SMC President comments on Contract Ed and pepper-spraying incident

Tension has continued to grow at Santa Monica College, following a violent pepper-spraying incident during last Tuesday night’s Board of Trustees meeting. Student activists are refusing to drop their opposition to Contract Ed, the controversial summer pilot program approved in March by the BOT. However, SMC President and Superintendent Dr. Chui L. Tsang says that students are “misinformed.”

“Some students have misinterpreted the information or have been misled,” Dr. Tsang told the Corsair this morning.

Commenting on the incident which occurred last Tuesday when 30 students were pepper-sprayed by a campus police officer after allegedly storming a Board of Trustees meeting, Tsang said a panel has been put together to investigate the incident further.

A report is expected to be released soon to clarify whether the police misused pepper-spray against students.

“I want all the facts to be evaluated in a manner that is objective; to ensure there is proper conduct through college personnel and students,” Tsang said. “We hope that when the report comes out, it will be instructive for both the college and students, and it will be useful for us and the community.”

He added that the administration is currently making an effort to clarify the inner-workings of the program to give students a full picture how it will be integrated into the existing tuition policy.

Flyers with detailed information on the program have been recently printed out and made available to students around campus. Faculty members have been given Q & A worksheets so they can inform students about the program.

According to Tsang, the “Advance Your Dreams Program” is intended to provide SMC students with the “opportunity to get an education.” It will give students, he says, the option to take additional classes so that they can transfer to four-year universities, as well as minimize any delays in education due to state budget cuts.

The program provides supplemental classes on top of the 700 regular state-funded classes, which will be offered during the summer session at $46 per unit.

The Contract Ed program will offer 50 classes, and the fee for each three-unit class will be around $540 for residents, and $840 for non-residents. More classes at the same price range would be added if needed, said Tsang. A Board of Governors fee waiver would not be available for the program, however, because there is no state fee for the classes.

“With the ‘Advance Your Dreams Program,’ students now have an additional choice,” Tsang said.

However, critics say the classes offered through the program come at a much higher price by putting those who can’t afford them at a “disadvantage.”

"The [notion that] those classes are to help us reach our dreams are false,” said SMC English major, Jennifer Wang. “This summer, I will not be able to afford these classes, so how is the school helping me?"

Tsang said he wished for everyone to have an equal opportunity to get an education, but he knows some will not have the option to enroll in the program.

“Not everyone can have a choice,” Tsang said. “But we have to raise more scholarships for the ones who can’t afford them.” According to Tsang, through many “generous donations,” the Advance Your Dreams Program will be offering 300 scholarships to eligible students who demonstrate financial need.

Student activists have requested a referendum to postpone the integration of the program, and like many other requests made by students, this will be carefully considered and looked into, Tsang said.

Official reports have claimed that SMC is the first community college to put forth a plan of this kind. To operate the plan, the college has formed the nonprofit corporation, The Santa Monica Career and Transfer Alliance.