SMC — May Day came to the Main Stage of Santa Monica College Tuesday evening as labor leaders, teacher representatives and students continued their protest against a proposal for self-funded summer classes that the Board of Trustees and administration refuse to take off the table.

Students — many tired, disheveled and a little smelly from a night spent huddled on campus in protest next to grass fertilized with manure — marched through the campus joined by hotel workers union Unite Here! Local 11 to tell board members exactly how they felt about paying more for certain classes at the community college.

Which is to say, not great.

“How can they say that the future is education, but they don’t want us to have it?” said Monica Marquez, a psychology student in her second year at SMC wearing a bright red Unite Here! shirt.

She stood next to her father, similarly dressed.

The proposal, which would have students bear the full cost of some classes that were no longer funded by the state because of budget cuts, has been the source of protest and anger amongst some vocal members of the student body since protests began in earnest in April.

Students say that the program would create a two-tier system, where wealthier students get access to classes that poor students cannot afford, effectively privatizing a public education.

College officials, including all members of the Board of Trustees except Chair Margaret Quiñones-Perez, maintain that charging more for classes in the winter and summer is the best possible solution in a worst-case situation where class offerings are being cut because of a lack of funding.

In 2012, it would have opened up 50 more sections in a summer where six of 15 community colleges in the area have had to shut their doors altogether, SMC officials said.

Quiñones–Perez enthusiastically supported the protesters’ position, calling her fellow board members stubborn in their adherence to the self-funded classes.

“Why am I so stubborn?” asked Trustee Louise Jaffe. “The reason I am so stubborn is that I have had such a hard time of wrapping my head around doing nothing because I believe you need an education. I don’t think it’s optional.”

Forcing students out of SMC classes pushes them into the arms of private, for-profit universities which charge considerably more, sucking up federal money in the form of Pell grants that could just as easily be going to public schools, she said.

“I don’t understand how in good conscience we can leave a pile of $700 million on the table and not try to access it to serve our students in our colleges and keep our employees working,” Jaffe said.

This is where working class families can afford to get their children educated, and it shouldn’t be taken from them, said Francis Engler, director of organizing at the union.

“We already live in a two-tier system,” Engler said. “You’re right, you may not be able to fix the two-tier world, but what you can’t do is put a stamp of approval on it by creating two-tier tuition that shows you have bought into that.”

At the meeting, students handed out flyers detailing five demands for the college administration.

They wanted a full rejection of the self-funded classes, restoration of the winter and summer session, scholarships for undocumented students, a direct vote on decisions like the self-funded classes and an independent investigation of an incident that left 30 students and protesters suffering the effects of pepper spray after the April 3 Board of Trustees meeting.

To show their resolve, protesters spent the night wrapped in blankets huddled on concrete. The original plan, to camp with tents on the grass, was foiled when police removed pitched tents and students found the ground covered with manure and the sprinklers on.

“Manure us, sprinkle us but please fund us as well,” students wrote on a raised planter area in chalk.

Campus officials say that the presence of the manure on the night of the camp-in was a coincidence. They also said that camping is illegal under Santa Monica’s Municipal Code.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.