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Students Protest at Santa Monica College

Misinformation over proposed fee increases leads to a student protest and pepper spray at SMC.

By Kevin Jersey | Staff Writer
On April 20, 2012


A student protest at Santa Monica College recently made national news when 30 students were pepper sprayed during a confrontation with police outside a meeting of the school's board of trustees. But college administrators and some students claim the protest was based on false information.

The heart of the protest was the school's proposed "Advance Your Dreams" program, which would have provided additional classes during the summer and winter sessions in an attempt to offset the decrease in class offerings caused by statewide budget cuts. Because fewer classes are available, many students are not able to enroll in the classes they need.

These additional classes, however, would have come with a catch. Since state funding would not cover the cost of the classes, it would be provided through a nonprofit corporation set up by the school- leading to the program being also known as "Corporate Education." This would result in higher fees for students. While fees for the 700 regularly scheduled summer classes would remain at the regular rate of $46 per unit, the additional 50 classes created by the proposed program would cost $180 per unit. The protest came in response to rumors that the increased fees would apply to all classes.

Valley College faces similar financial issues, but has no plans to implement a tiered tuition system.

"At this point, it's not going to be a topic of discussion for us," said Valley President Sue Carleo. "We're just going to continue to do the best we can with what we've got."

The Corsair, Santa Monica's student newspaper, reports that President Dr. Chui Tsang said the program intended to give students the option to take additional classes so they can transfer to four-year universities, as well as minimize any delays in education due to state budget cuts.

Despite the cuts, Carleo doesn't foresee similar protests at Valley. "I think the students are very astute today," she said. "They understand what's going on in Sacramento."

Josh Miller, the president of Valley's Academic Senate, sees the benefits of a tiered tuition program but does not support it.

"While it does allow certain students to get out quicker, it creates an advantage for those [who] have more money," said Miller. "And this defeats the idea of a community college, which is to provide inexpensive access to an education."

Students involved in the protest at Santa Monica echoed Miller's thoughts. Protesters were heard chanting, "No cuts. No fees. Education should be free." But, some students thought the protests were misguided.

"I think ['Corporate Education'] is a step in the wrong direction, definitely," said David Cooper, a psychology student at Santa Monica and one of the few dissenting voices among the protesters. "But, I also think to protest the school  is counterproductive." Cooper suggested the budgetary problems were caused by the state government in Sacramento and not the school's administration.

Although the protest was partly based on misinformation, it was successful in getting the proposal voted down. Santa Monica still offers its regularly scheduled summer classes, but not the additional classes with increased fees. This is in contrast to Valley, which has been forced to cancel most of its planned summer session.

"We have a couple special things that go on in the summer that are year-round programs," said Carleo. "So those will be going on, but not the usual summer offering that students would be expecting."

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