SMC — The Santa Monica College Board of Trustees Friday put the brakes on a controversial program that would have required students to shoulder the entire cost of optional summer courses.
The decision came after a week of protests rocked the Santa Monica campus, at one point stealing the national spotlight when agitators were pepper sprayed by campus police as they tried to shove their way into a meeting on the topic.
The results of the board’s decisions will be felt within months.
Fifty classes that would have been offered during the summer under the proposed program at approximately $180 per unit — the true cost of the class — rather than the $46 per unit regular cost will be canceled outright, and the concept itself will be kicked back down to the students, faculty and classified employees for further review.
Officials hope that the additional time will help the divided campus community come to a consensus, said SMC President Chui Tsang.
“I feel we need to pause and take a broader look at the merits and impacts of self-supported classes,” Tsang said.
Trustees largely agreed, seeming torn between a desire to put a Band-Aid on the gaping wound left by budget cuts at the state level and concerns that they were undermining efforts to fund and fix the public education system.
Trustee Rob Rader said that the program was originally envisioned as “progressive jiu jitsu,” asking wealthier students to pay extra for classes and help subsidize those that couldn’t afford the higher prices.
Although she supports the overall goal, Trustee Louise Jaffe called the plan an “enormous distraction” that might detract from statewide efforts to pass a tax measure on the November ballot.
“Any decision we make will have repercussions and consequences,” Jaffe said.
Only one board member came out forcefully against the concept of pay-classes.
Chair Margaret Quiñones-Perez sided with the most vocal students, saying she’d never had any confusion about where her “lines in the sand” were.
Creating a second tier of classes at the community college level was like slamming a door in the face of minority and low-income students, she said, a fact which concerned her all the more now that she has two grandchildren.
“I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the door slam on them,” she said.
The “Advance Your Dreams” program, as it’s termed by college officials, would have opened up additional classes in required subjects like mathematics and political science to students willing to pay the full cost of the class, approximately $180 per unit.
That’s approximately four times the price for a regular community college class, which is heavily subsidized by the state and taxpayers.
Proponents pointed to the large number of students displaced from classes that they need during the regular school year because of vicious cuts totaling $805 million in the last three years alone to higher education in California.
Students are staying in community college many years longer than they would have previously because of the lack of access, a situation which can actually drain other forms of aid from the system.
Opponents of the measure claimed that it would partially privatize public education and set a dangerous message to state officials that they need not put effort into funding education because the students could be made to pay for it themselves.
There are also larger concerns about the legality of such a plan.
Community College Chancellor Jack Scott referred the matter to the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris, and expects an analysis back shortly.
Most everybody involved recognized that the plan had been pushed forward too quickly for the comfort of many students and even some teachers who wanted to see the concept fully vetted through the college’s shared governance process.
Tsang and the trustees ruffled feathers by skipping over the District Policy and Advisory Committee, a group composed of students and professors which then gives an opinion to board members and the president.
DPAC, as it’s called, didn’t see the two-tiered funding program until March 14, eight days after the trustees initially asked staff to flesh out the idea.
The Student Organizing Committee, a group of very vocal students opposed to the plan, doesn’t believe that DPAC’s involvement is enough.
For the last week they’ve been calling for a college-wide referendum on the subject, a simple up down vote on the issue.
Tsang also took the opportunity Friday to appoint a five-member panel chaired by Campus Counsel Robert Myers to look into charges of police brutality that surfaced after a campus officer used pepper spray on a crowd of unruly students and others who protested the program at a Board of Trustees meeting earlier in the week.
The group includes professor Eve Adler, Trustee Nancy Greenstein, Dean Patricia Ramos, and Student Trustee Joshua Scuteri. It will be tasked with making recommendations on policies, practices and protocols that campus police should follow in the future.
At the same time, the campus police will conduct an internal investigation.