Thursday, March 6, 2003
Photo by Randy Tunnell: One Student Voice: Abe Magana, CSUMB student senator and activist, says students and faculty are bearing the brunt of budget cuts.
As Peter Smith, president of CSUMB, took the stage on January 24 for his semester-beginning State of the University Address, he was silenced by sustained clapping of student protestors. The mock-applause, led by a student group calling itself The Coalition, marked the start of an unscheduled address by student activist Abraham Magana.
"We''ve played the game," Magana said, speaking into a bullhorn.
Magana said members of his group have sat on committees, passed resolutions and participated in task forces--with few results.
"We are tired of hearing the bullshit from Peter Smith and other senior level administrators," Magana said.
At that point, Betty McEady, chair of the Faculty Senate, presented Magana with a microphone. Magana went on to highlight the group''s complaints, which include rising student fees, cuts in student services, unfair treatment of University staff and a growing gap between faculty and administration salaries.
Alone, the midwinter political stunt was barely worth a mention. The Coalition, a group of at most a dozen students, has not been heard from since. Yet the issues Magana brought forward in January marked the start of a maelstrom of student and faculty dissent triggered by one of the largest budgetary cutbacks in the history of the California State University system.
Facing a $35 billion state deficit, Gov. Gray Davis on January 10 proposed a 2003-04 budget that calls for a $326 million cut to the CSUs for the next fiscal year. CSUMB has already felt the effects of the tightening budget in hiring freezes, course cancellations and reductions in student services as part of a $1.6 million mid-year cut that came down in January.
Yet CSUMB''s current downsizing is minor compared to the $5 million cut that takes effect July 1. After a 25 percent student fee increase--the largest student fee hike in the history of the CSUs--the University will still have to make a 10 percent cut in its overall budget.
The University is still going through a transition period, trying to figure out what the total downsizing will be. Cuts likely to be on the list include reductions in custodial services, grounds upkeep and student services, as well as travel and professional development for faculty and staff and course offerings considered non-essential to the core curriculum.
While the Smith administration says protecting tenured faculty positions is a priority, a significant number of lecturers whose contracts are up for review are expected to be let go. Class sizes are also expected to increase, as will faculty workloads.
Smith expressed concern over the cutbacks in a recent interview.
"We are in for some tough times," Smith said. "But there is something in the governors cut package that everyone--students, faculty staff and administration--won''t like."
Randy Maule, faculty union president, concurs.
"This is the worst budget situation ever in the history of the CSUs," Maule said. "From what I''ve seen so far, it looks like we are being hit a little harder than other CSUs because of our relatively small size."
Though many of the cuts seem inevitable given the state''s money woes, a growing number of students and faculty--including Maule-- disagree with the how Smith is targeting specific cuts.
Maule feels that issues involving the budget should not even be considered at the local university level.
"Faculty workload and working condition issues are to be bargained at the state level," Maule said. "A lot of the decisions that are being made here locally should not and cannot be made at a local level according to [our] collective bargaining agreement."
Other stakeholders on campus complain that the local decisions are being made without their input. "Shared governance," a buzzword rooted in the ideals expressed by CSUMB''s vision statement and constitution, is championed by students, faculty, and administration alike. Applied to the current situation, the term suggests a communal decision-making process where all parties work together.
James May, treasurer of the statewide faculty union and CSUMB professor of communications, says faculty has not been given a seat at the table. "It''s more top-down than bottom-up," May says. "I haven''t seen anyone asking for faculty input in the [budget] process."
Nat Rojanasathira, a member of the CSUMB student senate, is frustrated that he and his colleagues have no say on cuts in library hours, on-campus tutoring centers and other student services.
"When students ask to be a part of the decision-making process on the services we would like to see kept, we aren''t given a straight answer," Rojanasathira says.
Dan Johnson, vice president for administration and finance, says student input has not been intentionally disregarded, but that it is impractial to bring them into the day-to-day process.
"I understand student concerns," he says, "but this is a complex budget and it''s physically impossible to include students in every part of the cut process."
In fact, Johnson recently took part in an open discussion with students about the budget cuts. At the meeting he worked with members of Student Voice to create a list of students'' top priorities of things they would like to see maintained. At the same time, Johnson sent a copy of the current CSUMB budget to the Faculty Senate, a group of faculty representatives, for input on how to trim 10 percent from next year''s academic budget.
Johnson noted that there are three primary concerns--protecting access for students to the school, protecting filled positions and protecting core academic curriculum--that steer the budget process.
"We''re trying to figure out how to cut over $5 million for next year and we''re just getting started."
Johnson''s call for limited direct participation appears to be getting through to some students and faculty.
John Charter, president of the student senate--known as Student Voice--says Johnson and other faculty seem willing to work with students.
"I think there is a general sentiment among the administration of wanting to work with Student Voice," he says. "They will have to keep the doors open and we will have to remain proactive to make sure shared governance happens. I just want to make sure that student priorities are heard."
While working with the administration, members of Student Voice are also taking more active measures. On Feb. 24, eight members of Student Voice joined student leaders from every CSU campus on the steps of the Capital in Sacramento to protest the student fee increase. This past Tuesday, March 4, members of Student Voice returned to Sacramento for a California State Student''s Association conference to organize against future fee increases. At the same time, Susan Meisenhelder, the statewide CSU faculty union president, testified at a legislative hearing against the increase.
While students and faculty take on fee increases, they also say too much money is being spent on administration.
"During all of this process, it seems as though the one thing not being cut is administrators'' salaries," Rojanasathira says.
Union rep and CSUMB prof James May agrees. "The administrative costs in the CSUs have exploded and our campus is the worst. It''s way out of line." he says. "We could wipe out the deficit by cutting administration drastically."
The union is circulating numbers that show a longstanding decline in money spent on instruction. From 1990 to 2000, according to the union''s figures, the percent of the CSU budget going to instruction dropped from 53 to 41 percent.
Johnson counters that the administration is now experiencing hiring freezes and cutbacks equal to other divisions of the University. He feels the attack on administration is unfair. "The entire Cal State system is charged with a reduction," he says. "If all employees take a 5 percent cut, that''s one thing. But if one group targets another, that is something else."