October 24th Mobilizing Conference to Save Public Education @ UC Berkeley

October 25, 2009

Yesterday we at Student Unity and Power attended the state wide conference meeting about the educational crisis. In my opinion, the day was a success. We didn’t get to see everything happen as we would of liked to, but we did make an impression on our fellow students, faculty, staff, and union leaders. By sticking to our convictions, we showed the power of unity and educated others on why we need it. We met a lot of cool people who are eager to work and communicate with us. What’d you guys think of it? I don’t know when one of these crazy conferences will happen again, but I’ll definitely know what to expect.


California’s Higher Education Needs Transparency

October 23, 2009

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has until Oct. 11 to sign or veto SB 218.

This is a bill introduced by State Senator Leland Yee, D-Calif., following questions raised about the business practices of foundations on California State University campuses from Fresno to San Francisco, Sonoma to Sacramento.

“Taxpayers and students deserve to know how their public universities are run,” Yee said. He cited several cases where a lack of accountability and transparency has paved the way for abuses by public higher education foundations.

A member of a Fresno State foundation received a no-bid contract connected with building a campus entertainment venue in which he had a financial stake. An executive with the San Francisco City Community College Foundation borrowed money from it for personal consumption. A Sonoma State foundation got stuck with repaying money lent to a former board member unable to make the loan payments.

California’s public universities, in fact, control dozens of nonprofit foundations, with donors big and small. The California State University system, with its 23 campuses, holds $1.3 billion in these same foundations, or 20 percent of CSU’s $6.7 billion budget this year. The public, however, has limited access to information about how that $1.3 billion is spent.

Sen. Yee authored Senate Bill 218 to improve the transparency of the state’s public higher education system. SB 218 would compel foundations that raise and spend money for scholarships in the CSU, University of California and community college systems to conform to the protocol for information requests that state and local agencies must comply with under the California Public Records Act now.

Eight years ago, according to Sen. Yee, “the Fresno Bee newspaper was denied information, specifically concerning the identity of individuals and companies that purchased luxury suites at the Save Mart Center arena at Fresno State. The denial resulted in CSU v. Superior Court (McClatchy Company), in which the Court opined that although it recognized that university auxiliaries ought to be covered by the CPRA and that its ruling was counter to the obvious legislative intent of the CPRA, the rewriting of the statute was a legislative responsibility.”

The California Faculty Association, a labor union which represents a total of 23,000 tenured and tenure-track instructional faculty, lecturers, librarians, coaches and counselors on all 23 CSU campuses, supports SB 218, which passed both houses of the state Legislature unanimously.

Lillian Taiz is the president of the CFA and a history professor at CSU Los Angeles. “In light of the governor‘s public commitment to transparency, we hope he will back up his words with action by signing SB 218 into law,” she said. “The lack of transparency and accountability around these auxiliaries and foundations has led to scandals and waste of taxpayer dollars that were intended to improve the quality of education in the classroom for California’s students on the 23 CSU campuses.”

Most recently at Sacramento State, a non-profit foundation, University Enterprises, Inc. (UEI) reported an estimated $8.79 million shortfall in its projected and actual revenue for the fiscal year ending June 30. UEI operates the campus bookstore, copy and food services, administers contracts, provides grants and acquires and renovates properties, auxiliary services that the CSU is not allowed to, according to Jim Reinhart, the executive director.

It’s worth noting that the taxpayer-supported state general fund provides 51 percent of the current year’s operating budget for the 23-campus CSU system. That public money connects with UEI, which purchased an off-campus CalSTRS building for $35 million in summer 2007. At the same time, the U.S. housing bubble popped. That set off the deepest and longest economic downturn since the 1930s.

Cut to the current budget year. Sacramento State is sending $5.12 million to UEI, $4.8 million of which is for the CalSTRS building to, in part, plug the gap of lease revenue from nonexistent tenants. CSU Chancellor Charles Reed’s office has added $1.5 million for the UEI building this year. The property has an annual mortgage payment of $3 million in 2009-10. That rises to $3.86 million per year through 2038-39.

Crucially, Sacramento State’s long-term financial link to UEI is unclear. What is clear? This transfer of state dollars to UEI is, in effect, a tax on students, professors and Californians generally.

