Labor Union and Students Fight California State University Budget Cuts

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Severe spending cuts are battering the California State University system. Furlough days for professors. Double-digit fee increases for students. They are seeking relief.

Patricia Mata is a senior sociology major from Watsonville (Santa Cruz County), slated to graduate from Sacramento State University next May. She is paying $2,400 for classes this semester, up from $1,200 in 2006. “Students are not getting back what we paid for,” Mata said, coping with increased waiting lists for fewer classes due to professors being furloughed two days a month.

Andrae Macapinlac is a senior political science major from Benicia (Solano County), who attends San Jose State University. According to him, 1,600 students over a two-week period there have signed complaint forms addressing the lack of CSU resources and demanding more. They delivered the forms to the academic provost in a campus protest march on September 9.

Mata and Macapinlac are members of Students for Quality Education, an activist organization that advocates for social justice on 17 of the 23 CSU campuses. SQE grew out of the California Faculty Association in 2002. The CFA is a labor union which represents a total of 23,000 tenured and tenure-track instructional faculty, lecturers, librarians, coaches and counselors on all 23 CSU campuses.

The state Legislature’s spending cuts for the CSU system triggered the California State University Board of Trustees to increase student fees twice this year for a total of 32 percent. The proximate cause of the CSU system’s $564 million shortfall in the current fiscal year is the state’s $24 billion budget deficit, the gap between spending and income, sales and tax revenue. Spending reductions for higher education are a national trend. California is one of 34 states reducing higher education expenditures, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, DC.

Kevin Wehr is a sociology professor at Sac State and a CFA chapter president. “There is another 10 percent student fee increase slated for later this fall or early in the spring,” he said, “with student fee increases totaling 182 percent over the last seven years. This means that when faculty are furloughed two days per month, students are paying 32 percent more to get 10 percent less (class sections).”

Further, the CSU plans to reduce student enrollment by 40,000 over the next two years. This is a “gentrification” of the CSU system, according to Wehr, meaning the public policy of evicting people with low-incomes from a neighborhood to replace them with higher-income residents.

The CSU chancellor’s declined Truthout’s request to comment on student enrollment reduction as a policy of academic gentrification. According to the CSU chancellor’s web site, reducing enrollment by 40,000 students during the coming 24 months will proceed in part “through a variety of enrollment management tools used last fall such as increased admissions criteria for out-of-area applicants.”

It is noteworthy that the CSU deficit of $564 million is roughly the annual cost to state taxpayers of locking up 11,300 people in California’s 33 prisons, which hold 167,000 prisoners now. That figure represents double the prison system’s design capacity, which a federal, three-judge panel ruled is unconstitutionally overcrowded on August 4. Their ruling calls for a reduction of California prisoners by 40,000 over the next two years, the identical number of CSU students who, due to spending cuts, will be locked out of enrolling for classes during the same time period.

California prisons have been garnering tax dollars at a vastly higher rate than higher education in the past quarter century. From 1984-1985 to 2009-2010, state spending on postsecondary schools has increased 159 percent versus an increase of 685 percent for incarceration in the same 25-year period, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

At the state Capitol, the CFA supports Assembly Bill 656 of state Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico (D-Fremont). AB 656 would impose a severance tax on firms that extract oil and gas in California. The bill would establish the California Higher Education Endowment Corporation to provide oversight on investing and spending the new tax revenue. “Higher education” means the community colleges, the CSU and the University of California.

CHEEC representatives would come from public postsecondary education (faculty and students), the state Assembly, the state Senate and the state treasurer. Torrico’s bill would require an approval by two-thirds of the state Assembly and Senate, in accordance with the California Constitution.

Rock Zierman is the CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association. “We oppose AB 656 because it will double the tax on oil versus other states, discourage domestic production and make us more dependent on imported foreign oil,” he said. The CIPA represents about 450 independent crude oil and natural gas producers, royalty owners and service and supply companies in California, according to its web site.

The CFA and SQE will be promoting the passage of AB 656 on the CSU’s 23 campuses with Assemblyman Torrico this fall. His bill passed the higher education committee in the state Assembly, and moves to the taxation and revenue committee there in 2010.

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