“When education is under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!” is what students chanted outside of Governor Jerry Brown’s office during the Fund the CSU protest. On Wednesday, April 4, more than 1,000 students and faculty from the 23 California State Universities (CSU) gathered at the State Capitol in Sacramento, urging the Governor to allocate funds towards the CSU. The protest was organized by Students for Quality Education (SQE) and California Faculty Association (CFA) on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. This is the second year in a row that the CSU Board of Trustees has proposed a tuition increase.
This sight has become all too common in the CSU system. In 2016, CSU faculty planned to go on strike if the Board of Trustees did not grant them a 5 percent salary increase. In 2017, CSU students protested at the California State University, Office of the Chancellor demanding that the Board of Trustees not raise their tuition by 5 percent. Ultimately, the Board of Trustees did implement the tuition increase, which was $270 per semester. This year, the Board of Trustees is considering raising tuition by 4 percent, which is $228 per semester. Both tuition increases combined are a grand total of $996 in less than two years.
To some individuals, the tuition increases are pocket change; this is not the case for the average CSU student. Shiba Bandeeba, a student from San Francisco State University (SFSU) said, “What we all have in common is that we’re putting our trust in a system that oppresses us. Our backs are tired.” Bandeeba is from Africa, and moved to the United States as a refugee at age seven. Her father is a former political prisoner who risked everything for her to have a better life, and she has not seen her mother in 12 years. Bandeeba moved to SFSU with only $500, and was homeless at first. She works two jobs and is enrolled in 18 units, and is now over $20,000 in debt. “We need, we deserve and we demand solutions,” said Bandeeba.
Funding for the CSU is a racial justice issue, according to SQE’s website. In the CSU system, one in four students are food insecure, one in 10 are homeless and 73 percent of students in the CSU are students of color. The majority of CSU students were white 50 years ago, and the CSU was free for them.
Beyond the tuition increase, the protest is a call for the CSU to protect undocumented students, Queer students and students of color. Hellen Lee, a professor at Sacramento State University, said, “It sure looks suspicious to me when the number of students of color rises, and the funding decreases. Now, here’s a challenge for the Governor: don’t just tell me, show me. Show me that you want to invest in the future of California. Show me by funding the CSU.”
Governor Jerry Brown was nowhere to be seen at the protest. At the Governor’s budget press conference in January, Governor Brown said that $92 million is enough funding for the CSU. The Board of Trustees requested $263 million for the CSU. The CSU requires $170 million to close the funding gap. Governor Brown said students need to learn to “live within their means.” He said, “You’re [CSU] getting 3 percent more, and that’s it,” according to The Sacramento Bee.
CSU Chancellor Timothy White addressed the protesters for less than 90 seconds. Students chanted, “Fund the dream! Chancellor White, do what’s right! Take a budget cut!” White said, “Public education is a civil right and is a central element to live the California dream: one of hope, one of aspiration and one of prosperity through education.” In January, White faced backlash from students when he said, “…students merely need to cut back on dry cleaning, going to the movies all the time, and eating out,” at a Board of Trustees meeting. At the protest, White said he stands with professors. White did not say he stands with students.
There was a display at the protest called “Mountain of Debt,” where students wrote their amount of debt on a fake boulder. The average amount of debt on the mountain was $35,000. One boulder read, “$350,000 HELP!”
Lateefah Simon, a member of the Board of Trustees, said, “I believe in the human right to education. The human right to liberation. There’s hope down the line for generations to come to have a cheap and accessible education.” Simon said her daughter is in the University of California system, and that she has asked for more than $300 for textbooks alone. Simon said she knows what it is like to not have $300 readily available. At both last year’s and this year’s protests, Simon was the only Board of Trustees member to directly speak to students. Simon voted against the tuition increase last year.
Nestor Gomez, a California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) student and President of CSUMB’s chapter of SQE said, “This tuition increase means the future of my education, my niece’s education. It’s the people’s future.” Gomez cannot believe there are members within the CSU system who make six-figure salaries, but are not willing to take a salary cut. He mentioned that prisons are funded more than colleges are. “I really got interested in this movement when I joined SQE, getting to talk about all these discrepancies,” said Gomez. SQE promises to keep fighting for CSUMB students.
A second tuition increase means some students will have to work two jobs or more, stay for an extended period of time in college and they perhaps will not be able to purchase textbooks. For some students, this money is the difference between being able to eat for a semester, or going hungry for a semester. Some California students are moving to other states because they cannot afford to pursue higher education in their home state. Governor Jerry Brown will make his final decision in June, and it will be effective July 1.