Governor proposes major CSU cuts, tuition increases

Cynthia Gomez

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As the state of California faces a $14 billion budget deficit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a $312.9 million budget cut to the California State University system in the 2008-09 fiscal year.

This comes after the CSU system faced a budget crisis a few years ago of a half billion dollars in cuts, which CSU campuses were not able to recover, the California Faculty Association indicates. The governor’s initial budget cut proposal is being discussed by lawmakers in various committees, such as the Higher Education sub-committee of the California Assembly and state Senate.

On Jan.10, Schwarzenegger announced his proposal, which includes 10 percent reductions for all General Fund departments and programs, including education, and a 10 percent student fee increase, which will be the sixth student fee increase in the last seven years, the CFA indicates.

The proposed budget cut also includes course reductions, limited enrollment, increased class size, increased faculty and staff workloads, reducing faculty and staff, and longer times to graduation. The CSU administration indicates that a budget cut proposal this significant would harm more than 400,000 students while turning away and eliminating access to 10,000 eligible incoming students.

“The process is going and it’s not looking good for CSU so far,” said Brian Ferguson, CFA communications specialist. “It’s very scary right now.”

The CFA indicates that for the CSU to continue to run at the same level as last year, and to avoid another student fee increase, the governor and the state legislature will have to appropriate $386 million more for the CSU than was offered in the governor’s initial proposal.

Alice Sunshine, CFA communications director, said the final process of the budget cut proposal will occur when CSU campuses are not in session, stating that many CSU students and faculty will forget about the budget crisis, losing support and committed action from those who will be most affected as the CFA and CSU are trying to lobby against the governor’s budget cut proposal.

CSU spokesperson Paul Browning called the effects of tzhe budget cut proposal “a major blow” to the CSU system.

The governor said he wants to increase educational opportunities for returning veterans. However, the CFA said that all CSU campuses already teach more veterans seeking bachelor’s degrees than any other institution.

If approved, the budget cut will affect all 23 CSU campuses as early as fall 2008, but it is still unknown in what ways each school will be affected. The governor’s proposed budget cut has some CSUN administration officers and students talking.

“You ask yourselves, why should we be disadvantaging students who were born so that they come to CSUN 2009 to 2010? What’s fair about that?” said Harry Hellenbrand, provost and vice president for academic affairs at CSUN. “Why disadvantage them rather than (students) who came here two years before or two years later?”

Alejandro Zuniga, a biology major, said the governor’s budget cut proposal demonstrates his stance on education.

“Pretty much it shows lack of support from the governor,” Zuniga said.

“I feel bad for the students who are coming in because when I’m graduating soon. I’m like almost thankful for that, but I can understand the pain of those who are coming in because it’s taking me a while to graduate,” Kristina Stott, a biology major said.

“Just because of the amount of pressure of classes and now on top of that, you put expenses on it. It just makes it even harder for students to be encouraged to go to school and finish,” she said.

Criminology major Chad Cheshire disagrees with the governor’s proposed 10 percent student fee increase. “Obviously as a student, I don’t feel tuition increases are right at all,” Cheshire said. “Fundamentally, you are a student because you want to further your own education, thus your career, but also students are additions to society. So it always seemed wrong to me to put higher prices on tuition when initially students can be future leaders or the future educators.”

Jennifer Matos, CSUN faculty president and biology professor, said the proposed 10 percent student fee increase does not surprise her, but said it is unfortunate.

Hellenbrand said first-time freshmen minority and low-income students would be more affected by the budget cut if approved.

“A lot of the growth has been in Hispanic, African-American and Southeast Asian minority students who are the exact students you want to get into the higher education pipeline in California,” Hellenbrand said.

Hellenbrand said other major concerns of the governor’s proposed budget cut are the negotiated CSU faculty contracts.

“The (CSU) system is arguing for money for the faculty contract, but the governor’s budget has no money in it for the faculty contract,” Hellenbrand said. “I think that we need to maintain the funding of the negotiated faculty contract. I think stepping away from that would be an error.”

Tom McCarron, vice president for administration and finance and chief financial officer at CSUN, said the negotiated faculty contracts might reopen if the governor’s budget cut proposal is approved.

“None of us really want that,” McCarron said. “We much rather see this fully-funded and the ability to give those well deserved salary increases.”

In a conference call with CSU student reporters on Jan. 29, CFA President Lillian Taiz said if the governor’s budget cut proposal is approved, it would mean “bad news for higher education” and have “a severe impact on the economy.” She said the CFA has reached out to the CSU administration and faculty in order to find ways to work together.

“We need everybody to commit to take action,” Taiz said. “We need to make sure everyone knows what’s going on.”

CFA Vice President Kim Geron said the governor also plans to eliminate Cal Grants to students calling the governor’s budget cut proposal “a recipe for disaster.”

As lawmakers in various committees of the Assembly and state Senate are currently discussing Schwarzenegger’s budget cut proposal, the CSU Board of Trustees will discuss the proposal in its upcoming meetings. The CFA indicates that California State Student Association President Dina Cervantes has invited CSU students and faculty to participate in her organization’s march in Sacramento against the budget cut crisis on April 21.

The next steps in the budget process include a budget analysis and overview released by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, followed by a series of legislative budget hearings. In May, the governor will submit a revised budget proposal also know as a “May Revise.” If approved by two-thirds of the legislative vote, the governor is expected to approve the budget by July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.

“The CFA and the CSU are trying to lobby for no fee increase, more funds for new students and funding the (CSU faculty) contract,” Hellenbrand said. “But I think it will be hard to get all three of those things.”