The crowd was sparse in UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Monday, February 22, for the Student Group Forum on Affordable Education, but the topics were hot: budget cuts, student grassroots political activism, furlough days, and workers’ pay, and student grassroots political activism.
The aim of the forum, hosted by CalPIRG, was to explain, to students and community members, the financial situation of various public education sectors. Among the speakers were Ken Miller, gubernatorial candidate for California; Ed Heron, president of the Santa Barbara School Districts Board of Education; Robert Williams, UCSB Professor; Saffron Zomer, CalPIRG Campus Program Director; and Craig Richter, Foothill Elementary School principal.
Robert Williams, UCSB professor of art history, pointed out that entire programs in the UC system are closing down. The Hebrew and Arabic departments are closing at UC Santa Cruz, and the Education Abroad Program is being “dismantled and turned over to private providers,” according to Williams. Meanwhile, the UC Regents and Office of the President are choosing not to use reserves to bring the UC system back to its high prestige. Williams claimed that the UC system is slowly turning into a “profit-making enterprise” and is being “pushed to privatization.” Williams urged students to keep complaining loudly, to write letters to the regents and legislators, and to fight to have UC Regents elected differently. Currently they are chosen by the governor and usually have no background in education. Williams spoke out against politicians and businessmen running our education system, saying we need leaders who are passionate about quality of education.
Heron informed students that $17 billion in cuts have been made to California public education (kindergarten through high school) since last February. He argued that we will feel the results of this “abandonment” in 10 to15 years, when we have a generation of Californians who aren’t educated well enough to compete in a global marketplace.
Craig Richter, principal of Foothill Elementary School, talked a lot about the future of California and what will happen if education isn’t given a higher priority by our state leaders. Richter informed students that think tanks say California needs 65 percent of the population to be college-educated to be competitive in a global marketplace by 2025, and with the way things are going now, we will be one million people short of that goal.
On a more positive note, Saffron Zomer, CalPIRG campus program director, praised student activism and encouraged students to “strategize cohesively and then big things can really happen.” Citing Governor Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff’s recent speech, she said UC student protests were the tipping point in making public education a higher priority, emphasizing that there have been many times in history when grassroots activism was the only thing that did end up making a difference.