So how do we proceed?
UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau recently urged Sacramento leadership to engage with student representatives and campus leaders in a forum to debate the future of higher education and stop cutbacks. Protests about divestment and subsequent fee hikes are cropping up at universities all over the state. I personally traveled to the Capitol last semester with students from UC Berkeley and UC Davis----while students from UCLA and other countless other universities, state colleges and community colleges clogged the phone lines----to lobby CA State Congressmen to not accept any budget with further cuts to education. When I knocked on the door of Assembly Education Chair Marty Block's office and gave our usual spiel----adrenaline rushing at the prospect of an audience actually capable of change----pleading for the legislature to defend UC funding, what was his staff's response? As an aide said, "We're with you one hundred percent, and we promise the Education Committee is doing everything it can in the assembly." But then why does it seem Block's staff is the minority? Where are the others? Why aren't we seeing results?
As Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich recently said at the OccupyCal protest on the UC Berkeley campus, "there are people out there who say we cannot afford education any longer" But how can that be true if we are now richer than we have ever been before?" His words were met with a deafening roar of cheering, booing, snapping and applauding, as students seemed to cry out, "Yes! Why? Why is education being left in the dust? Why are you sacrificing our futures?"
And it's not just the UC system. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, "the drop in state funds for the top 101 public research universities in the United States from 2002 to 2010 was 10 percent, with nearly three-quarters of the universities losing some state support." It's infectious; it's spreading all across the nation; it needs a cure.
Cuts have been fought with fundraising, but we are fooling ourselves if we think that private donations are a sustainable solution. UC Berkeley's associate vice chancellor for university relations, David Blinder, said that, while Cal successfully raised $283.35 million in donations in 2011 alone, this achievement is still inherently problematic. "We are a state university" but at this point, the figure is that just over 10 percent of our budget is coming from the state."
And he's right. State schools cannot get by without state support. We need to stop settling for budgets that continue to harm our public universities. We can't let even one more budget cut happen, because that cut will continue to snowball until it becomes an avalanche. And that avalanche will completely cripple our education systems and leave our college students robbed of the high caliber educations their parents received and our California politicians promised.
Now, I may not be Pat Brown or Robert Reich, but as a student dealing with budget cuts on a regular basis, I realize that something needs to change" And unfortunately, of course, it's all about the money. At this point, the state must either raise more tax revenue or cut huge expenses.
The options: Tax the rich? The corporations? Make the banks pay? Expand the California economy and attract more high-paying jobs? Get public employee pensions under control? Prop 13 reform? Hell, even scrap the $100 billion plus dollar high-speed rail plans that'll take 30 years to build anyway?