Photo by Denis Bocquet via Flickr Creative Commons

From ‘Student Movement’ to People’s Movement

On June 18, the California State University (CSU) Board of Trustees voted to raise student fees another 5% for the fall semester, which translates into a $204 increase and brings the semester total to $2,439.50. This comes on top of the massive 32% increase from last year.

What we can expect to see is fewer working class students and students of color attending CSU, as well as more debt for the students already pursuing their degree. This debt is especially important because once students graduate, they’ll find no opportunities in the jobless market due to our failed economic system and can expect to join the ranks of unemployed. Good teachers will be let go, and the workers that maintain our public education institutions will also lose their jobs. This is the first generation in decades that will not have it better than their parents.

Students, staff, and faculty at CSU-Fresno are struggling against fee hikes, layoffs, and service cutbacks. This demonstration was held in March of this year. Matt Ford, the writer of this article is on the far right of the photo, holding the banner.

Meanwhile, the CSU Board of Trustees, the University of California Regents and administrators continue to privatize our public education institutions. At Fresno State, the administration, with the blessing of the Board of Trustees, is currently spending more than $6 million on an aquatics center, as well as another massive construction project at the University High School site. This is not surprising when one looks at the CSU Institute Tax Form 990, which reveals that CSU continues to seek funds for the construction of buildings rather than academics.

The university is renting its land to private investors and developers to build projects (e.g., Campus Pointe) that serve no
academic purpose and for which the revenue will be used to pay off other bad investments that serve no academic purpose (e.g., the Save Mart Center). Surprisingly, the Fresno Superior Court has caught onto this crony-capitalist operation and ruled that a trustee had a “conflict of interest” in a movie theater project being built at Campus Pointe.

The justification given by the administrators in a recent e-mail informing students about their new $204 fee increase is the “state budget crisis.” However, one would be hard-pressed to believe this if taking a stroll through the campus and viewing the massive construction projects that cost millions of dollars. It’s clear that there is plenty of money. It’s just being dumped into the wrong things-another trend of our failed economic system.

The constantly used justification for this misuse of funds is that it’s “private funding.” Fortunately, this is not acceptable to the university community, who would simply reply, “Well, use `private funding’ for academics.” After all, it is a university.

However, we must not sit back and expect administrators, trustees or regents to seriously do something in the interest of the greater university community because they are getting rich off this “crisis” (as the trustee who got caught with the conflict of interest displayed). Last year, at the same meeting in which the Board of Regents voted for the 32% fee increase, they voted for millions of dollars in administrative salary raises.

Therefore, we must organize all people to resist the privatization of our public education institutions and bring about horizontal democratic governance at these institutions. Some would say this is a no win battle, but there are valuable precedents.

At the 1968 San Francisco State strike-the longest campus strike in U.S. history-tangible goals were accomplished including the creation of an ethnic studies program, which still exists. At the University of Puerto Rico, a recent strike at all 11 campuses against fee increases and privatization including faculty, workers, students and community members was successful. The lesson we can draw is that we must not sit back and watch the dismantling of our public institutions; we must resist, and a successful tactic of working class resistance is the strike.

To build a successful strike, those involved must dissolve any tendencies toward fear. This proves to be a difficult task when one’s livelihood comes from the institution and the institution itself constantly injects fear into its subjects (such as the 10 students recently placed on academic probation for engaging in a peaceful sit-in).

However, at the university, there is a huge labor force with a high amount of job security, this being the tenured and tenure-track faculty. Because of their job security, all professors not considered “lecturers” must be on the front lines with their “lecturer” colleagues. If they are not, their careers may cease to exist.

This is the first step (of many) toward a successful strike. The next step is to get the community involved in the struggle because a university is supposed to serve the community in which it resides. If a university is serving the private interests of the rich (which ours is), then it is failing the community. The recent Freedom School is the first step in bringing the education struggle to the community and breaking the boundaries between the university and the community, because this struggle involves us all.

All working people must unite in the struggle against the privatization of all public institutions and oppression in all forms. This oppression of the masses by the few who run the institutions is not an isolated incident, for we can see it all around us, especially in Fresno. With thousands of homeless people constantly being harassed by police and poverty pimps, the de facto racial and economic segregation that plagues this city, and police murdering unarmed citizens, the struggle is not just one at the university. It is a struggle against all forms of oppression and illegitimate authority. For anything to substantially change, all people fighting for justice and liberation must unite and resist all forms of injustice and oppression. This can’t be a “student movement,” it must be a people’s movement.

We cannot sit by and watch great educators lose their jobs, watch workers lose their jobs, watch students get pushed out of their public education institutions and watch administrators get rich while misusing millions of dollars. We cannot do this, but if we do, we will have nobody to blame but ourselves. For more information, visit unite4ed.org.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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