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SDSU Protesters Rally Against Budget Cuts, Forced Furloughs

Standing in a shaded corner atop the steps of Aztec Center at San Diego State University Monday, Evyn Griffith and Kyle Peterson waited for the crowd of protesters to gather and hawked their latest design to students and faculty frustrated with state budget cuts.

The shirts — simple black and white tees, with “FURLOUGH $TATE UNIVER$ITY” printed on them — were sold for 10 bucks a pop, and were a hit with the mob of marchers, who flooded Aztec Center chanting “When they cut, we all bleed,” and “No more cuts.”

The California State University (CSU), University of California (UC) and California Community Colleges (CCC) systems have been plagued by state budget cuts that have impacted enrollment and class sizes and forced professors into furloughs.

Griffith, a sophomore communications major at Cal State San Marcos, said library hours on CSUSM’s campus have been trimmed and class sizes have ballooned. Griffith works on campus to help pay tuition, but says his hours have been scaled back to accommodate the cuts.

“It’s been really tough; students who have to work to pay to be in school, it seems lately, schools are working against us,” said Griffith, who, along with Peterson is selling the T-shirts on CSU campuses and on the Web. “I don’t feel a lot of love from the schools right now.”

The SDSU march and rally was the third this semester. On Nov. 3, marchers rallied outside President Stephen Weber’s office to protest cuts, and the university’s decision to eliminate admissions guarantees to local, qualified applicants. Students also rallied on the first day of the semester.
Despite student and faculty protest, it seems the impact of the cuts will only get worse.

CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed said last week the system will reduce its enrollment by 40,000 students next year in response to a $564 million budget cut in state funds.

In a news release, Reed said CSU needs to reduce its student numbers to match student enrollment with funding received from the state.
“You cannot see a 20 percent drop in revenue and serve the same number of students,” Reed said.

According to the chancellor’s office, CSU’s 23 campuses received more than 266,000 applications for fall 2010 — a 53 percent increase over last year — and 4,000 students were cut this semester. CSU anticipates half of the campuses will stop accepting applications by Nov. 30.

To accommodate the cuts, SDSU nixed 300 classes, 700 workers and increased student fees by 32 percent. University faculty members are also required to take two unpaid furlough days per month, a 10 percent reduction in salary for professors, the SDSU student newspaper reported.

The UC and CCC systems are also feeling the crunch.

The budget shortfall is forcing the UC regents to vote this week on a proposal to raise student fees by 32 percent and reduce its freshman class by 2,300 students, according to The Sacramento Bee. The UC system cut 2,300 student applicants last year, too, the Bee reported.

Restricted admissions at the UC and CSU levels are putting a strain on community colleges, which reported a 135,000-student increase in enrollment this year. According to the CCC chancellor’s office, the system has shouldered $840 million in cuts during the 2008-09, and 2009-10 academic years.
According to the CCC’s chancellor’s office, the San Diego Community College District reduced its course catalog by 600 courses, classes are filled to capacity, and the district turned away more than 18,000 students this semester.

During the rally at SDSU Monday, students registered to vote and signed up to support Assembly Bill 656, a 9.9 percent oil tax that would create the California Higher Education Fund. The tax would benefit the CSU, UC and CCC systems.

“We need to make the case (for education) day after day, not only to the Legislature, but to the voters of California,” Weber told the crowd Monday.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) Californians place more value on a college degree than adults nationwide — but they’re divided on support for college systems via increased taxes.

According to a report by the PPIC, 56 percent of Californians are unwilling to pay a higher tax. Similarly, 68 percent are unwilling to increase student fees. And, among likely voters, an education construction bond only showed a 46 percent approval.

Despite the cuts, the PPIC reported six in 10 Californians give “good” to “excellent” marks to the state’s higher education systems.

David Berver, a senior sociology major at SDSU working with a campus group called Revolution 102, said the rallies are important tools to hold the university accountable for its priorities when it comes to budget cuts.

The student-run group, born out of a Sociology 102 course, advocates for smaller class sizes and priority to local applicants; and advocates against an increase in online courses, an increase in student fees and furloughed time for faculty.

“They want us to be cheap and quiet,” Berver told the protesters, “but we are loud and opinionated and valuable.”

“Social movements never occur when people are passive,” Berver continued. “I know social movements may seem kind of goofy. We don’t have political power, but we’re trying to appeal to the people who do.”

Weber said the university has tried to make proportional cuts, but consequences vary, so the severity of cuts may impact one department more than others. With regard to the university’s priorities, Weber said the decision-making process with the budget is “highly decentralized … (and) a participatory, transparent process.”

An editorial published in SDSU’s student newspaper, The Daily Aztec, on Monday called the rallies “ridiculous” and “ineffective.” A staff columnist wrote, “It’s time the campus rallies be put to rest and the protesters stop wasting their time …”

Tyler Boden, president of SDSU’s Associated Students, said, “It’s hard to say whether we’ll be effective.”

But, he said, “We’re trying create an excited movement that stands together and works to find solutions. If we can do those two things, I think we’ll be successful.”

“I agree there are issues that certainly won’t be resolved by our rallies — but that doesn’t mean we ought to sit passively by and do nothing,” Weber said.

Berver added: “It’s certainly more effective that standing around quietly. We have to convince our legislators we’re a constituency worth working for.”

by Joseph Pena, SDNN.com. Peña is the lifestyle editor for San Diego News Network. He can be reached at joseph.pena(a)sdnn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @josephpena" For more information visit SDNN.com.