By Ron Norton Reel, CCA President
Higher education is worth fighting for
It’s funny how our experiences starting out in life contribute so much to the adult we are to become – even when we try to escape them.
I grew up poor, the son of farmworkers, a Cherokee Indian mother and an Irish father. I traveled with my parents and my 10 siblings up and down the great state of California to harvest the crops. There were times when I thought, “Someday, when I grow up, I’m going to stay in one place forever.”
Well, here I am, all grown up, and I’m still traveling up and down California, only this time it’s to visit faculty on our community college campuses. I laugh to myself when I think that those days as an itinerate laborer prepared me so well for the office of CCA president.
Value of education
Those “formative years” following the crops taught me a great deal about other aspects of life too, including the value of public education. All through my life, I had teachers who would tell me, “There’s more to life than working in the fields.”
That stuck with me, and motivated me to finish school and continue my education at Bakersfield and San Joaquin Delta Colleges. Wouldn’t you know it? I became a professor in a community college. That’s when I started to tell my students, “You can do whatever you want to do.”
Motivating my students that way taught them a lesson in self-respect, but it was a lesson for me as well. I realized that in order to increase the opportunities for my students, we had to improve working conditions for faculty as well. We had to stand up for ourselves! That’s when I joined my faculty association and began working on a “Got Respect?” campaign that led to the election of four faculty-supported trustees.
What I’ve really learned is the importance of our union in advocating for our faculty, teachers and students. Our unions, CCA and CTA, are involved in all struggles that affect us and our students.
Eroding the Master Plan
Right now, for example, the Student Success Task Force reform package, which could erode the mission of the California Community College system, is making its way through the Legislature. In order to increase the number of full-time students and those transferring to four-year colleges, many of our most vulnerable, those students of color, and those who are our most poor may be left out in the cold. You can be sure that CCA/CTA is working with the Legislature to make sure this won’t happen. We cannot forsake the Masterplan for Higher Education that seeks to make sure that all those who want to can gain access to a public community or state college, or university in California.
The problem with the Student Success Task Force is it attempts to ration education because there is a lack of funding going into education. We don’t need rationing, we need resources!
That’s why CCA and CTA have both voted to support the governor’s tax initiative, known as the Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act of 2012. That plan raises about $7 billion annually for education and other essential services by raising income taxes on the wealthy and instituting a temporary half-cent sales tax hike.
The governor’s initiative is the only initiative that provides additional revenues for schools and colleges and begins to close the state budget deficit. In supporting the governor’s plan, CTA joins a broad coalition of labor, education and business groups that have gotten behind the proposal.
But our ability to fight bad legislation like the Student Success Task Force recommendations, or to campaign for a funding initiative, to pass a parcel tax, or even to participate in local trustee elections, will be drastically curtailed if the “Corporate Power Grab Initiative” is approved by the voters of California in November. This initiative effectively takes the union voice out of state politics, and these days, the union voice is the only voice representing the middle class. The Corporate Power Grab Initiative is reason enough to demonstrate the importance of our involvement in political activity.
Growing up poor, as I did, taught me to be grateful I lived in a country and in a state where I could rise above my circumstances. But it also taught me that nothing comes easy. The promise of the Masterplan for Higher Education, of adequate funding for public education, of our right as a union to be politically involved – these are all things worth fighting for.
I know you will stand up and fight in the months to come.