Dustin Hobbs is the spokesman for the California Mortgage Bankers Association. “It’s tough for commercial (office and retail) landlords right now to find and keep viable tenants,” he said, due to the “depressed economy.” Commercial rents are falling. The tenant vacancy rate is rising.

Clara Potes-Fellow is a spokeswoman for the CSU, which opposes Sen. Yee’s bill. “CSU believes that as an unintended result, SB 218 would increase costs to the CSU and its campuses and could reduce non-state revenues,” she said. “Some donors strongly prefer to keep their personal information out of the eyes of the public. Under this law, their personal information could become public when requested under a Public Records Act. So, if the bill is enacted all donors would have to be informed that to remain private they need to send a request for anonymity. It will cost the CSU more than $2 million to inform all of its donors of this new option,” and cost campuses auxiliaries up to $5.6 million to respond to such requests.

Foundation donors could only request anonymity if they did not receive “anything that has more than a nominal value in exchange for the donation,” according to SB 218.

For Potes-Fellow, “all auxiliaries are accountable and transparent” currently. SB 218 “will not provide more information that what is already available and or protected by law, and will divert funds from the university and shift resources and staff time as they respond to information requests. The CSU is very concerned about SB 218’s impact on fundraising especially at this time when state funding is at a historical low.”

In the current moment of state budget austerity, of course, a bad situation can easily worsen. "The big problem comes next year, when the federal stimulus funding is gone and leaves a big hole in CSU’s budget,” said Steve Boilard, director of higher education with the non-partisan state Legislative Analyst’s Office.

It’s now up to Governor Schwarzenegger to sign or veto the bill.

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento. Contact him at ssandronsky.

CCSF holds big sale to help save classes

October 18, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — In a desperate move to raise money for hundreds of classes that were dropped due to budget cuts, City College of San Francisco is having a full-blown garage sale Saturday.

Donations including vacuum cleaners, bicycles, pots and pans, along with items that will be brought by vendors will be spread across the community college’s parking lot at the Ocean Campus from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The goal is to bring back about 500 classes cut from the spring 2010 class schedule. The classes were dropped to help compensate for about $20 million cut in state funds, Board of Trustees President Milton Marks said.

The flea market idea started as a joke.

Marks said he overheard a faculty member laughing with colleagues about the idea, but he liked it enough to try it.

“People have been upset about [the garage sale]. They think it’s degrading. They think, ‘This is not the way you fund public
education,’ but part of it is to make a point,” Marks said.

About 36,200 students this semester are paying $26 per credit at one of 10 campuses or online — about 2,500 more than last year — but the Board of Trustees trimmed 8 percent of classes across the board to compensate for millions of dollars in state cuts, college spokeswoman Martha Lucey said.

Additionally, the board has decided to cut all summer classes for 2010, Marks said.

This is not the first time the cash-strapped college has gotten creative in thinking of ways to raise money.

In June, CCSF Chancellor Don Griffin suggested that donors who gave $6,000 to the college could save a class — and have their name attached to the course.

Pushback on the idea from the Board of Trustees and the public, dropped the naming component of the fundraising plan. In August, the college announced that 800 classes were still available for
sponsorship — about 300 cut from the fall semester and about 500 for spring — sans the public recognition.

Lucey said she didn’t have an updated count on how many classes had been spared; at the end of August only eight contributors had offered up the $6,000 donation, she said.

If the flea market is a success, it could be repeated, said Marks, adding that he’d want to talk with the neighboring residents to get their support for the Saturday sale.

Vendors who wish to participate in the market can rent an area the size of two parking spots for $35.

