Students, faculty protest CSU funding gap at State Capitol

Students, faculty, and administration from across the state rallied against rising tuition

A rally to protest next school year’s potential tuition increase was held at the State Capitol on Wednesday, having been organized by the California Faculty Association and coordinated with Students for Quality Education.

Students, faculty, and administration from across the state gathered on the Capitol lawn to protest the $170.9 million shortfall between California Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget and that of the CSU Board of Trustees, which may lead to a tuition increase of $228 per semester in the fall.

More than 1,000 protesters chanted, sang songs, recited poetry, and wrote out messages to Brown which were delivered to his office by his aides because the speakers were not allowed inside.

Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen, who was in attendance, said he had recently met with Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, among other legislators to discuss the funding gap and warn about the possible consequences of a tuition increase.

“We need to be able to provide the students with the classes they need,” Nelsen said. “If we are not fully funded in this coming year, we will probably have 500 fewer classes. We don’t want that.”

Nelsen said he would continue to meet with legislators in order to get more state funding for the CSU.

Jorge Quintana, a Sac State student and activist with the Students for Quality Education, said he was unimpressed with Nelsen’s appearance.

“He showed up, but you got to also keep in mind he didn’t put out an email mentioning the event, he didn’t call for a convocation when he could have,” Quintana said. “When you’re vocal, it shows that you’re on our side; it shows us that ‘You know what, I will stand with you.’ And when did that message come out? It never did. Showing up is one thing, but anyone can show up.”

Cecil Canton, a professor of criminal justice at Sac State, attended the rally because he said he would like to see the CSU system be free for students.

“That may not be feasible at this point, but those of us who are my age got our education pretty much, almost, free,” Canton said. “You should be able to come in and get whatever program you need because we have sufficient faculty to teach the courses and sufficient spaces to do so. That’s not happening now, so we need that.”

Associated Students, Inc. President Mia Kagianas playfully tossed around a juggling ball that had been given out by protest organizers, and explained that it was a metaphor for the juggling act between academics, jobs, and extracurriculars that students must engage in to succeed in college.

“I think we can all know what it feels like to be juggling things during the semester,” Kagianas said. “I just think it’s really awesome that we can come together and unify to get more funding.”

Kagianas said the burdens on students are increasing, and not just in the form of tuition. She said rent, textbook costs and food insecurity are also issues that need to be addressed.

Story continues below

“There needs to be some systematic attention toward this issue in order for students to feel that higher education is more accessible than it is,” Kagianas said. “My envisionment would be an environment where students can feel welcome to challenge themselves, to learn, to grow, without feeling undue barriers or pressure to conform or to sacrifice a lot of other parts of their being to do so.”

Kagianas said that she will continue to lobby at the Capitol, speak at subcommittee meetings and push an ASI petition against the tuition increase.

Alyssa Teasdale, a social science student at Chico State, stood near the edge of the crowd close to a side entrance where state employees were entering the Capitol in order to try to talk to them, asking for more funding and a free CSU.

Teasdale said that the employees she spoke with were less than receptive to her message.

She described an encounter with a government employee who said “I work for the lobbyer so we’re all that we care about.”

Teasdale said that as the presence of minorities in CSUs has grown, the cost of tuition has also risen, which she said indicated a systematic attack on students of color.

“As a future teacher, I’m fighting for my students. As a future parent, I’m fighting for my kids. As a student myself, I’m fighting for my rights,” Teasdale said. “Students suffer from food insecurity, one in ten suffer from homelessness. If this fee goes through, those numbers are going to be even more detrimental to the community.”

Xico Gonzalez and Dominic Porras, Sac State alumni, partnered with the Sol Collective, a collaborative Sacramento-based studio, to design art for the protest, where they were hand-crafting posters using silk-screen printing techniques.

Gonzalez said he worked on banners and designs, which included portraits of Martin Luther King Jr., whose assassination occurred 50 years prior to the day of the rally, and other revolutionary figures.

Porras developed an app that allowed for what he called an “augmented reality viewing of art” around the Capitol, including Gonzalez’s prints and the SQE logo.

When opened, the app played a short documentary video detailing the life of iconic revolutionaries such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Other subjects included Afghani revolutionary feminist Meena Keshwar Kamal and Brazilian author and philosopher Paulo Freire.

“It’s sponsored by Sol Collective, and so we worked together to create this to help bring icons back into the circle, because a lot of times we don’t get a chance to study these icons in our classes, or if we do it’s a very, very, brief mention of them,” Porras said.

“If you think about it, it’s kind of like an ethnic studies crash course,” Gonzalez said. “My hope is for (the students) to try to emulate what they were about and what they gave their lives to.”

Maggie White, the president of the Cal State Student Association, attended the protest to show her support.

“I think that students, faculty, staff, coming together and all of our stakeholders being together, it sends a powerful message that we’re not going to stand for this and it’s unnecessary to have tuition increases when the state has money,” White said. “There is more money from the tax revenue than the governor expected, it just depends what he wants to prioritize this year.”

Hector Fernandez, the director of skill trades for the Teamsters Union, said that his organization represents many CSU administration and staff and he was worried that the funding gap could mean layoffs for college employees.

“Less pay increases, less capability to help students graduate on time,” Fernandez said. “We deal with all the maintenance on the campus, and so less funding causes problems with deferred maintenance. You have issues with the classroom shutting down, buildings shutting down, so it impacts students, it impacts us as a whole.”

Fernandez said that cutting education services will eventually end up negatively affecting the economy, so he was glad to see pressure being put on the legislature to fully fund the CSU.

Quintana introduced poets and singers to the crowd of red-shirted protesters who told stories of the struggles of being a minority or facing poverty while dealing with the demands of college.

Eric Kupers, a professor of dance and theater at Cal State East Bay, brought the Inclusive Interdisciplinary Performance Ensemble, which he directs, to perform.

His students performed a mixture of spoken word, song, and interpretive dance.

“That vocalization, that expression, that way we connect as a community, as an us . . . (poetry) puts it in words where people can say, ‘yeah, I felt that but didn’t know how to express it,’ ” Quintana said.

Correction: In a previous version of this article, The State Hornet reported that Robert Nelsen had met with Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Kevin Mullin. We apologize for this error.