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Cal State Fullerton ghost town is its own lesson

A three-day state-mandated class furlough at the campus graphically illustrates the effects of California's budget crisis on higher education.

October 22, 2009|Mike Anton

The busload of future college students from Whittier High School who took a field trip Wednesday to Cal State Fullerton got less -- and more -- than they were expecting.

They didn't get a feel for student life on campus because there was hardly any.

But they did receive an unexpected lesson on the state's budget crisis, thanks to a three-day faculty furlough and the cancellation of most classes -- part of a broad plan of cuts and student fee increases to stem the university's $36.7-million shortfall.

"We lost five school days because of furloughs, so they're aware that their education is being cut back," said Chris Weitzel, a Whittier teacher who accompanied the students. "Today, they're learning that it's affecting all levels of public education."

You could have landed a small airplane on the tranquil, tree-lined walkways of the Fullerton campus. The notoriously packed Nutwood parking garage was nearly empty. And the usually bustling campus bookstore was as quiet as a monastery.

For students, the Tuesday-through-Thursday furlough left them with plenty of time to fill.

Outside the bookstore, members of Associated Students Inc., the student government, registered voters and operated a "vent tent" where passersby were invited to sit before a video camera and tell lawmakers how cuts in higher education funding are affecting them.

Others wrote their stories on a whiteboard and stood to have their photos taken with it. The materials will be used in ASI's lobbying efforts in Sacramento.

"What we can do as students is have our voices heard," said Andrew Lopez, 21, a communications and advertising major and ASI representative. "We're telling lawmakers that they need to make higher education a priority. Go out there and find the money. This is where the next generation of . . . leaders . . . is being educated."

Claudia Pinedo, 19, a sophomore nursing major, held the whiteboard with her message: "Now my parents will have to work double shifts to be able to afford my education."

She hurried away to a student study group that was going to tackle amino acids, the subject of Chapter 19 in her chemistry book.

"On Monday, the chemistry teacher told us that we're going to have to learn a whole chapter on our own" because of the furlough, Pinedo said. "I could tell he felt bad. He felt frustrated."

Nearby, another group of loosely knit students had set up tents in the grass next to Becker Amphitheatre and invited others through a Facebook page to "Furlough Fest . . . 3 days of fun, creativity, and communal resistance to corporatized education."

Neither the cops nor the administration interfered with the unauthorized camp-out.

"I was surprised we weren't hassled," said Rodrigo Calderon, 25, a senior art major who was among dozens who spent the night. "I was looking forward to a hassle."

What they got instead were bands and DJs performing until 3 a.m., games of hide-and-seek and dodge ball, and student-led workshops on poetry, how to run a record label, the coming insurrection and do-it-yourself adult toys.

"Some things worth knowing are more valuable than anything you'd ever learn in the classroom," said Alfredo Asuzano, 23, a senior philosophy major.

About 11 a.m. Wednesday, the last of the late-night revelers groggily crawled from their tents and lighted cigarettes to an iPod playing Bob Marley.

"I don't know if I have a line," Asuzano said when asked about his solution to the university's budget woes. "It's all corrupt, top to bottom. There are things that just can't be changed. . . .

"We had trust that the university would give its full support to the students. It's time to make new alliances with each other and enjoy them."

--

mike.anton@latimes.com

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