A New Direction for CSUF Activism

Photo Credit: Anthony DesanglesA group of Cal State Fullerton students defied the rules of their commuter classmates by spending three nights camped out on campus.

On April 18, CSUF President Milton A. Gordon met with students and presented with a Declaration to Defend Education. According to student newspaper The Daily Titan, Gordon refused to sign the statement due to concerns of the wording of the document.

In a bold move, students reacted by holding sit-in inside of Langsdorf Hall vowing to not leave until the document was signed. At one point, the number of students at the sit-in grew to over a hundred. The action made local and state news which put the media spotlight on the only California State University in Orange County.

After three nights of the sit-in along with meetings with university adminstrators, an agreement was reached and a joint statement was signed by President Gordon and students.

In past few years, students have organized actions on campuses relating to frustration over budget cuts. Since 2009, actions have included sit-ins, camp outs during furlough days where there was no class or instruction and rallies educating students about budget issues.

Chirag Bhakta, a graduate student in the Teaching Credential Program at CSUF, said the signing of the Declaration is a step in a new direction for activism on the Cal State Fullerton campus.

In the past couple of years, actions on campus had their place, he said, but there was an alienating aspect to the protests.

“We want to work with the administration and not against them,” he said. “We want to engage and inform students first, then they will be empowered to take action.”

Photo Credit: Anthony Desangles

Bhakta said the demonstrators received immense support from other students and passersby as well as students on other CSU campuses. He said by the end of the sit-in, administrators seemed proud of the students.

“There has been a great disconnect between the administration and students as well as faculty,” Bhakta said. “The sit-in and declaration’s aim was to help bridge that disconnect.”

As Cal State Fullerton is a commuter campus with most students working at least part time if not full time, Bhakta said it is vital for students to be vocal about their concerns as public university students.

“We are not fighting for those struggling,” he said. “We are the ones struggling. We work and go to school, pay for our tuition and take care of our families.”

According to the Orange County Register, there have been seven instances where fees have been increased since 2007. Students who started in fall 2007 and graduate in spring 2011 will have seen their bill increase 76 percent during their time at the university, according to the Register.

David Inga, a history major who is about to graduate, recently traveled on behalf of students to the Sacramento to lobby for bills relating to public education.

“There has been mishandling and mismanagement of the budget in the Cal State system,” he said. “We are approaching this by not only by voicing our concerns but also taking action in the State Capitol.”

Inga said the group of demonstrators hope to reach out to the students that may have lost hope in activism on campus.

Photo Credit: Anthony Desangles

According to the group’s website, WE! was formed in March 2010 by a group of concerned (and deeply frustrated) students and faculty members at California State University, Fullerton. The group stated its members are troubled by the current economic crisis and concerned about the impact that this is having on the university, and on the value and meaning of public education in California, and throughout the country.

Jamie Wharton, a CSUF Public and Oral History graduate student, said the signing of the Declaration by President Gordon is a symbolic gesture that is like a good faith agreement that shows he is on board with students and ready to stand up for them.

She said Gordon represents the university to the community and has access to channels of communication that the students do not have.

“It’s the most interaction I’ve seen between students and the university president about these issues,” Wharton said. “We’re hoping what we did showed him that we are a very active and vocal group and we will take our demands to who we need to take them to.”

Although overall the sit-in participants were satisfied with reaching an agreement with President Gordon, she said, some felt the revisions were problematic. Among them was an insistence that the wording be taken out about education and profit interests.

According to the original declaration post on the group’s blog, one part that was omitted was the statement that “public education is a public good and needs to be protected from the for profit interests of the private sector.”

“Public education is in danger of being privatized all across the board,” she said. “We are very concerned about the potential consequences of our school becoming a for-profit university.”

According to Wharton, the group knew what the final offer was and they were presented with tough choices. In the end, she said, they decided it was best to agree to the revision so they could have something to work with as they continue their fight for higher education.

“Our experience can be a real teaching tool for other universities to pressure their administration for support,” she said. “We are not angry students trying to get a free education. We’ve already paid our tuition and fees. We are fighting for the future of education in California.”

The Joint Statement signed by students and CSUF President Milton Gordon can be viewed here

Also posted on LA Activist

Amber Stephens