Learning the Hard Way

Sonoma State cuts—an insider's report

| November 26, 2008
11.26.08

Many Sonoma State University students and faculty areupset. State budget cuts and the national financial debaclethreaten them. Tuition and expenses continue to rise throughout theCalifornia State University system, as student options for classesdiminish. Admissions to SSU next year will be reduced by at least500 students. Some lecturers now scheduled to teach next semesterwill have their courses and possibly their jobs cut in the middleof the academic year.

I began teaching at SSU part-time last year. SSU offers numerouseducational, cultural and political resources and events, many opento the public. The cuts will reduce SSU's contributions to studentsand workers, as well as to the community as a whole. Words like"Step Up and Take Your Campus Back" headline articles in SSU'sstudent newspaper, The Star, which bemoan that students arenot being considered and consulted about their collegeeducations.

Some students and faculty are actively challenging the cuts.Last week, three SSU teachers and a few students traveled to LongBeach to join a demonstration of around 500 organized by theCalifornia Faculty Association (CFA) at a meeting of the CSUboard.

Psychology lecturer Skip Robinson, Ph.D., documented in LongBeach that "Cuts Have Consequences." Those on the frontlines, suchas Robinson, who teach large—and growing-larger—classeshear from students that they feel disappointed, worried,frustrated, scared, lost, hopeless, angered and heartbroken.

Robinson carried to Long Beach pages of comments from students,such as "Pushes us all further into debt"; "Added stress"; "I can'thandle the fighting for classes, the overcrowded majors"; "Higherdropout rates"; "Fewer teachers, fewer classes, fewer sections,fewer resources"; "Please keep our work, hopes and dreamsalive."

SSU students and faculty reported back to the SSU campus at aNov. 19 rally. The impact of the budget cuts, according to a flyerby the CFA, "would be loss of educational opportunities for ourstudents and loss of jobs for our faculty." As cuts were unfolding,the CSU Board approved raises for many of its top administrators.The protests in Long Beach were important enough to be reported inthe New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, by theAssociated Press and in hundreds of newspapers around thecountry.

Faculty, administrators and students combined recently to host aTown Hall gathering on the alarming cuts, with more likely tofollow, as well as increased tuition costs for next year. The newswas not good. After listening quietly for most of the meeting, astudent spoke about a specific concern that indicates the largerproblem. Last year, she appreciated taking the Foundations inLeadership course designed to educate students for leadership oncampus, which then prepared them for further service to our county,state, country and even beyond. A couple of hundred students enrollin the various sections of the popular class each year.

As students enter the final weeks of classes this semester andselect courses for the spring, rumors have spread that the popularcourse would be cut. Though a final decision may still be inprocess, it's likely that what was developing into a more academiccourse will become a shorter training for which students receive nocredit. The short-term benefit of such a cut frees up funds; thestudent at the Town Hall meeting lamented the long-term losses ofbetter-educated leaders.

The underlying source of the problems at SSU is the worseningnational economy, which is exacerbated by an increasing amount ofmoney spent on war-making rather than education. Meanwhile,California's governor and legislature refuse to raise the money topay for such human services as the education of our youth.

War and Peace is among four courses that I teach. The popularcourse, taught for over two dozen years, tends to reach its cap inthe first of four registrations. Last year, we had four sections;this year, we quickly filled five. After reaching the cap, Ireceived emails from nearly twice as many students wanting toenroll in my section, all of whom I had to turn down. So we want tooffer six sections next year. Instead of the course expanding tomeet students' needs during this time of war-making and demands forpeace, it may be downsized. Concerns about this course and theleadership course are small examples of a larger picture of SSU'sworsening financial and educational situation.

Improving higher education through the CSUs and JCs should bepart of the solution to our state's growing problems. Instead,cutbacks go in the opposite direction, compounding our worseningproblems.

 Dr. Shepherd Bliss teaches part-time at SSU and farmsin the Sebastopol countryside. [ mailto:sbliss@hawaii.edu]sbliss@hawaii.edu

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