Protests of CSU Budget Cuts in a larger map
Budget cuts, furloughs and fewer class sections have impacted the quality of education in the California State University (CSU) system. Students and faculty have protested around the state at campuses such as Sacramento State, San Diego State and Cal State Northridge. But at Cal Poly, protests have been relatively scarce.
However, Cal Poly faculty and staff have recently sounded the call for action. The Cal Poly California Faculty Association (CFA) and CSU Employees Union (CSUEU) voted to actively support the March 4 National Day of Action to Defend Education. The CSUEU board of directors passed their resolution to show unanimous support.
Physics professor and local CFA president Rich Saenz is trying to coordinate demonstrations and contact the offices of State Senator Abel Maldonado, who has been renominated for lieutenant governor. The choice was an obvious one because if he does become lieutenant governor Maldonado will hold a seat on the CSU Board of Trustees.
“Since we have a local leader of the state, we want to rally at his office to show our support and hopefully have his support for increased funding of education,” Saenz said.
Though the faculty and staff are gearing up to take action, student involvement is uncertain. Senate Academic Chair Rachel Fernflores said any action taken should come from a united effort.
“If something happens on March 4, then it should involve everyone. It should involve staff, faculty and students,” she said.
Social sciences sophomore Jose Montenegro, creator of the Facebook group “Cal Poly, Battle the Budget Cuts!” is trying to organize a student demonstration.
“We would like to have an event of some kind at Cal Poly … either some sort of rally, a protest, a demonstration, a sit-in, something like that,” Montenegro said. “The goals is to get as many Cal Poly students (as possible).”
Student demonstration though, is something Cal Poly has not seen much of. Cal Poly’s Associate Student Inc. (ASI) President Kelly Griggs said students sometimes underestimate themselves in this matter, and the need for student action might be greater than most think.
“I think students have more say than they might think they do. Especially with the cost of fees for students rising and education becoming less state-supported, students are now larger investors in their education. This means that their say in how fees are being spent carries more weight even than they did before,” she said.
Some might question why students have not protested like they have at other California schools of higher education. Griggs said the inaction is due to a fundamental difference between Cal Poly and the other CSU campuses.
“Historically, Cal Poly has been a fairly apathetic campus comparatively when it comes to protesting or speaking up on political issues,” she said. She added that we shouldn’t forget that last spring, students voted to raise their tuition almost the same amount as state fees were raised over the summer.
“It is clear, though, that students on our campus do care about these issues from feedback we’ve received through our various outreach events and activities,” she said.
Some students at Cal Poly haven’t felt the effect from budget cuts enough to protest. Liberal studies senior Nicole Frey said she is still getting all she needs out of her major.
“I feel as though budget cuts haven’t affected me that much but that could be due my major,” she said. ”Even if I decided to protest, I don’t feel as though my voice would be heard and that makes me unwilling to spend my time fighting for something that probably won’t have that big of an effect.”
One effect of budget cuts is that Cal Poly staff and faculty are now taking furloughs, but Lori Williams, a representative of the Cal Poly CSUEU chapter, said furloughs are not affecting students because the staff cares so much about them.
“One of the problems we have is that (the staff) care so much … They don’t want to hurt the students,” she said.
Because the situation in Sacramento is less than desirable and Cal Poly’s slight protection from budget cuts may not last forever, Williams said she wants students to fight for their education but feels that the challenging education they are fighting for could get in the way of their protesting.
“The only thing that’s discouraging to me is I wish that the students would take a bigger voice,” she said. “But I can understand (the lack of protesting) especially at Cal Poly with the course load.”
Mechanical engineering freshman Spencer Treffry shares the frustration but is also resigned to the fact that school does come first.
“I haven’t had any time (to protest) … I’m too busy due to all my classes, and I’m concerned that even with protesting, there’s no money to fund any change,” he said.
While students might feel that their individual efforts won’t impact government policy, Fernflores said the campus as a whole should unite and take responsibility because Cal Poly will eventually need students to fight for it.
“I think that the students and the faculty both feel sort of powerless in the face of all of it,” Fernflores said. “And I think that it would be great if we all felt more of a sense of ownership of the future of higher education in California.”
If it comes to fruition, March 4 could bring a rare sight to San Luis Obispo: a major protest in opposition to CSU budget cuts.