CSU students, faculty, staff protest cuts

Rare show of solidarity used to fight proposal

March 20, 2008 

TURLOCK -- There's something about loss, even the threat of loss, that brings people together.

It was Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed $312.9 million cut to the California State University system's budget that united students, faculty and staff in protest at the CSU Stanislaus campus Wednesday. It was a monumental moment for the group, which has never united like this before, said staff union President Frank Borrelli. Though unique, it was an easy alliance -- and one that is being repeated statewide at CSU campuses.

"We want to stress these cuts will have a devastating effect on students' access to higher education," university spokeswoman Kristin Olsen said to an audience of about 300.

If enacted, the proposed cuts could leave a $2.4 million hole in Stanislaus State's 2008-09 budget.

"That's a best-case scenario," Borrelli said.

It is a scenario that would have a cascading effect, starting on campus and eventually affecting the community and entire state as people who want a university education are turned away, university President Hamid Shirvani said.

The audience was larger than expected and spilled out of a conference room in the Mary Stuart Rogers building and into the hallway. Those who could not fit in the room watched a projection of organizers sharing a protest strategy that involves a lot of e-mails and faxes to the state Capitol.

"Until we get out there and send those faxes and e-mails, nothing will happen," Shirvani said.

Before leaving, the audience filled out forms pledging their support to stave off cuts that could increase class size, reduce student services, increase student fees 10 percent and limit access to 10,000 potential CSU students statewide next year. The fax campaign started immediately. Protesters hoped overwhelming fax machines at the capital would send a clear message from the campus.

"Please don't cut us," Shirvani said.

In preparation for the worst, a strategizing committee is considering cutting 80 courses next year, said student body President Andrew Janz. If courses are eliminated, it will be harder for students to fulfill graduation requirements. So it could take longer for students to finish school, Janz said.

These potential cuts come at a time when Stanislaus State is already accepting more students than the state is compensating the campus for. The university accepted an extra 414 students this year. It's a testament to the belief that higher education should be accessible to everyone, Shirvani said.

Students, faculty and staff efforts will continue beyond Wednesday. The California State Student Association will lobby legislators and demonstrate outside the Capitol on April 21. And CSU lobbyists will have a clear agenda during their annual legislation lobby day April 28.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at ehightower@modbee.com or 578-2382.

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