Faculty, lawmakers shed light on impacts of disinvestment on the CSU during Capitol forum

Faculty, lawmakers and higher education experts discussed the critical need for the state to fully invest in the California State University system during a packed forum at the State Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 23.

The forum was hosted by CFA and drew dozens of Capitol staffers, students and others, who listened intently as panelists discussed trends in spending on the CSU and how it has declined as the student population grew more diverse over the past 30 years. The forum was inspired by findings from CFA’s report “Equity, Interrupted: How California is Cheating Its Future.”

“We have to think about what it means when we’re divesting from a system that propels individuals forward,” said Dr. Melina Abdullah, a Cal State LA professor and forum panelist. “We’re here to urge you to become advocates and visionaries.”

Assemblymember Phil Ting, Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, said the state needs funding to be able to invest in the CSU, and taxpayers are likely willing to make that commitment.

“I fully believe that if we engage Californians and if we tell them what’s important and what the taxes will actually pay for, I believe they will step up for the plate,” Ting said. “They care about the future and their kids and their grandkids. Free accessible higher education isn’t just a thing of the past, it’s something for the future.”

Assemblymember Jose Medina, Chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, agreed that more investment in the CSU is needed, and soon.

“Unless we are investing in this system, we’re letting down our state,” Medina said.

Robert Shireman, Senior Fellow at the Century Foundation, said that when cuts happen in higher education, the efficiency gained by those cuts have negative impacts on everyone.

“When we have more students in a class and have faculty teaching more classes and more students, what we don’t see—but what exists—are the declines in quality that result,” Shireman said “It’s not in the institution’s best interest to say ‘we don’t have the quality we used to have.’ But that’s what happens when we spend less on higher education.”

Alma Hernández, Executive Director of SEIU California, relayed concerns many SEIU-represented workers have regarding higher education.

“It used to be that you got an education, you got a good job and you were solidly in the middle class. We’re not seeing that anymore,” Hernández said. “One of the reasons is college affordability. There are real fears. One is how they are going to fund their kid’s college education and once they’re there, will they get a good education so they can achieve American dream?”

Dr. Margarita Berta-Ávila, Vice President of the CFA Capitol Chapter, said she finds most disturbing the lack of investment versus that of three decades ago, when students were primarily white.

“We have moved away from servicing the public. We’ve moved toward a pay-to-play system and increased the number of hurdles… We cannot let it stand. Chicano-Latino students and all of today’s students deserve the same educational resources and support we gave students of the past,” said Berta-Ávila, a Professor of Education at Sacramento State. “If decisions are made to not do so, it says to me the following: these student experiences I have described is human collateral embedded in institutionalized racism masking itself in the myth of meritocracy.”

Improving the CSU and supporting its students will be key focal points moving forward, said CFA President Jennifer Eagan.

“This is just the beginning of the conversation about how to restore affordable, accessible, quality higher education,” she said.

Click here to view a photo gallery from the forum.