I usually look forward with excitement to the late August start of classes that I teach at Sonoma State University. This summer, after faculty meetings and all-university Town Halls, I have dreaded the delayed early August reopening of registration for the fall semester, the growing student anxiety and the pending chaos as students arrive.
Students return to a greatly diminished education ravaged by budget cuts; there are fewer classes with larger sizes, a tuition increase of 30 percent since May, fewer services and disappearing faculty.
Students have been away for the summer, most of them working. Their stress and fears about their futures have grown. They will soon confront SSU's mounting financial problems face to face. How might they respond?
As for faculty, our furloughing means that we will be paid for two days a month less. However, many of us will work the same long hours, so it is really a pay-reduction scheme.
I'm scheduled to teach three courses this fall. But as with all part-time lecturers, I have no job security. Come spring, I may not be rehired to teach. The situation for the younger generation is much worse.
I prefer to say yes to students' legitimate requests. I have had to say no more times since the first registration for classes last spring than I have ever said no to students in my 35 years of college teaching. And the no's are not over. I anticipate a horde of students at the door wanting to get into one of those closed classes of mine that satisfy a general education requirement for graduation.
My "War and Peace" section closed out in the early days of the first registration with its maximum of 20 students. More than that number of students, most of them qualified, subsequently emailed me pleading for permission to enroll. The new rules do not allow me to permit more than the cap, regardless of students' good reasons, like needing just one unit to graduate.
Second registration produced another round of requests to enroll. The third round of no's began soon after the Aug. 3 registration opened. The fourth round will be on the first day of class. I have already asked two graduate students to help me at the door. "Hold the line" is the phrase from high school football days with which I have been coaching them.
When I went to a state university for undergraduate education, the tuition was only a few hundred dollars. Sonoma State now costs almost $5,000 a year in fees, plus room and board, other living expenses and books that often cost over $100 each. Life is not easy for California State University students.
California's failing public higher education system does not bode well for our state's future. We need better educated rather than noneducated citizens for our rapidly changing world. California and our nation will surely pay the costs of the current budget cuts, which will hurt generations of families.
The current fear and stress are likely to erupt into chaos, anger and possibly protest in the early days of SSU's pending semester and elsewhere on the other 22 CSU campuses as the cuts' consequences sink in.
Things will be bad enough this fall, but much deeper cuts are expected for the spring. New and transfer students will not be permitted to enroll this spring, and many lecturers are expected to disappear. The 2010–2011 academic year looks even worse. The toll of these cuts upon the quality of life in California will be tremendous. If Californians want to regenerate our declining higher educational system, we have to invest in and pay for it.
The bare bones are not yet visible. When they are, expect the wounded to justifiably cry out. It is a good time for SSU students and their parents, teachers, staff and California citizens to pull together to support each other and defend the threatened CSU system.
Shepherd Bliss teaches part-time at SSU and owns a small farm in Sebastopol. He has contributed to two dozen books, most recently to the new 'Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind.'
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