On March 4, we will witness the next great battle for public education in California as tens of thousands of students, faculty and workers across the state go on strike to demonstrate their rejection of the state’s attempts to impose massive cutbacks and fee hikes on public institutions of higher learning. For the sake of California higher education, it is vital that their voices are heard.
The trouble has been brewing for months. Last fall, the University of California Board of Regents agreed to a 32 percent fee hike for UC undergraduate tuition statewide in order to help close an $813 million hole in the UC budget, on top of a 9.3 percent tuition hike agreed upon only a few months before.
The issue, however, goes back much further, as the fee hikes represent a 300 percent increase over the last decade. Given that the gross domestic product per capita in California has not increased even 40 percent in the last decade, the size of the fee hikes makes a mockery of the idea that anyone calling the shots intends for public education to remain affordable to the general public any longer. As the California Coordinating Committee asserts, “education cuts are attacks against all of us, particularly in working-class communities and communities of color.”
If anything, the fee hikes represent a sustained attack on the part of our legislators to limit the access of the working class to public universities. The side effect of this campaign is that middle-class households will have to take out more loans than ever to afford what was intended to be an affordable education for all Californians, subsidized through the taxes of all residents of the Golden State.
California legislators eagerly point to the global recession as a cause of the problem, correctly identifying one of the short term causes that has led to the budget crunch we find ourselves in. But it is ignoble to make this argument while at the same time overlooking the rest of the facts.
In the 2009 state budget, $12.4 billion was allotted to help build more prison cells while at the same time $11 billion was cut from education — this at a time in our state’s history when levels of crime have hit new lows. Instead of supporting education and helping youth get an education, the state is cutting their classes, raising their fees. Is this a good plan for California’s future?
On the national level, meanwhile, our tax dollars are being spent to fund the occupation of two sovereign states, Iraq and Afghanistan, costing this country $1.05 trillion to date. Apparently, the richest country on Earth has enough money to drop bombs from drones but cannot allow its own children to gain a decent education without falling into deep debt.
Students at public institutions across the state and the country are angry, and rightly so. As students of the University of Southern California, we should also be outraged by the decisions the state is making with our tax dollars to deny hundreds of thousands of students their right to a decent public education.
We have chosen not to attend a public institution, but we must still be infuriated that our tax money, meant for the good of this great state and its great people, is being squandered by our shameless officials.
I, for one, will be protesting on March 4th.
Alex Shams is senior majoring in international relations.