Participants in the March 4 UCSC protests share their stories
“I am a language teacher!” UC Santa Cruz Italian lecturer Giulia Centineo screamed into the loudspeaker during a March 4 protest at UC Santa Cruz. Centineo held the microphone up to her lips and addressed the crowd, her hand trembling, perhaps out of nervousness or simply passion. “For years the administration has been shoving down our throats the idea that students are clients. No, students are students! I don't sell Italian! I teach Italian!”
An army of fists shot up in the air and cries of solidarity rang out across the intersection of Bay and High streets, which had been blocked off by protestors since early that morning.
Hundreds of UCSC students, faculty and supporters attended the protest at the base of campus as part of a state and system-wide Day of Action to Defend Public Education. Students came to protest the spike in student fees, which have increased 300 percent since 2002 and will increase another 15 percent this upcoming fall quarter. Professors, faculty members, and staff came to protest a furlough program that has cut their number of workdays and decreased workers’ salaries by somewhere between 5 and 10 percent for the year, depending on their position and original salary. Programs like History of Consciousness, Language Studies, and Latin American and Latino Studies could soon face serious cuts.
One of numerous protests occurring simultaneously across the Golden State, the UCSC event was a colorful expression of student opinion and demands. There was guerilla theater and slam poetry. Some brought their guitars. They arrived sporting signs with sayings like “Who’s gonna teach, when teachers are on the streets?” By 7 a.m. activists had blocked all entrances to the campus, and UCSC Public Affairs had advised all employees not to come in for work. The protests had effectively shut down campus.
For those in attendance, increasing budget cuts had become a personal matter. Good Times caught up with a handful of those affected to hear their stories.
Keeping the Books
Ken Lyons, reference librarian for the school’s McHenry Library, also spoke at the rally. He has been affected by the university’s furlough program and is subsequently taking one extra day off a month. But for Lyons, furloughs are the easy part. “That’s the part where I don’t come into work,” says the nine-year faculty member with laugh. “It's the pay cut. That's the big part.”
Lyons, who drives a 32-year-old car he says is “falling apart,” notes that when you take inflation into account, most librarians' salaries are approximately back to what they were in 1999. “And the cost of living has skyrocketed in the past 11 years—certainly around these parts,” he says. “So yeah, it means a lot to me.”
For the 2009-2010 school year, the library has been grappling with a 14.5 percent budget that has forced them to cut back on their services and hours. In spring 2008 the library was open for about 100 hours a week. This year, it's open 67 hours a week. The reduction in hours has forced the library to close one day a week, on Saturdays, a change Lyons calls “appalling for a research university.”
He notices more and more students have been coming to the reference desk looking for a book that isn’t on the shelf but also isn’t listed as “checked out.” “It's because there are just feet after feet after feet of books that need to be re-shelved with nobody to re-shelve them,” Lyons says.
Lyons understands that the university has been tasked with a target budget reduction goal by the state (as part of the governors attempt to fix California’s $20 billion deficit), but he says the cuts are happening in the wrong places. “When you think about it from a corporate perspective, it makes total sense what they're doing,” says Lyons, quickly adding, “but it's wrong.”
Student Government Takes Action
UCSC student Victor Sanchez is the President of the University of California Student Association (UCSA) and the External Vice Chair for the Student Union Assembly (SUA), both of which are trying to protect funding for UC students.
The SUA at UCSC passed a resolution in support of the action, and Sanchez stood in full support of any nonviolent action taking place. “I'll be yelling my lungs out,” Sanchez said before the strike. “Ultimately, being a part of this larger movement is empowering in itself.”
The UCSA has a five-step platform they are promoting this month. It includes full funding for the UC back to 2001 levels and that the legislature looks for alternative revenue sources. But Sanchez says their number one issue is protecting the Cal Grant, a form of student aid for California residents that could soon find itself on the chopping block.
In Sanchez’s first year at UCSC, he lost about four friends who weren't quite able to pay or qualify for the Cal Grant. Sanchez, a Latino/Chicano student, believes the aid is a tremendous asset for underrepresented communities. The Latino student population is currently at 4.7 percent of the total student body, and the African American population is currently 2.6 percent.
Sanchez qualified for financial support, himself, his first year of college. He will be receiving it again for the 2010-2011 school year. The grant pays up $9,700 in student fees depending on the price of the college and the student’s need. The amount of aid varies from one student to another.
Sanchez worries he will still graduate with $20,000 in debt and has been forced to take out loans in order to cover the cost of his education. “God forbid if I want to buy a house by the time I'm 35,” Sanchez says.
Speaking the Language
“I want to remain optimistic,” says language teacher Centineo, adding that it isn't always easy.
The Division of Humanities, which includes UCSC’s language programs, is currently wondering if it will have to cut whole languages in order to make ends meet. One recent proposal includes plans to cut Hindi/Urdu, Portuguese and Russian, a move that would save the division $182,000 per year. This past year, the division already cut 11 percent of Italian classes, the language that Centineo teaches.
“I can't even think about it,” Centineo says. “This is how concerned I am: I can't think about it because I invested all of my resources in this job.”
Centineo is also concerned for her students. She has seen many struggle to keep up in classes as they start working more, sometimes as much as 30 hours a week. Others have been proud to be the first in their families to attend college. They now worry the rising cost of fees might make them the last.
Centineo calls the issue of funding for public education “very personal” because where she comes from in Italy, public higher education for a low price is a higher priority.
“Over there, it's part of our culture that education has to be accessible to all,” she told GT moments after her rousing speech to the crowd, her voice then disappearing into the surrounding chants of “Sí, se puede! Sí, se puede! Sí, se puede!”
The Conversation Continues
Community Studies Lecturer and Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkin, who will no longer have his teaching job by the end of this school year, believes the University of California is experiencing a “crisis of priorities.” Similarly, Dining Hall workers say that they have faced cuts in pay, while simultaneously being asked to take on more duties like janitorial services.
Participants discussed solutions, such as Assembly Bill 656, which would place a tax on oil companies, repealing Proposition 13, and spending less money on the state’s prison system. But one thing was clear for many of the rally’s attendants: leaving is just not an option.
“For all its faults, I do really love this campus and the students here and my co-workers,” reference librarian Lyons says. “I like the place, and I like who I work with and for, but I don't like the structure.”
Photos by Melissa R. Black
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