Day of (my in)Action

Today was “March Forth,” the Day of Action against the education crisis in the U.S. It began as an effort in California inspired by the state’s education cuts, furloughs, and fee hikes. However, it spread across the nation, with actions taken in 42 states. I should begin this post by clearly stating that I support the protests and the actions taken today.

However, I did not participate in the protests… at least not with a physical presence. One of my professors canceled his class today, while the class for which I the Teaching Assistant met off campus. My discussion section met right near the bay, outside on a thankfully rain-free and sunny morning. Having section with the sun shining down on us and the bay behind us provided a nice escape from the campus protests. The lecturer held our lecture in a downtown community center and because it was just so beautiful, I decided to ride my bike. Other than respecting the protest (I’m purposefully choosing not to use the word strike, despite the organizers’ titling it as such), we also held these sessions off campustitling due to the UCSC protests’ tendency to block the campus’ two entrances.

I again stress that I wholeheartedly agree with the protest’s grievances and goals. However, I am unsure that not attending classes demonstrates to the leaders that students care about their education. Maybe that’s the cynic in me. But I have to think that perhaps marching on a non-class day might have more aptly reflected their commitment to this very serious cause. Right or wrong, I hope that today’s efforts garner public support and eventually serious change.

Students Protest as Fees Increase

Today the UC Board of Regents voted to increase undergraduate student fees by 32% over the next three years. This, if approved by a final vote tomorrow (11/19), will result in annual fees over $10,000. This is an enormous increase and even more stunning when it is remembered that this is a university system that was founded on a belief in free education for California state residents. Students at Berkeley, UCSC, and UCLA (where the vote was held) held protests. I assume other UCs likely also held protest, but I do not have information on this. A fellow graduate student has questioned the effectiveness of these protests, since they require students to not attend class. While I see the point in his comment, I also believe that the students need to demonstrate their frustration and anger to the Board and, perhaps more importantly, to the citizens of California.

After the vote, UC President Mark Yudof stated that there might be alternative ways to save UC money, such as more online classes and more three year degrees. I am curious how he expects students to realistically be able to graduate in three years when, due to budget cuts, the classes they need are not available. To me, the only  way this could be possible would by severely reducing the standards of the UC. Yudof provided some revealing answers in his interview with the New York Times in September about his leadership and salary (read it here).

While these fee hikes do not directly effect me as a graduate student, they do reflect the position that is being taken in regards to California’s public system of higher education (and it is likely that the Board will also vote to increase graduate student fees). I support the undergraduate protest and recognize their frustration with a state that does not seem to value educating its citizens. As the fees raise higher and higher, less and less Californians will be able to attend the schools, forcing them to either abandon goals of higher education or go elsewhere. This is not a situation limited the UC system, the CSU system if facing the same budget shortfalls. (A former professor of mine blogs about her experience with furloughs here.)

Unfortunately, our state has repeatedly demonstrated that education is not its priority. In fact, we currently use more state dollars on prisons than on education. This is a true detriment to our state, both now and in its future. This blog post does not have a clear nor a happy ending. Instead, it is a call to bring attention to the priorities of our state. I can only hope that anyone who might stumble across this blog pass along concerns about the lack of priority on education. Email representatives, the governor, or write about it in letters to the editor to your local newspaper.

UPDATE 11/22/07: I wanted to include a brief update as to what happened at UCSC, although we were not the only school to have occupied buildings on campus. Approximately 70 students and faculty had been occupying Kerr Hall since Thursday. This morning at about 7:00am, they were forced out by campus police and Santa Cruz sheriffs. It appears some type of force was used, although I’m not sure to what extent since there are differing stories. The local paper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, reported on this removal. I should be clear that while I support the protest and occupation, I did not participate. Unfortunately, based on comments on the SC Sentinel and SF Chronicle’s website, this is not a supported protest and most people feel that the students are just whiners. For reasons stated above, this problem is much deeper than the recent fee increase.