A dozen students at California State University are on a hunger strike to protest higher tuition and cuts to course offerings. Students at Cal State’s Northridge campus are foregoing solid food for at least a week and say they might do so longer if administrators do not meet demands including a five-year moratorium on tuition increases, decreasing executive salaries to 1999 levels, the elimination of housing and car allowances for all 23 campus presidents and the extension of “freedom of speech areas” to include entire campuses.
This video shows a Cal State-Northridge student standing up to campus motorcycle police:
The 23-campus Cal State system was once considered a model in public higher education. But the system has lost $970 million in state financing since 2008. Since then, tuition has risen from $2,772 to $5,472 and many students have found themselves shut out of courses to complete their majors as course offerings have been cut. Students have also also found themselves paying higher tuition rates for summer courses, which they often have to take because the same courses in the regular school year fill up too quickly.
The students also contend that too many funds are allotted to administrators’ salaries and “perks,” at the expense of students, facilities and faculty. Indeed, the faculty union, which has supported the students’ protests, is planning a two-day rolling strike most likely for the fall, after contract talks with administrators stalled after two years of negotiations. Faculty salaries have been the same since 2008 and, says the union, the administration has asked to put a freeze on them. The union is seeking a 1 percent raise for faculty and is also fighting to keep a policy that provides automatic renewal on contracts for lecturers, who do not have tenure and who often teach a full course load for roughly half of what a tenured professor makes.
Last year’s hiring of a new president of San Diego State University for a salary of $400,000 — some $100,000 more than his predecessor — while tuition was raised by 12 percent encapsulates the issues driving the students’ hunger strike and the faculty union’s calls for a rolling strike that will be the largest teacher walkout in American history.
The situation could get even worse. The Cal State system could lose $200 million more if voters do not approve a tax measure on the ballot pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown; administrators say the results will be the elimination of 3,000 faculty and staff positions and of some academic and athletic programs. As Ronald G. Ehrenberg, the director of the Higher Education Research Institute at Cornell University says in the New York Times, the once-vaunted Cal State system “seems to be breaking down at every level.”
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