Reclaim the People's University
by Tina Phillips
December 3, 2010Previously published in The Pioneer
Did you know the CSU System was once known as the “people’s university?” In California since 1960 the Master Plan for Higher Education promised every California student an initially free and later affordable education at a CSU, UC, or community college.
Thus the Master Plan envisioned higher education as a public good. In 2004 this started to drastically change as Charles Reed, the Chancellor of the CSU, signed the Higher Education Compact Agreement between Governor Schwarzenegger and the California State University 2005-06 through 2010-11. This was a systematic shift in the way college education is viewed in California. We were told that this was just temporary due to a bad economy and a state budget crisis. However, this was really the beginning of university education be redefined as a private good.
The idea was that private sources of funding would replace public money so that the state of California would no longer have to provide tax payer money to support colleges. Maybe that is a realistic goal for a Harvard or a Stanford, schools that can afford to pay for their students to go to college for free just based off of private donors alone. Unfortunately, for the CSU what little private money has been donated to us, just was not enough to cover our costs. What was the result?
Tuition shot up dramatically, class sections were eliminated, faculty and staff were furloughed or laid off, student services were reduced, and students were even turned away who were qualified to be accepted. In fact, tuition has tripped in the past ten years and for what? We ended up paying more to get less and suffer, while greedy administrators sit pretty.
Another by-product is that our university becomes about money-making and not about learning and bettering our society. Not only has our university become privatized and corporatized, it has been taken over by a business model that charges students exorbitant amounts of money with the promise they will get high paying jobs. However, what if there is no return on our investment? Often times the jobs we think we will get when we graduate do not ever materialize. This is after we or our parents have shelled out many thousands of dollars (or we are wracked with debt for years to come we cannot afford to pay off working at a job that barely covers our bills). In fact, as of August, American student loan debt surpassed credit card debt. In addition, we must ask ourselves at what cost do we accept this new business model that has taken over our university? Whatever happened to education for self-fulfillment and the betterment of our community?
Isn’t education supposed to make us critical thinkers and doers? Education should not be a money-making scheme. Education should be about teaching people how to think, reason, and to understand the world. It should be used as a tool of empowerment to give others agency. It should be used to bring about social justice and prepare students to deal with real world ethical dilemmas. Education should give students a strong sense of responsibility and accountability to others and to their community. A university education is supposed to teach students about giving back to their community, not to compromise our integrity to make a buck. Note to CSUEB: putting a Starbucks inside the library is not conducive to this goal. We must ask ourselves: do we want every aspect of our society to be commercial, profit-driven and motivated, dictating and shaping every aspect of our lives?
The California State University is supposed to be a public entity for the public good. Before our very eyes it is becoming a money-making operation that serves the almighty dollar at any cost. Our university is screwing students out of not just their hard-earned money but out of a quality education. College is becoming something for the rich and privileged when education is a right that should be guaranteed to all. If we do not provide a quality education to prepare future generations of skilled workers and leaders what kind of society will we have?
We need to renew the master plan. Governor-elect Jerry Brown has said he will do this. But I propose we go back to the original plan: free tuition for all. How do we do that?
Tax the rich and corporations, decriminalize drugs and end the drug war so non-violent drug offenders will not overcrowd prisons, and cut the military budget by 50%. Reprioritize state and federal budgets so we can shift from our university system from being profit-oriented to people-oriented again. The government should completely subsidize a college education for all. Then the state of California can get back to providing a quality education for the promotion of the public good of all society. The reason the CSU was called the “people’s university” is because it was supposed to be accessible to all. Let’s ensure our future by returning our university to public space once again.