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Learning the Hard Way

Sonoma State cuts—an insider's report

By Shepherd Bliss

Many Sonoma State University students and faculty are upset. State budget cuts and the national financial debacle threaten them. Tuition and expenses continue to rise throughout the California State University system, as student options for classes diminish. Admissions to SSU next year will be reduced by at least 500 students. Some lecturers now scheduled to teach next semester will have their courses and possibly their jobs cut in the middle of the academic year.

I began teaching at SSU part-time last year. SSU offers numerous educational, cultural and political resources and events, many open to the public. The cuts will reduce SSU's contributions to students and workers, as well as to the community as a whole. Words like "Step Up and Take Your Campus Back" headline articles in SSU's student newspaper, The Star, which bemoan that students are not being considered and consulted about their college educations.

Some students and faculty are actively challenging the cuts. Last week, three SSU teachers and a few students traveled to Long Beach to join a demonstration of around 500 organized by the California Faculty Association (CFA) at a meeting of the CSU board.

Psychology lecturer Skip Robinson, Ph.D., documented in Long Beach that "Cuts Have Consequences." Those on the frontlines, such as Robinson, who teach large—and growing-larger—classes hear from students that they feel disappointed, worried, frustrated, scared, lost, hopeless, angered and heartbroken.

Robinson carried to Long Beach pages of comments from students, such as "Pushes us all further into debt"; "Added stress"; "I can't handle the fighting for classes, the overcrowded majors"; "Higher dropout rates"; "Fewer teachers, fewer classes, fewer sections, fewer resources"; "Please keep our work, hopes and dreams alive."

SSU students and faculty reported back to the SSU campus at a Nov. 19 rally. The impact of the budget cuts, according to a flyer by the CFA, "would be loss of educational opportunities for our students and loss of jobs for our faculty." As cuts were unfolding, the CSU Board approved raises for many of its top administrators. The protests in Long Beach were important enough to be reported in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, by the Associated Press and in hundreds of newspapers around the country.

Faculty, administrators and students combined recently to host a Town Hall gathering on the alarming cuts, with more likely to follow, as well as increased tuition costs for next year. The news was not good. After listening quietly for most of the meeting, a student spoke about a specific concern that indicates the larger problem. Last year, she appreciated taking the Foundations in Leadership course designed to educate students for leadership on campus, which then prepared them for further service to our county, state, country and even beyond. A couple of hundred students enroll in the various sections of the popular class each year.

As students enter the final weeks of classes this semester and select courses for the spring, rumors have spread that the popular course would be cut. Though a final decision may still be in process, it's likely that what was developing into a more academic course will become a shorter training for which students receive no credit. The short-term benefit of such a cut frees up funds; the student at the Town Hall meeting lamented the long-term losses of better-educated leaders.

The underlying source of the problems at SSU is the worsening national economy, which is exacerbated by an increasing amount of money spent on war-making rather than education. Meanwhile, California's governor and legislature refuse to raise the money to pay for such human services as the education of our youth.

War and Peace is among four courses that I teach. The popular course, taught for over two dozen years, tends to reach its cap in the first of four registrations. Last year, we had four sections; this year, we quickly filled five. After reaching the cap, I received emails from nearly twice as many students wanting to enroll in my section, all of whom I had to turn down. So we want to offer six sections next year. Instead of the course expanding to meet students' needs during this time of war-making and demands for peace, it may be downsized. Concerns about this course and the leadership course are small examples of a larger picture of SSU's worsening financial and educational situation.

Improving higher education through the CSUs and JCs should be part of the solution to our state's growing problems. Instead, cutbacks go in the opposite direction, compounding our worsening problems.

 Dr. Shepherd Bliss teaches part-time at SSU and farms in the Sebastopol countryside. [ mailto:[email protected] ][email protected]

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