Santa Monica College Votes to Delay Tuition Plan

The college Board of Trustees votes unanimously after students were pepper-sprayed by campus police Tuesday. Postponement gives them time to gather more feedback.

is putting on hold its highly contentious plan to offer some higher-priced courses not subsidized by the state, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously Friday after the pepper-spraying of as many as 30 protesters earlier this week.

The so-called "self-funded" classes was an attempt to continue offering necessary core classes that would otherwise not be held due to state budget cuts.

The delay will give trustees time to vet the program with students and faculty, but it also means that 50 courses set to be offered this summer at-cost to students are canceled, leaving 1,500-2,000 without some of the units they need to graduate, trustees said.

The summer classes were supposed to be used as a test to gauge the success of the new tuition plan.

"Without the pilot program, there will be cuts," Board of Trustees Chairwoman Margaret Quiñones-Perez told reporters after the meeting.

Six police officers flanked the board as it met Friday. With the exception of some outbursts, the mood was calm—a stark contrast from Tuesday's meeting, when a campus police officer used pepper spray to quell a raucous crowd of students attempting to force their way into an at-capacity meeting room in the Business Administration Building.

In recommending the board postpone implementation of the two-tiered system, Superintendent Chui Tsang back-peddled from an earlier statement, calling the use of pepper spray a "truly regrettable event."

"This is not the kind of college that we are, I don’t want this to ever happen again," he said.

A panel of faculty, administrators and a student will conduct a review of the police officer's use of pepper spray, independent of an internal investigation, Tsang announced.

The board also faced pressure from California's Community Colleges Chancellor, who reportedly requested the postponement because he believes the legality of the policy is in question.

Under the two-tiered system, students could have opted to take any of 50 extra classes this summer offered at-cost to the college—$180 per unit—more than one-third of the fee California residents pay currently, thanks to state subsidies. The college would have continued to offer 700 traditional classes.

The tuition plan was supposed to be just "a short-term emergency Band-Aid," said Santa Monica College political science instructor Christine Schultz. This winter "I don’t know what will happen if we can’t offer these classes."

Officials said the tuition students would have paid for the second tier of classes would be used to help fund the first tier. They felt they were being creative in finding a way to avoid slashing classes and laying off teachers as they prepare for another round of state budget cuts.

"I must warn that this postponement in no way addresses the state funding crisis," Tsang told the board.

Those who oppose the plan say it will create a class system on campus, separating wealthy students from the poor and creating an "express lane" to graduation for those who can afford the courses, and disenfranchising those who cannot.

Additionally, opponents contend it could set a dangerous precedent for community colleges across California, sending a message to the Legislature that the public schools don't need state funding to operate.

"Community colleges should be available for anyone who can benefit from education," said Trustee Susan Aminoff. "That wonderful idea is not being funded fully by our state today. We’re just trying to figure out the right thing to do."

Members of the Student Organizing Committee, which has organized the rallies and protests, continued to vent ire Friday over how the board adopted the policy in March. Many believe their voices were muzzled because the board did not meet in venues large enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to speak.

Friday's meeting was held in a new, larger venue and there were more than 300 in attendance.

For their part, trustees blamed the news media and students on spreading inaccurate information about the two-tiered plan. One student speaker, who spoke in support of the board, noted that demonstrators were wrong to tell their classmates that the volunteer-Board of Trustees earned high salaries and were recently awarded raises.

Trustees, faculty and students on each side of the debate, however, all seemed to agree that while the pepper-spraying incident was a "black eye" on the college, it also catapulted the issues surrounding the two-tiered proposal into the national spotlight.

"Without the actions that happened on Tuesday, this would not be happening here," one student said. "We wouldn't have gotten the media coverage..."

"Tuesday night was a reminder—and it was a wake up call to us—that we need to have a bigger conversation," said board chairwoman Quiñones-Perez. She was the only trustee who spoke in complete opposition to two-tiered funding on Friday.

"Access shouldn’t look different if you pay this way or pay that way," she said.

In disagreeing with Quiñones-Perez about the impact the use of pepper spray had on his recommendation to delay the plan, Tsang said, "this is not about pepper spray."

The board is formally asking the District Planning and Advisory Council—a coalition of district staffers, students, instructors and administrators—to advise Tsang and trustees on future efforts to expand student access to classes.

"We need at this time for our colleagues to step back and take a pause to engage the community... a lot of misunderstanding has been fostered," Tsang said after the meeting. "We moved too quickly."

Related stories:

— City News Service contributed to this report.

Bob Redford April 07, 2012 at 11:03 PM
180 per unit are you kidding me? This is more than acceptable. I am currently taking classes at 1000 and higher per unit. Let's face it 99% of these community school " children", which is accurately reflected I. Their behavior, will make nothing of their lives no matter how many cheap classes they take and recieve moderate to poor grades. I think they should take out loans like the rest of the lower middle class and earn good grades work hard and have some damn motivation to actually do something with their lives besides being dead beats.
Barrett Meeker April 11, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Graduating with out loans, or with minimal loans allows students to have a more even playing field with the upper middle class who can afford to pay for college. Community colleges even this playing field. Having minimal or no debt also allows students to prusue worthwhile careers that don't pay as well; teaching, social work, non-profit work, etc. It can also have a trickle down effect, go to a community college, leave for a university after 2 years, go to med school after that and thanks to really cheap community college your debts are less and it could mean the difference between starting a practice in a lower-income area or feeling debt pressure to become another hollywood plastic surgeon. Equal opportunity for all, lets try to keep birth-rights from dictating education anyway we can.


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