HSU Statement of Solidarity

October 17, 2009

*HSU Statement of Solidarity* We the students of HSU stand in solidarity with the students at UCLA, UCSC, SFSU, CSUF, UC Berkeley, NYU and New School who have organized and taken actions in protest of the budget cuts. Compelled by our own collective consciousness, we have come together to take direct action against injustice, inequality and rampant racism, sexism, classism and all other forms of discrimination. We will not wait for approval. We do not ask to be legitimized by the same authority that has long governed what and how we learn, where and how we work, and thus, who and how we are. We do not seek outside representation. We demand the right to stand up, speak out, and be heard. The needs we express are ones which all people deserve. However, we will not yield, we will not kneel, and we will not beg. This so-called economic crisis is in fact a form of mass theft. How is it that we could have so much taken away while the government funds two illegitimate wars that the American people do not want, and rewards corporate mismanagement of money (bloated CEO salaries) with bailouts? It would only take 15% of the military spending budget to fund free education kindergarten through graduate school for every American! In the midst of unemployment, foreclosures, and cuts to social services we are witnessing the largest transfer of wealth to a ruling elite in human history. The vampirism of capitalism has sustained this plutocracy at the expense of the working class. We refuse to limit our organizing to student issues, when we know that it is the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy as a whole that we must struggle against if we are to see any real, lasting change. We demand transparency in the allocation of taxpayer money. We demand a reprioritization of the budget from incarceration to education. We demand that social services come first, before extravagant payouts to representatives who misrepresent our interests. We demand the right to self-governance and self-determination. We say HELL NO to the furloughs! HELL NO to faculty being underpaid for priceless work! HELL NO to the dwindling of campus resources! We say HELL NO to the wars! HELL NO to the criminalization of people of color and the poor! Hell no to the oppression of LGBTQI! We know that another world is possible, because we’ve seen what amazing feats a determined community can accomplish. We salute the heroic rebels of Greece, Oaxaca, Chiapas, across the CSUs and UCs, NYU, New School, and all who participated in the student strikes and occupations across America during the Vietnam War – including here at HSU in 1970. With the realization that we are not alone in our struggle, we are humbled. We call on everyone to unite, to strike, and to take the power back. In solidarity, Pissed Off Student Collective of HSU

UCB Students Stage Sit-in!

October 17, 2009

*(10-10) 17:25 PDT Berkeley* — Several hundred UC Berkeley students took over the anthropology library for 24 hours this weekend to protest UC-wide budget cuts, in particular Saturday closures of small campus libraries that students use for studying and research. Organizers said nearly 300 students – along with dozens of supportive staff and faculty members – showed up at the anthropology library shortly before 5 p.m. Friday, when the facility was scheduled to close for the weekend. Instead, students flooded the room and set up camp – arranging their books and laptops on long tables and setting out food and pillows and blankets. About 80 students spent the night in the library, some studying almost all night, others curled up to sleep in corners and between high bookcases. On Saturday, students continued to study and hold teach-ins to talk about campus budget issues until 5 p.m., the library’s usual closing time. “We want to bring attention to the larger issue, and make a point that it is not simply a budget crisis that has led us here, it’s a mismanagement of money,” said Callie Maidhof, a graduate student in anthropology who helped organize the library sit-in. UC is facing one of the worst financial crises in its history, attempting to close a budget gap of more than $750 million. Administrators have called for unpaid furloughs and layoffs, and the regents are also expected to raise next year’s tuition to $10,302, a 45 percent increase over last year’s tuition. UC Berkeley administrators closed all but two of the campus’ 20 or so libraries on Saturdays this year to save money. University officials said Saturday that they understand – and share – students’ frustrations with the library closures and other budget cuts. E-mail Erin Allday at eallday@sfchronicle.com. This article appeared on page *C – 2* of the San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco State stands in SOLIDARITY with the UC Santa Cruz Occupation

October 17, 2009

San Francisco, California, 24 September 2009

We stand beside the students of the UC Santa Cruz occupation. Here at San Francisco State we can attest to the futility of a strategy grounded around petitioning Sacramento and begging for benevolence from politicians who, at best, could care less about the havoc they are wreaking and at worst, see these cuts as necessary structural adjustments that should have been made a long time ago.

Over the years we have seen dramatic fee increases and layoffs. Alongside this, we’ve watched massive “fax-ins” to the governator, letter-writing campaigns and bus rides to Sacramento. The result? The dismantling of our campus has quickened, and the students to whom the aforementioned strategies have been touted as “the answer” stand confused by politicians inability to “understand” the damage their cuts are inflicting. We applaud the students of UC Santa Cruz not just for taking back what is rightfully theirs, but for issuing a call that stands in stark contrast to these strategies.

