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Photograph by Michael Amsler
Save Our Classes: SSU student Jason Spencer wants to lessen the impact of budget cuts on students.
SSU budget cuts--neither here nor there
By Joy Lanzendorfer
When it comes down to it, students at Sonoma State don't want music centers, new dorms, and fancy pillars standing in the parking lot," says SSU senior Marcia Simmons. "They want a good student-to-teacher ratio, a wide selection of classes, and to graduate within four years."
Simmons is one of many Sonoma State University students unhappy about how the school is handling the state budget cuts. With $4.2 million, or 10 percent, to be cut from its budget, SSU has to make some tough decisions. Fees have already gone up $72 dollars per semester for in-state undergraduates, and may go up another 25 percent next year.
Even though the school promised not to lay off any full-time employees, including tenured professors, next year it won't be rehiring 100 nontenured professors, called lecturers. In addition to these cuts, SSU had planned to drop 214 class sections, although they have slimmed that cut by 80 percent by dipping into an emergency reserve.
On March 26, SSU faculty and students held a rally to voice their concerns about the budget cuts. Many feel the planned changes will lessen SSU's educational value. With fewer classes, the remaining classes will be crowded, in some cases accommodating up to 120 students. Professors will have heavier workloads, increasing the ratio of students to teachers. And with more competition for the remaining classes, students may be forced to take an extra year to graduate.
"Basically, the school is increasing fees but decreasing the level of services it's offering the students," says junior Jason Spencer, one of the rally organizers.
The administration admits that in addition to paying more in fees, students will have fewer classes, less time with overworked professors, and overcrowding. But as part of the state educational program, SSU's budget is between a rock and a hard place. The cuts simply have to be made.
"We're not alone in making these cuts," says SSU spokesperson Susan Kashack. "Every university in the state has to make these kinds of decisions. It's not just an SSU problem. It's not even the governor's fault. It's a matter of the economy."
If the economy doesn't improve, schools may be facing even more trouble. If the legislature doesn't accept the governor's budget in May, even more cuts may be made to the university system.
But while everyone agrees the cuts are inevitable, some feel SSU's current plan hurts students while protecting the administration. In a May 2002 article in California Faculty magazine, CalPERS board member George Diehr called SSU "the poster campus for management bloat" that spends "an excess of about $5.9 million on manager salaries and has a surplus of 95 managers." Some students want to see more cuts in the administration rather than the current plan, asserting that cutting 10 percent of the top 25 administrator salaries would save over $300,000.
But Kashack says the administration is already being cut, with some departments losing 100 percent of their operating costs. Her department will see operating costs cut in half.
Still, others feel more could be done.
"We would like to see investigation into restructuring the administration," says Andy Merrifield, a tenured political science professor who co-coordinated the rally. "Though we agree we should avoid laying off full-time employees, we would like to see if some administrative people could be used differently and if other areas could be made more efficient."
Some are also complaining about all the new construction at SSU, including the Green Music Center, an acoustically advanced music facility that broke ground in October of 2000 and has had trouble reaching its goal of $48 million for construction costs. Many students are calling for a halt of the construction of the center, which they see as an unnecessary luxury in the face of reduced academics. But the Green Music Center is funded through donations, so the school is unable to redirect that money into anything else.
However, the employees who solicit donations for the Green Music Center are paid from the general fund, not from donations. Merrifield says that paying their salaries out of the center's donations could shave several hundred thousand from the budget.
In addition to these suggestions, students and faculty are also talking about opening a nonprofit fund with the hope that SSU employees and students will donate. The money would go toward saving the jobs.
"Everyone pays a little so no one has to lose their job," says Spencer. "We've all been put in a bad position with these budget cuts, and we hope we will be able to work together."
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From the March 27-April 2, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.