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City College Students, Faculty, Staff Protest Budget Cuts

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday October 15, 2009 - 12:49:00 PM
A Berkeley Community College classified employee speaks out against state budget cuts at Thursday's meeting in the BCC atrium.
Riya Bhattacharjee
A Berkeley Community College classified employee speaks out against state budget cuts at Thursday's meeting in the BCC atrium.
Berkeley Community College English teacher Marc Lispi speaks at a Thursday meeting regarding state budget cuts to education.
Riya Bhattacharjee
Berkeley Community College English teacher Marc Lispi speaks at a Thursday meeting regarding state budget cuts to education.

Berkeley City College students, faculty and staff joined their counterparts at Laney and Merritt colleges to speak out against state budget cuts to public education at the Peralta Board of Trustees meeting in Oakland Oct. 13. 

The four-campus Peralta College System, which includes Berkeley City College, is facing a $7 million budget deficit because of the state Legislature’s budget compromise with the governor in August.  

Although the board was scheduled to discuss the impacts of the budget cuts at Tuesday’s meeting, they postponed it to Oct. 27. 

Board president Bill Withrow asked Peralta Chancellor and former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris to compile a video of the various student protests and send it to state legislators. 

“We are encouraged by Withrow’s action, but we hope it’s not a shortcut around helping us during this time of struggle,” BCC student body president Matt Long told the Planet. Long said students are about to embark on a letter-writing campaign to ask their legislators for support during this time of crisis. 

Berkeley City College students have been organizing against the cuts over the past several weeks and are planning to host a teach-in Nov. 7 to spread awareness about the community college budget system. 

More than 20 speakers outlined struggles going on at the college and in their own lives during a packed meeting inside the college atrium Oct. 8, following which the protesters made plans for the Oct. 24 conference at UC Berkeley.  

The event was organized by the college’s Global Studies Club. 

At least 400 classes are expected be cut from the Peralta system and programs like CalWORKS and Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, which cater to socioeconomically and academically disadvantaged students, have already been slashed by 50 percent.  

Berkeley City College is facing a $772,000 cut in student services and has already eliminated 20 classes for the fall semester, with more cuts planned for the spring.  

“We are trying to get students to register early, but it’s a reflection of what the cuts have done to community colleges statewide,” said BCC President Betty Inclan. “As we cut classes, we will need fewer part-time faculty. We are very concerned about that. We are basically shutting down segments of education that provide opportunities. Community colleges are underfunded to begin with, but with these cuts the dream of providing education has been compromised. I call it the deferred dream.”  

Like UC Berkeley, the college has implemented a hiring freeze, and furloughs might be in line for part-time instructors whose class hours have been reduced.  

Joe Doyle, co-chair of BCC’s multimedia department, said student services were being cut to the bone.  

“Students are laboring with jobs and families, and they can’t get the services they need,” he said. “There is student aid, but the people who staff the offices are being laid off. Students end up waiting in long lines. We need more people in financial aid.”  

Doyle said classified staff were facing furloughs of up to six days.  

Ayell Lemma, who heads the college’s EOPS and CalWORKS program, said a 40 percent cut to BCC’s 400-student EOPS program had resulted in tremendous challenges in terms of providing students with assistance to buy books, transportation to school, child-care support and school supplies.  

Counseling and tutoring services have also been badly hit, he said.  

“We need funding to backfill the cuts,” he said, “to provide the services that will make students educationally successful and self-sufficient.”  

BCC spokesperson and marketing faculty member Shirley Fogarino told the Daily Planet that the state budget cuts had essentially decimated the CalWORKS program.  

“The part which helps students to find jobs no longer exists,” she said. “It’s there on paper, but it doesn’t exist. Students are either dropping out of the program or dropping out of school entirely.”  

Inclan said that when the CSUs and UCs turn away freshmen due to a lack of funding, the students seek out community colleges for admission—a plan she said might also be compromised under the current budget crisis.  

Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seeking admission to community colleges for re-employment opportunities might have to be turned away for the same reason, she said.  

“We are also being cut, it’s a ripple effect,” Inclan said. “We are trying our best to deliver quality education and yet resources are being eliminated.”  

Marc Lispi, a part-time English teacher at BCC and a member of the Global Studies Club, said the Oct. 24 conference is expected to serve as a forum for an even bigger event on March 11, when hundreds of UC, CSU and community college students and employees are hoping to march to Sacramento to rally against the cuts.  

“Community colleges are like a hub; we are connected to every single level of society,” Lispi said. “If we can organize against this fight, we can make sure it’s not a fight for crumbs. The money exists—the wealth is there. We can force them to take the money from where it exists.”  

Global Studies Program Instructor Joan Berezin said the college is planning a teach-in Saturday, Oct. 10, on campus at which various community colleges would speak out against the cuts.  

“Talk to 10 people you know—that’s how you start a movement,” she said.  

Laney College Student Body President Ju Hong said that immigrants, low-income and international students are dropping out of Laney because they can’t afford school supplies, food or transportation.  

“We are losing education at this moment,” Hong said, making a plea to students to organize against the cuts.  

BCC sociology student Lydia Stevenson, urged her fellow classmates to speak out against the cuts.  

“Raise your voice. Speak out. Words mean everything,” she said. “Demand your right to an education, demand that cuts happen from the top, not the bottom. And until they do, let’s be a pain in their ass. A big, red, irritated thorn.”  

Stevenson, who has been in the community college system for five years, said all doors seem to be closing just when she is ready to make the transfer to UC Berkeley.  

Senior citizens, single mothers and high school graduates all made their case one after another about why it was important to keep programs in community colleges alive.  

“Education in California for the last 20 years has been systematically pushed underground,” said Buddy Roark, an English student, to hisses from the audience. “We now live in a state that has the ninth-largest economy in the world and is 49th in public school spending. The problem is a broken, neglectful tax structure that puts business before people—and that if we had to start from scratch we would never choose in the first place.”  

Students are also facing cuts in library hours and databases.  

“I guarantee you that textbooks will not be any cheaper next semester,” said Roark. .