In my 29 years with California State University, I have never seen the type of unity and determination that has swept the Sacramento State campus, and indeed the entire CSU system, since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s January proposal to cut $386 million from our budget next year.
In most times, disagreements between administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, labor, and the community are the norm. They naturally occur and we deal with them as best we can. But when our very purpose, and all the good work we do, are suddenly at risk, we band together and act as one.
On March 18, that’s precisely what happened. Meeting on our lunch hour, the entire Sacramento State community asserted together that we will not stand by passively waiting for this devastating proposal to be enacted. What we accomplish together for the people of Sacramento and California is too vital, too important, to sit quietly and submissively and allow it to occur for the sake of a politically expedient but shortsighted budget solution. Especially when the system has taken significant budget reductions twice before during the past six years.
In 1960, California’s leaders enacted a master plan for higher education that promised a free quality higher education to every qualified individual in our state. We’ve failed to keep the promise that higher education should be free, but we’ve strived hard to at least keep it affordable and accessible. Unfortunately, this most recent proposed budget cut scraps that ideal as well. These cuts send the message that our children and grandchildren won’t have access to the type of affordable, quality higher education that will allow them to become productive and valuable citizens because it is no longer attainable.
It’s no wonder that we’ve all come together to protest this terrible proposal. Our faculty members know that the time and effort it takes to provide their students the individual attention and help they need is on the line. Our students know that access to the quality education they need to become productive leaders and workers is at stake. Our staff members know the valuable work they do is at risk. Labor leaders recognize the threat to the quality of life they strive to provide their members. Our alumni know how their CSU education has benefited them in life, and they are determined that their children and grandchildren get the same chance. And smart people in business and throughout the community can see how they benefit from the educated professionals that graduate from our university.
Consider, CSU graduates 90,000 people into the workforce each year and provides most of the state’s teachers, nurses, business professionals and engineers.
These are the professions that move California forward and are in greater demand each year. Who among us, for example, hasn’t had our quality of life directly improved by the important work of a competent, well-educated nurse? Well, if cuts like the ones proposed are enacted, fewer of us will have that experience in the future. California faces an estimated shortage of 47,000 nurses by 2010. Cutting our investment in educating and producing them will have a direct and immediate negative effect on the lives and health of Californians. Slashing the institution of higher education that produces these kinds of vital professionals is shortsighted at best, devastating at worst.
If these cuts are enacted, CSU will be forced to turn away 10,000 qualified students next fall. These are real people, young men and women who have done the work and met the qualifications to come here. But through no fault of their own, they’ll be rejected. They’ll lose the opportunity to earn themselves a better life, and California will lose the benefits of the great work they would have been trained to do.
Our policymakers and our budget writers must be made to realize that the costs of denying our students a quality education will be far greater and longer-lasting than the cost of fully funding the CSU system and educating them now. Tough economic times only make this a more profound and fundamental truth.
The Sacramento State and CSU communities are united and determined to defend the crucial service we provide to our community and our state. We can see every day in the world around us that what we give to California is worth far more than what it costs. In fact, the return on investment for the CSU is four dollars to every one invested in our system.
Our governor and legislators are going to hear this message passionately, forcefully, and often from the united and determined Sacramento State and CSU communities. We’re simply right on this one. We can’t allow our government to turn its back on our students, on our economy, on our services, but more important, on our future.