Future of Contract Ed Uncertain

Though two weeks have passed since students protesting the “Advance Your Dreams” program were pepper-sprayed by police at a Santa Monica College Board of Trustees meeting, tensions remain high on all sides of the issue. The Board of Trustees said that adding 50 self-funded classes at $180 per credit to the 700 state-funded ones at $46 for the summer session was a “creative solution” to financial woes—namely a state funding cut of 23 percent last year alone.

But that Friday, the Board unanimously voted to postpone the Contract Ed program and shelve the measure until it can be vetted through the shared governance process at the college, primarily through the District Planning and Advisory Council.

Pressure upon the Board came from student activists, public commenters, and a call from California’s Community College Chancellor Jack Scott, who said that the employment of the self-funded education program would “be a little out of line with [community colleges’] mission.”

At a DPAC meeting on April 11, members of the board, faculty, and the Associated Students agreed to review the proposed self-funded education program with their constituencies in hopes to make a formal recommendation to the board.

According to SMC administrators, the school may be forced to axe the entire winter 2013 term and 350 sections from Spring 2013 without Contract Ed, resulting in less teaching hours and possible layoffs and furloughs for staff. However, Faculty Association President Mitra Moassesi said her group is officially against the measure in a statement at Friday’s Board meeting.

Other opponents, like Associated Student President Harrison Wills, say that fallout from SMC’s austerity measures could be worthwhile. “It’s okay if we have to shrink for a few semesters if we can change the entire state,” he says.

Wills believes that should Contract Ed pass, it would create a precedent for the state to allocate fewer funds for community colleges. To remedy this, Wills says that community organizations can apply pressure on the state to give more funding to public education.

He adds that it challenges the structure of the community college. “It’s taking away the social equalizer which is open access at the college,” Wills said. “It allows students who have money to cut to the front of the line.”

But it seems opinions may be changing in light of the possible ramifications if the school can’t find a solution to the budget crisis by the end of the year. “We could be for Contract Ed if we could make it equitable,” said Cameron Espinoza, Associated Students Director of Student Outreach.

Protesters received a resounding endorsement from union activist Delores Huerta, who spoke at the college on Tuesday, April 17. “Congratulations for stopping the two tier program,” she said. “It was unfair and wrong.”

Despite the encouragement, many protesters are still leery of Contract Ed returning, and vowed to continue to organize and demonstrate according to statements released on their Facebook pages.

Members of the Student Organizing Committee and the Associated Students have spent time trying to address accusations that they have been spreading misinformation, specifically that all tuition will be increasing to $180 per credit hour.

At the board meeting, Trustee Louise Jaffee said she feared the original intent of the program had been clouded by misinformation.

“It was additive and never subtractive,” she said. “We were never going to raise tuition across the board.”

A flier distributed in the weeks leading up to the protests by the Student Organizing Committee claimed that “the Contract Education program will charge students ~ 200 / unit.”

But Wills placed most of the blame on the Board themselves. “The fact that there was this misinformation out there is just indicative of the fact that the administration did such a poor job in getting the information out,” he said.

Repeated requests for interview with members of the SOC have been made by The Corsair, but have so far been unsuccessful.