By Aileen Lawrence
On Sept. 12, students, faculty and staff alike came together to protest a 6% increase in tuition at the CSU Office of the Chancellor in Long Beach. These booming voices made headlines across America; The CSU Board of Trustees voted YES to increase tuition. Our assistant editing manager, Aileen Lawrence, was there. This was her experience.
On Sept. 13, the CSU Board of Trustees voted to increase tuition by 6% meaning students will face an almost $2,000 dollar increase before the end of the decade. The CSU official site states that the reason for this hike is, “Simply put, the CSU requires additional resources to continue to provide its students with an accessible, high-quality education that prepares its graduates for success in California’s fast-evolving workforce.” Personally, I believe that is a bad excuse that says a whole lot of nothing.
On Sept. 12, a protest was held at the CSU Chancellor’s office in Long Beach. Hundreds gathered outside to show their disdain for the hike. I headed to Long Beach to cover the demonstration. I heard repeatedly from the crowd how many of the Board of Trustees had little to no background in education or the education system. If they did, it was early childhood education. After doing a deep dive into the background of the Trustees I found that five of the 25 board members had some sort of background in education.
Most of the Board of Trustees were not former faculty or staff; they were business owners and entrepreneurs with little to no background in education. Active Chair of the Board, Wenda Fong has a career history solely in entertainment. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Asian American Studies from the University of Southern California before heading into the entertainment business. She worked at FOX News for 13 years before she supervised more reality TV competition network shows.
On top of the lack of educators, a good chunk of board members never attended a CSU institution; most attended private schools or University of California campuses. For example, Trustee Fong’s fellow member of the board, Douglas Faigin has a vast history in national media networking. He was the president of City News Service, Inc., since 1985. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from Claremont Graduate University; a private university, his Master of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University, also a private university, and his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from UCLA, not a CSU.
Suddenly a powerful boom of yelling emitted from the crowd. The Board of Trustees did not let anyone else speak during public comment. Apparently, the meeting room had run out of space. Amid being told this, I, among anyone else with their airdrop on, was sent photos of empty rows of seats in the meeting room along with the news that one of the Trustees had left the meeting. The timing of the airdrop was poetic. The amount of chisme you can find at a demonstration is impressive.
ASI Student Government president, Daisy Navarrete, fifth year health science major, was one of the first to speak in support of the students. “[The multiyear tuition proposal] is insensitive to student’s financial challenges. The CSU system is meant to be affordable and offer social mobility. It’s supposed to be a system that allows students of all backgrounds to succeed and access quality higher education,” Before Daisy Navarrete could finish, her time ran out and the buzzer rang. Unfortunately, she was not the only one to be cut for time, though she was one of the few lucky registered speakers to make a comment.
Hundreds of students outside had signed up to speak in front of the Board of Trustees. Most never did. I personally saw no students or registered speakers let into the building. In fact, at this point, security did not even allow us to go in to use the restroom. The crowd was frustrated, rightfully so, and came together to begin chanting “Let us in! Let us in!” repeatedly. It was this moment that sent goosebumps to pop up all over my arms. All around everyone stood side by side. Regardless of position, regardless of age, regardless of background everyone stood outside in support of each other.
Students, faculty and staff had begun speaking to the rest of us. They knew they most likely would not be let in, but they would be heard regardless. A microphone was passed to anyone who wanted to say something to the Board of Trustees. While this was happening a small group of students and members of Students for Quality Education were finally let in to speak to the board. The outside of the building was surrounded by a movement of solidarity between students, faculty and staff while the inside was being rocked by the powerful testimonies being sung from students to the Board of Trustees.
While the group of student speakers walked out, the crowd surrounded them, cheering the students on while an air of empowerment, accomplishment and readiness radiated off them. The energy was contagious, and we all knew we had just witnessed it and become a part of history. Though the next day the CSU decided to remain, “committed to making its high-quality education accessible and affordable,” by enacting a $2,000 plus increase in tuition for over 500,000 individual students.
Though I was saddened and worrying about how I would deal with this hike as a student myself, I was not shocked at this outcome. In 2017, the Board of Trustees tried to increase tuition. They did vote yes but students quickly mobilized and went to Sacramento to advocate for themselves at the capitol. They pushed then Governor Jerry Brown to put a five-year freeze on tuition, which he did.
Though not involved in the official Board of Trustees vote, Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis expressed her full support for the students by not only attending the protest by putting out an official statement saying, “Today I voted against a 5-year, 33% tuition increase for our CSU students. Simply put, raising tuition and further increasing the total cost of attendance puts even more pressure on the backs of hard-working students and families…I am disappointed in today’s vote, but I will continue to advocate for our students of today and those we will serve in the future.”