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Budget cuts hit broad swath of Cal State

The effects are rippling through the university system, touching students, teachers and administrators alike.

November 29, 2009|By Carla Rivera

The uncertainty has added to the usual college stress of tests, homework and squeezing in a social life. Corros, who says she was not serious about her studies in high school, is now vice president of the campus recreation club and has spoken about the plight of recreation students at a community forum. She also addressed a recent meeting of the Cal State Board of Trustees, urging them to save academic programs.

Corros receives financial aid, and her parents, who attended the forum, struggle to provide support. Part of her drive to get her degree on time is to find a job and begin helping them, she says.

"For my parents to actually see me . . . choose a major, go to classes and take things seriously, I'm quite proud of that," she said. "Now, this is happening."

Worried lecturer

As a precocious 6-year-old in Italy, Giulio Della Rocca earned the nickname "Prof" from his friends because he was the go-to guy for help with homework. Teaching has always been his dream.

When he earned a PhD in mathematics from UCLA, he thought he was prepared for a secure future. He's been a lecturer at Cal State Long Beach since 2001. But lately, when he hugs his young daughter, he wonders how he'll continue to be able to provide for her.

This fall, the university canceled one of his math classes, cutting his income by 20%. Like other faculty and staff, Della Rocca also must take two unpaid furlough days a month, lowering his pay 10% more. His mortgage and bills, he points out, did not drop commensurately.

"Now I have to get money from an equity line of credit or I literally wouldn't be able to pay all my bills and [would] be in jeopardy of losing my house," he said. "This is what the budget cuts are doing."

Della Rocca, 47, is trying to find outside income to fill the gaps, even asking a contractor friend about odd jobs, he said. His family tries to stretch their budget: They walk or use bicycles for errands. They forgo parties and movies and go to the beach for entertainment. They grow tomatoes, carrots, celery and cucumbers to save on grocery bills.

Della Rocca's math classes cover basic skills, and the cuts come at a time when the number of students needing such courses is rising, he said. His four remaining classes are full, and he turns no students away.

The furloughs have disrupted his life and those of his students, who are losing momentum and motivation with shifting class schedules, he said. Because classroom hours have been reduced, some topics can't be covered and students can't be tested on the material.

He tries to ease the effect on his students. "I usually do some work and increase the number of handouts for students so that even though they see me less, they continue to have work to do," he said.

Della Rocca said he also tries to be optimistic that the budget crisis will end quickly and the lost funding be restored. "I'm hopeful they will find a way."

A provost's angst

In his seventh-floor office with a view of the San Gabriel Mountains, Provost Marten L. denBoer is trying to close a $30-million budget shortfall at Cal Poly Pomona.

That will involve eliminating many programs, a process he says is like triage: Resources must be focused on programs that get the most bang for the buck, using criteria such as the number of students enrolled, the number of graduates, whether the program serves a unique function and its effectiveness in placing students into the workforce.

Engineering, for example, is a core part of the school's mission and is not threatened; nor is architecture, which is one of only two such programs in the Cal State system and is nationally recognized. But plenty of smaller programs, such as philosophy and history, may be on the chopping block.

These are the toughest, most wrenching decisions he will make in his academic career, said DenBoer, who came to Pomona last year. He said he wants consensus from faculty and deans on the cost-cutting measures, but knows the actions aren't likely to win him applause.

He said administrative functions will be reviewed and probably pared, but he rejects the argument that significant cuts can be made in that area. "The lights have to stay on, and someone has to maintain the computer system," he said. "These are people who work very hard and have to be properly compensated."

Cal Poly will not emerge undamaged, he said.

"Faculty express concerns about whether we are changing the nature of education at Cal Poly Pomona, and my honest answer is that it's going to be very difficult to reverse these changes," he said. "The people of California have made the decision that they don't want to invest in higher education as they have in the past. That means we will be a smaller university and will not be able to offer all the programs we've been offering."

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