Community Discusses Future of Higher Education in California

Photo: Naomi Klein spoke to more than 300 people gathered in Pauley Ballroom at a panel addressing what many fear is the faltering institution of public higher education in California.
Tim Maloney/Staff
Naomi Klein spoke to more than 300 people gathered in Pauley Ballroom at a panel addressing what many fear is the faltering institution of public higher education in California.

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More than 300 students, faculty, staff and community members gathered in UC Berkeley's Pauley Ballroom yesterday for a panel discussion to address what organizers characterize as a crisis of California's public higher education system.

Panel commentators included UC students, faculty and researchers, as well as state government officials.

"We are here to reject the inevitability of decline that our government has presented us with," said Ananya Roy, UC Berkeley professor of city and regional planning.

However, panel members disagreed on the source of the current UC crisis and on effective plans to solve it.

Phil Ting, San Francisco's assessor-recorder, attributes dissatisfaction with higher education to Proposition 13, which sets a limit on property taxes for home and business owners.

"Prop. 13 created the biggest tax loophole in the state's history," Ting said. "What Prop. 13 said to Californians is, 'We want to stop paying for public education. We want to stop paying for public services.'"

A different strategy proposed by panel member and UC Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakoff is to overturn the two-thirds majority required in the state legislature to pass budget decisions.

Lakoff hopes to place an initiative on the November 2010 ballot to mandate that budget decisions be made using a simple majority vote.

For UCSF professor of medicine Stanton Glantz, the issue is not about the distribution of power in the legislature, but rather about the governor's unwillingness to keep his promise to students.

"We need to lay the responsibility for the complete mess we have with higher education at the feet of the governor," he said. "The basic budget that gets approved is the one that the governor puts forth."

Glantz claimed that the governor is violating the Compact for Higher Education, which mandates that the state adequately fund UC and CSU systems and guarantee placement for all qualifying California students.

Alberto Torrico, Democratic majority leader in the state Assembly, said the state could bring $1 billion in revenue into the higher education

system by taxing oil extraction in California by 9.9 percent.

"I don't trust the two-thirds majority, and I don't trust the budget process because we negotiate with ransom notes," Torrico said. "So instead of putting the billion dollars into the general fund, my proposal will put the billion dollars into higher education."

The panel members agreed that equity and access to higher education for underrepresented minority students have suffered as tuition has risen and funding has decreased.

"Equity and access has traditionally been an issue for students of color to take up," Roy said. "But now a wide swath of Californians are wondering if their sons and daughters will be able to have a world-class public education. We have all become students of color."

ASUC Senator Ariel Boone said there should be increased transparency in the UC budget process, adding that many underrepresented minority students bear the costs of administrative decisions.

"Students are seen as commodities, as cash cows," Boone said.

Senior Isaac Miller, a member of CalSERVE, which sponsored the forum, sees each of the proposed solutions as potentially helpful.

"It's important to have a long-term solution," he said. "They are all necessary steps; they are concrete solutions to a systemic problem."

Tags: BUDGET CUTS


Contact Heather Ross at [email protected]



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