Bring student rights back to education

Contract education has been a vital component of Santa Monica College since its establishment in 1993. The initial purpose of the program was to “provide assistance and customized training support to employers (...) and increase the productivity of their workforce,” according to SMC’s website. This program has always been, and was always intended to be, a separate entity from general student education, which is, as public education goes, funded by and accountable to the public.

As a student, I enjoy this separation. Education is more than training. A school’s mission should be to create an environment in which you can learn and think for yourself and create. Over the years, presidents have had different ways of going about this mission.

President and Superintendent Dr. Chui L. Tsang felt “Achieve Your Dreams” to be such a program and a way in which he could combat budget cuts without having to deal with the state.

But as we have come to learn in recent weeks, this program was not the “dream” the Board of Trustee’s and Tsang possibly intended it to be. Just as a dream is on the second tier of consciousness, self-funded classes are on the second-tier of equity, which is something that can never be compromised when it comes to vital education needed by the public. There is also the issue of how progressive such a program could be. As a community, by not pursuing any sort of action on the state level, we are on a dangerous path that leads to the total obscuring of the dignity of public education forever.

Ever since our special meeting, and collective “pause,” I see eyes dancing back and forth with nervousness, and I feel an omnipresent fear from students, administration and faculty, as we are all in this limbo state and addressed with the question: “Where do we go from here?” This standstill was not the calming force it was intended to be, because the world, the state, and our depleting budget are still depleting at an exorbitant rate.

To start, I would think it to be profitable to look to the past. The California Master Plan for Higher Education in 1960 banned tuition. The state recognized the value that post-secondary education had for people, and how important it is that only individual proficiency limits a student—never finance. It seems as time has gone on, we as a state and nation have been extracting from this vision, amending it, degrading it, and cutting it to the point where its entire purpose and “dream” have been almost completely obscured.

Tsang stated that, “We can starve all of the programs until it gets to the point where no one can stand it anymore, and the state is forced to react—or we do something now.” But is doing “something now” necessarily the right thing? Why, as one of the largest and most innovative community colleges in California, is settling for “something,” in a world where education is everything, even considered a possibility? 1960 was not an ancient time or an alternate reality. It was a time when we used phrases like “government guarantee,” and “student rights” when it came to education, not “personal financial choice,” “responsibility” or, worst of all, “something.”

Cameron Espinoza is AS Director of Student Outreach.