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Thousands rally at Cal State campuses against higher education cuts

The Day of Class Action targeting cuts in higher education funding draws student and faculty protesters at all 23 Cal State campuses

April 14, 2011|By Carla Rivera and Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times
  • Students at Cal State Northridge, including Lydell Collins, 20, left, a junior, and Josh Thompson, 20, a senior, participate in a protest rally against higher education funding cuts.
Students at Cal State Northridge, including Lydell Collins, 20, left,… (Mel Melcon, Los Angeles…)

Decrying what they called an assault on higher education, thousands of faculty and students at California State University campuses across the state rallied, marched and held teach-ins Wednesday to protest steep funding cuts and rising tuition.

Dubbed the Day of Class Action, events were held on all 23 Cal State campuses, featuring speakers, workshops, gospel singers, guerrilla theater and, on one campus, a New Orleans-style "funeral" march.

The protests were largely peaceful and there were no reports of disruptions, although student groups staged sit-ins in hallways outside the offices of presidents Jolene Koester at Cal State Northridge and James M. Rosser at Cal State L.A.

No arrests were made, and students left the buildings by the end of the day. Peaceful sit-ins were also held at campuses in Pomona, San Francisco and the East Bay.

With education funding at risk and higher tuition possible in many states, students and faculty at public universities elsewhere also held rallies and teach-ins Wednesday, including at Portland State in Oregon, Rutgers University in New Jersey and the University of Massachusetts' Boston campus.

The goal, organizers said, was to raise public awareness of the consequences of continued disinvestment in higher education and to give faculty and students a greater voice in policy decisions.

Public colleges in California, including Cal State, the University of California and the community colleges, have been under particular pressure. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed cutting $1.4 billion from the state's higher education budget, potentially leading to enrollment cuts, tuition hikes and pared course offerings. The numbers could grow if a budget stalemate is not overcome.

Cal State is set to lose $500 million in state funding, and annual tuition will increase by 10% in the fall.

At Cal State Long Beach, several hundred students and faculty gathered in front of the student union, where they joined a gospel choir to sing civil rights songs, including "We Shall Overcome."

Donald Bessom, a political science graduate student, energized the crowd with a message to Cal State administrators and state legislators. "The harder you hit us, the louder we get," Bessom said, as the crowd cheered.

Joe Sanders, a freshman music major, held a sign that read "Stop the Cuts! Everyone Deserves a Higher Education."

"These cuts are going to affect me for a long time," said Sanders, 19. "Between the tuition, the costs of student housing and textbooks, I can barely afford to be here. And I'm especially worried about what's going to happen next year and whether I'll be able to get all my classes."

At Cal State L.A., about 200 students, faculty and labor union activists held a lunchtime rally and urged the Legislature and governor to extend taxes that would forestall more education cuts.

Gathered in a plaza near the campus library, one group staged a skit in which the ghost of the late Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown accused his son, the current governor, of ruining his legacy of supporting California higher education.

Engineering major Hugo Perez, 24, of Palmdale said the lack of available classes forced him to take an extra year to graduate. "We've really got to fight for our education at this point," said Perez, who expects to graduate this spring.

Cal State L.A. sociology major Dulce Acosta, 36, a working mother of four, said being older than many other students gave her more insight into the effect of budget cuts. "I really understand the need for securing a space at the university for my children to come in after me," she said.

Protests and rallies will continue at Cal State campuses and other universities through the spring.

A concert and rally organized by UCLA students is scheduled for midday Thursday near the state office building downtown.

The event, titled "Can You Hear Us Now," is expected to attract busloads of students from UCLA and other UC campuses.

carla.rivera@latimes.com

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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