and wait until the last minute to get people to stand up.”
The teach-in panel was made up of SF State President Robert Corrigan, Board of Trustees Chair Roberta Achtenberg, CFA SF State Chapter President Ramon Castellblanch, Academic Senate President Jim Kohn, State Sen. Leland Yee, Associated Students, Inc. President Claudia Mercado and Russell Kilday-Hicks, who is president of the SF State chapter of the CSU employees union.
“As much as we have disagreed in the past, we all agree that the CSU should exist,” Kilday-Hicks said. “What we are talking about is Hoover versus FDR politics here. If we do not invest in education, we will be in a downward spiral forever.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a $386 million cut to the CSU system for the 2008-09 academic year, which translates to about $25 million in cuts to SF State alone. The consistent, yearly cuts have ravaged the system since 2003, the state’s last major budget crisis in which the CSU was slashed by more than half a billion dollars. The proposed budget assumes a 10 percent increase in student fees that would bring the fees to $3,048 per year—113 percent higher than they were in 2003.
“Why should CSU faculty, staff and students be asked to bear the brunt of the budget crisis?” Corrigan asked. “It’s unfair... A ten percent fee increase is raising taxes for students.”
According to Achtenberg, the CSU could shut down five of the system’s smallest campuses to absorb such a cost. If spread across the system, the cuts would mean course reductions, increased class sizes and longer times to graduate.
“These cuts will make it more difficult for you to become teachers, nurses, engineers and many other things for the state of California,” Achtenberg said. “These meetings are to bolster our case to the state of California when we go to finalize the budget.”
The cuts would also mean increased workload for faculty and staff and fewer support services including advising, career services and health services.
Castellblanch said the meetings were the first step in taking political action.
“We are an especially important campus in California,” Castellblanch said. “At SF State, we’re special in that we are one of the largest campuses and also have a long history of political action and a lot of minority students.”
ASI President Claudia Mercado, who identified herself as a student, Cal Grant recipient, part-time employee and first generation of college attendee from a family of immigrants, spoke of the large role CSU plays in the state of California.
“Together, our 23 campuses contribute about 89,000 people that lead California,” she said. “We are the backbone of the state’s way of life.”
Since January, concern has significantly increased beyond the initial budget-cut scare. The application deadline was moved up for SF State and most other CSU campuses to stem enrollment, which meant about 10,000 eligible students were not able to apply. The budget does not allow for spending on new students, either. In addition, there have also been drastic cuts to the state’s 72 districts of community colleges, making attending college more difficult for many Californians.
Jim Kohn, the Academic Senate president, said economic growth in California can be directly tied to education, and 83 percent of occupations require a college degree. The three Bay Area CSUs generate $120 million in tax revenue per year, and sustain about 29,000 jobs, according to a study conducted by the CSU.
“When I graduated from SF State in 1968, CSU was in the top five state agencies for state funding,” Kohn said. “Now, we’re in the bottom five. How can California stay on edge? The future of the state is tied to its ability to fund this system.”
Kohn pointed out the misplacement of civic priorities in the state budget by explaining the per capita spending on students versus prison inmates. The state spends about $43,000 per inmate per year to incarcerate, yet only allocates about $8,400 to educate a student at SF State.
According to an analytic study conducted by the CSU, degrees from SF State translate to approximately 13,000 jobs and generate about $53 million in tax revenue. Kohn said for every dollar invested in a college student, the state gets roughly $4 in returns, whereas investing in a prisoner returns nothing.
State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) said the CSU is significant as a means of economic sustainability.
“This society and state is identified by the way we prepare our children,” Yee said. “There is no point in having a government, a legislation or anything else, for that matter, if we are not preparing our children to lead it.”
Yee said the necessary action to strengthen the CSU budget on a long-term scale is to raise taxes, a move that has long been unpopular with Republican voters.
“People against tax increases need to understand this is not about business,” Yee said. “This is about our children, and our future, and answering the question of whether we will have a society in the years to come. We are not going to allow folks to skirt around this with no education and no way to deal with the growing problems in the world.”
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