Indeed, the time for appealing to politicians is over. We look around and recognize the power we must appeal to is all around us. It exists in the students we sit next to in class, struggling under the weight of student loans and minimum wage jobs. It exists in the tired and frustrated faces of our teachers working far too much, for far too little pay, and little to no job security. It exists in the workers at our campuses, the custodial staff, the clerical workers, and food servers. It exists in the working-class communities that surround our school, who’ve toiled and struggled grasping for an American dream rooted in the illusion that education is an equalizing force—that our public education system offers everyone the opportunity of upward mobility—if they want it badly enough.

Our power lies in our understanding that as this economic crisis deepens, that illusion is being increasingly exposed as the sham that is and always has been. Education in this country has always been, for the most part, stratified along class and racial lines. It has always readied people to take their places in our hierarchical capitalist society.

The areas of exception— the spaces and departments, the teachers and classes, which have not functioned to serve this purpose, owe their presence to struggle. We at San Francisco State know this well. We are approaching the 41st anniversary of the 1968 San Francisco State Student Strike, the longest student strike in U.S. history. This strike, lead by the Black Student Union and the Third World Liberation Front, won San Francisco State our college of Ethnic Studies, the first of its kind.

We returned to school this Fall to find that our Ethnic Studies Resource Center had been closed, and that the Ethnic Studies budget had been cut in half. The gains of students who heroically occupied our administration building, launched militant strikes and faced skull-cracking riot police are under attack. People around us hold up our righteous 1968 legacy, while simultaneously advocating liberal approaches that in some instances would amount to our complicity if we were to accept the heinous terms of this debate. We refuse these terms and point to UC Santa Cruz, Chicago Windows and Doors, New School, NYU, the uprisings and occupations that occurred across Europe recently, as well as the heroic struggles in Oaxaca. Santa Cruz, NYU and New School, the burgeoning occupation movement across the U.S. are refusals of the idea popularly propagated that the days of militant, radical resistance and struggle are long gone, antiquated notions that should be celebrated and looked at with romantic nostalgia.

No, we see UC Santa Cruz as the continuation of the struggle that was waged in 1968 at SFSU, as well as a continuation of every struggle throughout history where students have played a role in inspiring the imagination of general society— students who did not ask how can we get a better deal as students, but instead dared to wage struggle and demand a different world altogether.

We stand in solidarity with the students of UC Santa Cruz who have not waited for the approval of student government and student organizations who may mean well but whose strategy of petitioning and letter writing must be refuted as strongly as the logic that underlies it, the idea that all we are fighting for is more accessible public education. No, we are done with the atomistic, individualistic, single-issue ideas of struggle that refuse to see the bigger picture. This is not just about education. These cuts are an attack on the entire working class as a whole, across California. We stand with the students of UC Santa Cruz who refuse to barter within the twisted logic of the current debate, where sectors are compelled to compete amongst each other over diminishing scraps while multi-million dollar corporations who profit from our work  are given tax breaks.

We need a militant, radical resistance movement on an unprecedented scale unified across the UC’s, California State Universities and City colleges. We must become a movement that does not just focus on student issues, but a movement that sees our struggle intricately linked to that of the working class. To talk about the economic crisis and only organize around student issues, would be shameful at a time of massive foreclosures and unemployment. How can we organize around solely education cuts when the government is cutting HIV/AIDS medicine funding, life-saving health and social services for the sick and elderly, pre-natal care programs, domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, school lunches, and breakfast programs, and the rest of it?

We must resist the temptation to see ourselves as students fighting for solely student issues. We must begin seeing ourselves as part of a larger struggle against this dehumanizing capitalist system that attacks us all. Thank you, UC Santa Cruz students for throwing down the gauntlet. We hear your call for escalation, and echo it. Students across California, will we stand by, constrained by the politics of the possible, while we watch the gains of 40 years of popular struggle are reversed and destroyed?

We stand in solidarity with the students of UC Santa Cruz. To students everywhere we declare: WE NEED YOUR HELP. Reach out to us! Help us reach out to you! Lets continue this, let’s generalize, and let’s escalate! Let’s move forward toward multiple occupations held simultaneously, california-wide coordinated student strikes, shutdowns and pickets. Lets get to the point where we are having these actions so often we can do them spontaneously, repeatedly, and gain momentum as we go along! We can do it, but we need each other. Get at us! Lets go!

In hyphee solidarity,

Student Unity & Power