What Will We Lose? Budget Cuts and Higher Education: Speech Presented at SF City Hall, October 15, 2009

What Will We Lose? Budget Cuts and Higher Education
I was invited here to represent SFSU’s Academic Senate, but I am just a teacher, a member of the Department of Asian American Studies in the College of Ethnic Studies, and I just want to be in the classroom. But to save the classroom, I have to leave it and join all of you here where we can be seen and heard.In 1960, the Master Plan for Higher Education promised every Californian that was eligible an opportunity to go to college. The Master Plan was built on the principles of access, affordability, and quality.Because of this Master Plan, in the early 1970s, a single mother, an immigrant from Hong Kong with no family support network, could work her way through SF State as a cocktail waitress, sometimes bringing her daughter with her to campus. That woman was my mother and that daughter was me—and because of the affordability of the education my mother received, she was able to establish herself in America, and she was able to educate her children. Would she be able to do that today?

Between 1998 and 2007, CSU Student Fees were increased by 81%.

In 2008, CSU Student Fees were increased by 10% and by another 32% in 2009.

If my mother were trying to afford a CSU education today, what choices would she have to make? If she took a day job and a night job who would raise her daughter? Would she be able to go to school? Would her daughter get a college education? Would her daughter become a college professor?

What will we lose if we lose the California State University System?

We will lose access to higher education for women like my mother. We will lose access for those who are the first in their families to go to college.  We will thus lose the diversity of our California’s workforce.

California ranks last in proportion of African American and Latino students earning undergraduate degrees. The “great” state of California can do better than “last.”

Long before it was San Francisco State University, SFSU was San Francisco Teacher’s College, and we still produce a significant proportion of the teachers in the San Francisco Unified School District. If we refuse to fund higher education, we are also bankrupting the future of K-12 education.

The CSU produces teachers, we produce social workers, we produce medical technicians, we produce nurses—are you willing to “furlough” their education? Are you willing to tell them that their education does not serve the public good?

California is the 49th Ranked State in Per Student Funding of Public Higher Education. How can this be when our state is one of the largest economies in the world?

Graduates of the CSU Repay the State’s Investment in Just 10 Years–Every Dollar Spent to support higher education Yields Three Dollars in Return. Why would we refuse to make that kind of investment?

Currently, Only 18 out of every 100 High School Freshmen get Bachelor Degrees. Is that acceptable? Would it be acceptable if only 10% of high school freshmen went on to receive Bachelor degrees? What would this say about our state?

College graduates are six times less likely to live in poverty. Are we willing to tell the people of our state that they should live in poverty because we won’t take a stand to support higher education?

While the CSU serves the needs of students, and of employers, we have also produced a great intellectual shift in the paradigms of academia. It is no accident that it was poor working class students of color who, through the Third World Liberation Front Strike of 1968, created what is still the only College of Ethnic Studies at any university anywhere, at San Francisco State. But the ideas of the Strike did not stay only here—they have spread throughout higher education in the nation, and even internationally. Almost every university in the country has some kind of program or department of Ethnic Studies. People come here from Germany and France to learn from us what it means to have a diverse and multicultural society. Ethnic Studies has taught the world that people of color are producers of knowledge that we need, as a world, to survive. What other intellectual innovations will we lose if we refuse to stand up now to support higher education?

What you don’t see is that the system is about to crack apart, that what we now see in a 10% so-called “furlough”—which is really a pay cut with no reduction in work load, is likely to be extended into the next academic year. If it is not extended, then we will have to cut people. But we have already lost most of our lecturers. What more can we lose? We will have to cut programs, departments, perhaps even colleges. In other words, we are looking at cutting off our limbs to save our body. But at what point will we cease to be a university if we continue to dismember ourselves?

All you have to do if you want your children and grandchildren to have no chance at higher education is nothing. Do nothing, and the system will be torn apart by those who wish to reserve higher education for the wealthy. It is time for the people of California to stand up and speak out for education! Or do nothing, and watch the eyes of your children as their dreams of a future die.

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