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Consolidating College Diversity Departments? CA Austerity Measures Attempt to Silence Those Who Critique Them

Students in California take to the streets to protest against an education run like a business.
 
 
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Shanell Williams speaks at a rally to save the diversity departments at City College of San Francisco.

 

When Edgar Torres attended City College of San Francisco decades ago, he saw, for the first time, a Latino professor standing up in front of the class. Torres thought, “What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be teaching.”

That instructor “planted the seed” in Torres that made him believe he could teach, too.

“Before, it was a foreign concept,” Torres said to a group of students, faculty and community members at a rally on Thursday to protest the consolidation of the departments at the college that teach about diversity. “The diversity departments are critical for student success because it allows certain students who come in who are at-risk, to dream about things they never thought was possible.”

CCSF, the nation’s largest community college, has seen more than $50 million in cuts from the state in the last three years. Now, an accreditation commission has threatened to remove accreditation from the college, citing an insufficient funding base, if it does not come up with a plan to cut spending that meets the commission’s liking. Without accreditation, CCSF would lose federal funding and ultimately be forced to close its doors to its 90,000 students.

In response, the trustees have continued with austerity measures to eliminate more than 50 of CCSF's 61 faculty elected department chairs, while installing new, top-down deans. This would result in the consolidation of the African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Interdisciplinary Studies, Labor and Community Studies, LGBT Studies, Philippine Studies and Women’s Studies departments. This all comes despite Election Day's passage of Proposition A, an annual parcel tax that will raise more than $10 million for CCSF annually.

But they won’t be consolidated without a fight.

Speakers at the rally spoke passionately about how important diversity departments are for growth, college retention and developing socially conscious students.

Juan Santamaria, who cohosted the rally, said that taking classes in Latin American and Latino Studies helped him find his passion, and inspired him to take part in movements like this. He said, “These diversity departments are not only a way for students to get to know where they come from, but they also are a gateway for them to be more politically involved.”

Ironically, with this consolidation of the diversity departments, it seems as though the privatization and austerity measures are seeking to weaken the areas of study that nurture the students who are most likely to question these types of measures.

In an amazing display, students from all over California attended the rally at CCSF as well as another action that took place earlier that morning at the University of California, San Francisco to protest the UC Regents meeting and its plans to possibly raise tuition and fees while imposing austerity measures despite the recent passage of Proposition 30. The propostition raises taxes on the wealthy as well as the sales tax in order to generate more than $6 billion in revenue. In addition, a new report released by sociology graduate students this week revealed that some of the regents have ties to Wall Street and their decision to make debt swap deals has cost the UC system $57 million — with $200 million more anticipated in losses.

UC Irvine student Marah Stevenson traveled eight hours to picket outside the UC Regents meeting with about 50 other students, some of whom camped out overnight on the campus.

“If you want to fight against a system, you need a lot of people,” she said. “So by coming out here and putting up our signs, having one extra person every time makes a difference.”

Stevenson said she’s already seen cuts at her university after only her second year there, noting specifically the elimination of a tutoring program designed to help students across all majors.

About 25 students, faculty and workers were allowed to attend the public comment section of the UC Regents meeting, where they made speeches demanding the regents stop fee hikes, cuts and deals with Wall Street.

Shanell Williams, the Associated Students president of CCSF, who was there in solidarity with the UC students spoke during this period:

I just want to say shame on you. This is not business as usual. These are people’s lives ... So the UC system, the CSU system, K-12, and the community college system, we’re organizing and we’re coming together because we see a trend. We are connecting the dots. This is about holding Wall St. accountable …This is an outrage. All of you around here have your degrees, right? … We want that same opportunity.

Public comment was limited to one minute each, while the regents looked on with expressionless faces and interrupted with “Time! Time!” when the minute was up.

“Seeing that board just reaffirmed for me how much that the 1 percent doesn’t give a fuck,” Williams said later that day. “They don’t give a fuck about us, about our communities, about our struggles because they’re getting paid.”

When public comment ended, about 10 students stood up chanting in order to disrupt “business as usual,” and were eventually escorted out.

You can watch here:

Throughout Thursday, protesters at both actions made sure to express that what is happening in San Francisco is just a microcosm for austerity and privatization happenings throughout the world as money from corporations continues to pour into politics. Williams mentioned ALEC, Campaign for College Opportunity and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as examples of private foundations heavily lobbying Sacramento to transform education because they have investments in private institutions. Williams said this system is going to push hard to enforce privatization and cuts.

“If they can do it here, in San Francisco, one of the most liberal progressive cities in the world, they can do it anywhere,” she said.

As higher education continues to teeter on the edge of being simply another business or a place where people can learn to question themselves and the world around them, students across the world are struggling to resist the corporatization of education.

Tarik Farrar, chair of the African American Studies department at CCSF told students:

We’re not a relatively small rally in San Francisco. All over the world, today, there are people fighting against what we’re fighting against. … The attack on the diversity departments is the first step, and it’s part of an assault on you and education. Because when they tell us they’re bringing in a business model, what that means is that you are dollar signs. … That’s what they’re telling us to do with you is generate revenue. … That’s the business model. You cut back salaries, you cut back benefits, you turn out cheap products, you make people pay more, and then you raise your salary, you give yourself a bonus. This is not moral. Make them have a moral argument with you … and you’ll win.

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet.