Volume 46, Number 4
Declaration signed after three-day sit-in
By Bill Guy
We, the students, staff and educators of California’s public schools, colleges, and universities, call upon the people of the state to recommit to and reinvest in public education as the principal foundation of a democratic society.”
Thus begins a Declaration to Defend Public Education developed by students at California State University, Fullerton, and signed by the college president this spring
Students around the state have been protesting dwindling resources for higher education, but none more than the CSUF students who staged a three-and-a-half-day sit-in at the president’s office in order to “persuade” him to sign the Declaration.
The push that led to the sit-in began about a year and a half ago, when a loosely knit group of CSUF students, faculty and campus organizations involved in social justice issues coalesced into a group named “We! Alternative Voices for an Alternative Future” or “We!” for short.
Among the group were John Belleci, Gabriella Longbotham and Kristina Hohmann, all members of Student CTA, (SCTA), an affiliate of the California Teachers Association that provides professional development, leadership and community outreach opportunities for college students pursuing careers in education. Belleci, a CSUF undergraduate student in history, was recently elected SCTA state executive secretary-treasurer, while Hohmann was elected SCTA state executive vice president.
“We have been increasingly frustrated and anxious about having to pay more and more for tuition, while losing class time due to furlough days — paying more and getting less,” says Belleci. “And we’re not just concerned about current students. What’s going to happen to future generations of California college students?”
Then, at one of the We! organization’s regular Wednesday night workshop sessions on social justice and current issues this spring, the group’s organizing committee in conjunction with representatives from CSU Long Beach, CSU Los Angeles, Compton College, Fullerton College and Mt. San Antonio College, hammered out the “Declaration to Defend Public Education,” a statement affirming the right of all Californians to a quality public education, preschool through graduate school.
We! members circulated their declaration at the April 13 “Take Class Action” rally organized by the California Faculty Association (CFA) and held on California’s college and university campuses statewide. By the end of the day, with over 1,200 signatures of endorsement, the students and faculty marched as a group to the office of CSUF President Milton Gordon, and asked him to sign the document in solidarity.
After the president declined to sign the declaration the students began mobilizing for a sit-in that started that night with 40 students and a few faculty participating.
The sit-in grew over the next two days to include more than 100 with students coming from a dozen area colleges. It wasn’t until after a meeting with Pasadena Assembly member Anthony Portentino (D-Pasadena) and a vote by the CSUF Academic Senate to support the students, that an agreement was reached and the president signed the declaration.
Having achieved their goal, the We! students at CSU Fullerton hope to escalate their activity on other campuses in the CSU and UC system.
Says Belleci, “We’re all gearing up for a statewide simultaneous action next fall. We’re hoping this will become a priority for every student.” For the full text of the declaration go to www.werisetogether.org.