Assemblyman Bill Monning (D-Carmel) spoke and initiated an open discussion in the UC Santa Cruz Namaste Lounge last Thursday. Monning addressed how the state, the UC and students are all affected by the state budget crisis.
“I hope we can use this afternoon not just as a Q&A, but as a brainstorming session on how we might best continue to mobilize and work with students and the community, and not just in Santa Cruz, but in the state of California,” Monning said to the group at the beginning of the discussion.
Students, faculty, community members and executive vice chancellor Alison Galloway engaged in a lengthy discussion after the Q&A session.
Although she felt Monning answered some questions indirectly, “like a politician,” Tiffany Loftin, chair of the Student Union Assembly (SUA), said the meeting was informative and a beneficial venue for addressing budgetary concerns. Loftin also serves as the national people of color student coalition chair of the United States Student Association.
“All the questions we wanted to ask we got to ask, and it increases shared governance when assembly members come to us,” Loftin said. “When we come to them we have 15 minutes, when he comes to us we have two hours.”
Questions from the audience ranged from the possible but unlikely advantage of Democrats voting for an all-cuts budget to the social and economic benefits of criminal sentence reform.
The topic most frequently brought up was a need to secure the four assembly votes that would make an overall two-thirds vote, and the governor’s signature, which would pass the proposed budget.
The extent of the state budget’s implementation of cuts to higher education hinges on the passing of tax extensions at the state level. Without the tax extensions in the proposed budget, the UC system faces an all-cuts budget that could lead to a $1 billion cut instead of the proposed $500 million.
Monning chided the actions of Republicans who will not vote to pass the budget nor present a budget of their own.
“The main problem is not the legislation or the regents,” said Jeremy Wolff, immediate past president of the College Democrats at UCSC. “It’s the system itself, and as long as the officials we elect face roadblocks like the two-thirds vote, we will continue seeing the degradation of the UC system.”
President of the SUA Amanda Buchanan played an integral role in organizing the talk. Buchanan prefaced Monning’s talk with a speech.
“Students in this room are here to work,” she said to the group. “We are here to collaborate with faculty, staff, unions, community members and administration to produce an outcome that meets the educational, social and cultural goals of the UC. Give us something to fight for. Give us the issue that makes our power come to life.”
Buchanan said students have already begun to feel the cuts in larger class sizes, longer wait lists, and discontinued majors, and the impacts will only go deeper. Wolff addressed this trend, saying that long-term lack of revenue could take the form of lowered student admission, increased fees, cut classes, online classes and a physical deterioration of the campus that will become apparent in about five years.
“As long as we continue to lose funding because the system doesn’t allow [us] to get new revenue sources we will see the UC system get weaker and more privatized, and less accessible to the majority of California,” Wolff said.
Monning spoke of the importance of student activists teaming up with community members and more disenfranchised populations to get the proposed budget, which includes the $500 million cut rather than an all-cut budget, passed.
“I think our secret weapon is the activism on the campuses, from community colleges to California State Universities to UC all around the state,” Monning said.
Loftin said that Monning’s presence at UCSC was empowering to student activists who often feel unheard by elected officials.
“He came to us and said ‘I see what you’re doing and it’s important,’” Loftin said. “I feel like there were a lot of students there and I felt very empowered by that, because it’s not every day that an assembly member comes to UCSC.”
Though Loftin observed a large student presence, she said there was a lack of students of color in attendance.
Students present at the talk voiced their desire for action. College Nine SUA representative Sasha Muce said it is time to demand that elected officials “step up.”
April 11–15 is a week of action for Higher Education, which some UCSC student organizations will be observing. A rally will be held on April 14 in front of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Los Angeles office. UCSC’s SUA will be organizing buses to transport students who wish to attend.