California Educator

May 2011

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Student protest results in declaration S tudents organized a three- and-a-half-day sit-in April 18-21 at CSU Fullerton that succeeded in persuading CSUF President Milton Gordon to sign their “Declaration to Defend Public Education.” This action promises to be the first salvo in an ongoing effort by California higher education students and faculty statewide to carry out activities emphasizing social jus- tice and the defense of public education. Impetus for the sit-in began about a year and a half ago, when a loosely knit group of CSUF stu- dents, faculty and campus organi- zations involved in social justice issues coalesced into a group named “We! Alternative Voices for an Alternative Future” or “We!” for short. John Belleci, a CSUF un- dergraduate student in history who was recently elected Student CTA state executive secretary- treasurer, is a member of the CSUF We! organization, along with fellow SCTA members Ga- briella Longbotham and Kristina Hohmann. Hohmann was recent- ly elected SCTA state executive vice president. “We have been increasingly frustrated and anxious about hav- ing to pay more and more for tu- ition, while losing class time due to furlough days — paying more and getting less,” says Belleci. “And we’re not just concerned about current students. What’s going to happen to future generations of California college students?” CSUF We! member concern was heightened last spring when university officials pro- posed cuts to modern language and humanities classes. “If classes in the social scienc- es were going to be cut, we felt that they were devaluing our de- grees, so we realized that it was time to fight,” says Belleci. After We! members tried un- successfully to meet with Presi- dent Gordon on several occasions in spring 2010, they were able to meet directly with senior adminis- trators, and held two open-mike forums on the meaning and value of public education. On March 2 of this year, We! planned a day of action in collaboration with Stu- dents for Quality Education, distributing fliers that invited students and faculty to participate in a rally and open-mike opportu- nity to express their feelings about education at CSU Fullerton. Then, at one of the We! orga- nization’s regular Wednesday night workshop sessions on so- cial justice and current issues, the group’s organizing committee in conjunction with representatives from CSU Long Beach, CSU Los Angeles, Compton College, Ful- lerton College and Mt. San Anto- nio College hammered out the “Declaration to Defend Public Education,” a statement affirming the right of all Californians to a quality public education, pre- school through graduate school. At the April 13 CSUF “Take Class Action” rally, part of a day of action coordinated by the Cali- fornia Faculty Association and held on California’s college and university campuses statewide, We! members circulated their declaration. By the end of the day, with over 1,200 signatures of en- dorsement, the students and fac- ulty marched as a group to the office of CSUF President Gordon, asking him to sign the document in solidarity. Gordon initially re- fused to sign the document, say- above: Students settle in for the first night of a sit-in at the CSU Fullerton administration building to protest cuts to the university system’s budget. ing he needed more time to read it. He agreed to meet with a dele- gation of students and faculty on Monday, April 18. At the meeting, Gordon said that he could not endorse the doc- ument because of “problematic language” related to faculty con- tracts and negotiations. According to We! representatives, when they said that they would be willing to delete the problematic clauses and work with Gordon to come up with a mutually agreeable docu- ment, his response was, “I don’t have the time.” The students said that they did have the time, and would wait until he could meet with them. They also began mobi- lizing to organize students who MAY 2011 | 31 © Ken Steinhardt/Orange County Register/ZUMA

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