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With tuition hard to swallow, Cal State students to go hungry

Students at six Cal State University campuses will launch a hunger strike in protest of tuition costs and administrative salaries.

April 29, 2012|By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times
  • Cal State University Fullerton students protest tuition hikes in November 2011.
Cal State University Fullerton students protest tuition hikes in November… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Students at six Cal State University campuses have vowed to fast until university leaders agree to freeze tuition, roll back administrative and executive salaries, and meet other demands.

Members of Students for Quality Education said that the hunger strike will begin Wednesday and involve 13 students at the Dominguez Hills, Fullerton, Long Beach, Northridge, Sacramento and San Bernardino campuses.

In addition to a five-year tuition freeze and administrative pay cuts, students are calling for more free speech rights on campus and the elimination of housing and car allowances for the system's 23 campus presidents.

Speaking during a telephone news conference Friday, several of the students said they decided on the fast after Chancellor Charles Reed and Board of Trustees Chairman A. Robert Linscheid failed to meet with them or adequately respond to their concerns.

"We've tried pretty much everything, and they just ignore us," said Donnie Bessom, 27, a student at Cal State Long Beach. "We've talked to state legislators, written petitions, mobilized people on campus. The next step for us is in the tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience. They keep raising salaries and have those other luxuries, and we thought the symbolic nature of a hunger strike was appropriate to the crisis."

Cal State has lost nearly $1 billion in state funding since 2008, forcing cuts in classes, faculty and staff layoffs, and denial of entry to thousands of students.

Tuition has increased six years in a row, including a 9% hike this fall that will raise the annual rate for undergraduates to $5,970, not including campus-based fees that average more than $1,000.

The university also recently announced plans to freeze enrollment for the spring 2013 term and to wait-list all applicants the following fall pending the outcome of a proposed tax initiative on the November ballot.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown, Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and several legislators have criticized trustees as being tone deaf for awarding 10% pay hikes to new campus presidents as students and families struggle to pay tuition.

"We understand that California is undergoing a budget crisis," said Cal State Northridge student Raiza Arias, 18. "But why should students undertake the brunt of the cuts?"

Cal State officials said Friday that no decisions have been made on whether to intervene in the hunger strike. The students don't appear to have a clear understanding of the issues, said spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp.

For example, campus presidents use state-provided housing or housing allowances for properties where they entertain and raise funds, and a tuition freeze would mean turning away thousands more students, for which the system would probably be equally criticized.

"It would be a shame if anyone were to do any harm to themselves over the issues they are asking us to review," Uhlenkamp said. "We're not saying that the students are all wrong in what they're trying to say. It's important for students to have a voice. But I think what they're doing is going about it the wrong way."

carla.rivera@latimes.com

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