An army of students, faculty and staff — possibly wearing red and black as a traditional symbol of protest in Mexico — will take over the steps at city hall on Thursday. Their demand will be that gubernatorial candidates and state legislators take a stand on public education.
The event is organized by several student and faculty groups from San Francisco State University and City College, as well other educational groups.
“We want to put the gubernatorial candidates on alert, to be specific on what they are going to do,” said Phil Klasky, chair of the student committee for the SF State chapter of the California Faculty Association.
Ramón Castellblanch, president of the association, said he has yet to hear any of the candidates speak about the current crisis the California state universities are facing.
“We want to break through,” he said about making the issue a priority for elected officials.
Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is running for governor, will be in Houston for a conference the day of the rally but has agreed to meet with members of the association next week, Castellblanch said.
“He is sympathetic, but what does that mean?” Klasky asked. “We want to know what is his plan of action.”
One specific question the association wants answered is whether the mayor supports AB 656, a bill that would fund higher education through a severance tax on oil.
“The governor and the legislators would rather fund prisons,” Klasky said. “They would rather protect their friends in the oil industry.”
The mayor’s office did not comment at the time of publication.
State Senator Leland Yee, who represents the western part of San Francisco and San Mateo County, will attend if there is no session that day, his office staff said.
“He certainly supports the rally,” said Adam Keigwin, Yee’s chief of staff. “He joins them in that fight to restore funding.”
Last Sunday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed two bills authored by Yee that would have affected the state university system. One would have prohibited pay raises to University of California and California State University executives. The other would have included auxiliary — or separate — organizations of CSU’s to be subject to the California Public Record Act.
“A lot of hard work is gone. A lot of bipartisan support is erased,” Keigwin said. “It was supported by every single working group, faculty and student group in all the systems. The only opposition was the administration themselves.”
To pass the bills would mean they would have to tweak it or “count the days until we have a new governor,” Keigwin said.
“Not Business As Usual” at SF State
Teresa Carrillo, chair of the Raza Studies Department at SF State, said this rally would also send a message to elected officials that budgets cuts have radically changed SF State.
“This semester is not business as usual,” she said.
What is different this semester is the CSU trustees plan to trim $586 million from the budget and it’s cutting deep.
- They voted twice since May to increase tuition from $1,881 last spring to $2,300 this semester, an increase of $978 a year.
- Reduce all employee salaries by 10 percent by making teacher take unpaid furloughs.
- Layoffs and no new admissions in the spring of 2010.
Professors said the cuts to higher education are the worst in history and are disproportionately affecting people of color.
Klasky, who also teaches American Indian studies at SF State, said the ethnic studies department is particularly affected. The closing of the Ethnic Studies Resource Center, which helped some 100 students with anything from scholarships to legal aid, was a major loss, Klasky said. Classes have also been cut, making it difficult for students to major in disciplines that have traditionally attracted low-income students.
While SF State cut 428 classes in the academic year, the American Indian department went from offering 20 courses to seven in their second year as an official major.
“Our majors can’t even get the classes they need,” said Klasky, who went from teaching three courses to one.
This is affecting student like Ricardo Alvarez, 22, who is double majoring in criminal justice and Raza studies.
For Alvarez, who is ready to graduate after this year, $978 more in tuition is huge.
He shares the cost with his father who works as a welder. But with no steady job and currently unable to work, Alvarez is under pressure to work more hours at Popeye’s to pay next semester’s tuition.
That means, he said, he has no time to organize with the Clinica Martin Baro, a once-a week, free clinic in the Mission.
His family is also feeling the pressure.
“I have a sister that goes to community college because my dad can’t afford both of our education in a CSU,” he said. “If the tuition continues to be this high, chances are that my sister will not attend the university.”
Alvarez is eligible for grad school but that doesn’t seem doable right now. “Unfortunately, the fee hikes also affect graduate problems,” he said.
Alvarez said he is planning on attending the rally.
“All I ask from the representatives is not to be passive whenever the government launches attacks on students,” he said.
Cristal Gallegos, 25, a double major in political science and Raza studies, was denied graduation this semester by a single class.
“I could not get into any political science courses, even as a political science senior,” Gallegos said. “One political science class was at least at double capacity and even though I begged the instructor to let me in he flat out denied me.”
This puts her further in debt, she said.
The budget cuts are also affecting first-year students at a time when some gains were made on first-generation college students, said Dr. Naomi Quinonez, a former full-time professor at SF State.
Quinonez is teaching a poetry class at June Jordan High School, and a critical thinking class at SF State.
Last year she was unable to teach any classes at SF State.
“I am pretty outraged about the cuts,” she said, “just when we were beginning to make some progress on more students who were the first in their family to go to college.”
Students like Lesly Diaz, 18, studying pre-nursing, and Jazmin Rosales, 18, who has yet to declare a major, are the first in their families to go to college.
“I didn’t think it was going to be this hard,” Diaz said about the current situation.
She’s been unable to find a job, and the financial aid and loans she has received have not been enough to cover her expenses, which include $800 rent.
Her mom has taken other jobs to put her through college including cleaning houses, remodeling homes, babysitting and waiting tables.
“My mom wants me to stay, but we can’t afford it,” Diaz said. Her morale is down and she is thinking about going back to L.A. to study at a community college or a private school where financial aid would be greater, she said.
Rosales is sure she is going to go back to L.A. to go to community college or try to go to CSU Northridge next fall because they are not accepting students for the spring semester. This way at least she will save money on rent, she said.
“I don’t want my parents to struggle,” Rosales said.
Raza studies professor Carlos Cordova said the cuts also mean professors are doing more work for less pay.
Having eight unpaid furlough days means “$550 dollars less a month,” Cordova said. “I have a mortgage and bills to pay, which forces me to look for money elsewhere.”
Klasky, too, said the salary cut has him thinking about his own career. “I am reconsidering my career as an educator,” he said.
Cordova received his B.A. and M.A. from SF State, and has been teaching at the university since 1974.
Gone, he said, are the days he experienced as an undergraduate when the maximum number of students in a class was 27, and tuition was $49 a semester.
Cordova said that if the cuts continue he sees the possibility of some departments disappearing, something he has seen in the past.
In his 35 years of teaching, he said, “this year is the worst.”