Will State Leaders Hear the Protests?

Large protest at Capitol draws attention, results unclear

by Brian Leubitz

If you have been paying attention, you have noticed the appalling cuts that the state’s university systems have taken. In fact, a recent study showed that for most middle class students, Harvard is now more affordable than the CSU system.  No matter what your goals are for the CSU system, this is a very bad thing. It is not functioning as a way to improve the lives of middle and lower class Californians, and it is not providing the resources for economic development that it should.

And so we get yesterday’s protests from students of both university systems and their supporters:

Another day of protests played out at the state Capitol on Monday with thousands of demonstrators denouncing soaring higher education costs and a select group spending most of the day inside the rotunda to achieve one goal: getting arrested.

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The main group of arrestees, who will be charged with trespassing, apparently felt they had made their point, although it was unclear at times exactly what that was.

The ballooning cost of attending public colleges and universities in California was the primary focus, but at times the leaderless Occupy movement supporters discussed issuing demands on a range of issues, from the repeal of Proposition 13 to being allowed to use Capitol restrooms during their sit-in.(SacBee)

Occupy is very good at actions and getting attention. But in this case, and in others, the message got overpowered by the theatrics.  And maybe that’s fine, as there are more than enough wonks in Sacramento. Maybe the theatrics will be just the thing to open a few eyes.

But those eyes are just as recalcitrant as ever. The Republicans just look out on this, behind their anti-tax pledge suits, and glaze over.  Will this be the action that breaks through?  Or will there be more actions until it does? This protest was something of an organizing nightmare. But whether the state can continue to ignore the protests, when the function of our higher education systems continues to dwindle, is the larger question.

But as Dan Walters points out, higher education has taken a drubbing:

The thousands of college students who marched on the Capitol on Monday to protest rising fees and decreasing state support had a point: Higher education has taken a disproportionately heavy drubbing in recent years as politicians attempted – and largely failed – to balance the state budget.

The Legislature’s budget analyst has calculated that under Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2012-13 budget, state general fund spending on the University of California, the state university system and community colleges will have dropped 21 percent in five years, while fee and tuition revenue will have increased by 64 percent.(Sacbee)

There are a number of reasons for this, but you can mostly chalk it up to the fact that cutting higher education is the easiest. It involves the fewest lawsuits, and so the students get screwed over and over again. It is just one more piece of the dysfunctional governance by committee that gives the legislature strange cues.

We need more revenue, and we have two initiatives that would do that.  However, the Millionaire’s tax would actually get some of that to higher education for a change. Gee, isn’t that a novel idea.