Protest delays cuts in Peralta colleges

November 17, 2009

OAKLAND, Calif.--A surge in student and faculty activism has won a temporary victory in the Peralta Community College District, with the Board of Trustees announcing that they will postpone enactment of budget cuts totaling $5 million at its November 10 meeting.

More than 80 staff, students and community members attended the board meeting--in a culmination of weeks of campus organizing--with speaker after speaker assailing the proposed cuts.

"I work in EOPS at Laney, and it kills me to have to turn away people from applying to EOPS," explained Leonard Hutton, a student senator. Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) provides outreach and retention support for disadvantaged students. Set to lose $1.1 million, it's one of several programs targeted for drastic cuts.

Bob Grill, an instructor at the College of Alameda, explained the overall framework well when he said, "The budget handed down from the state of California is nothing less than an attack on the poor and disenfranchised."

Peralta Chancellor Elihu Harris conceded that there couldn't be a worse time to turn people away from community college. "Hopefully, everyone in the Peralta community, in the Peralta family, will be part of the discussion," Harris said. "We are making these cuts at a time when the need is the greatest. We are in the middle of an incredible recession that has cost people jobs."

This is the same administrator who was exposed over the summer for funneling school contracts to business associates and for his habit of charging personal expenses to Peralta credit cards.

Part-time student Cameron Sturdevant delivered a harsh rebuke to the "remorse" of Harris and the board of trustees. "You strike me as a singularly unprepared group of people to deal with the budget cuts that are coming down the road here," said Sturdevant. "I have not heard at anytime or seen any of you say that we are going to fight for students, that we are going to fight for teachers, that we are going to fight for students, which is the purpose of this institution!"

And the timing of the release of the proposed budget--just one day prior to the board meeting--also raised the ire of activists. Debbie Weintraub, president of the Peralta Federation of Teachers, explained that there was "no shared governance process on this budget--nobody out there [in the audience] has been able to see it or comment on it."

Other speakers criticized the lack of transparency and obvious accounting errors in the proposed budget, prompting one of the trustees to confess he too was unable to understand the budget proposal.

The threat of adopting such a terrible budget became a focal point for activists, who have been organizing for weeks. A quick roundup of events include: some 75 students attended a noon-time rally on the Laney campus, as hundreds more students watched and listened during their lunch break; 200 students and community members attended a Saturday teach-in at Berkeley Community College; and dozens of activists attended a potluck organizing meeting to forge stronger links between staff and students across the system's four campuses.

The emerging coalition of student and staff against the cuts can claim credit for convincing the board of trustees to delay action on the budget. The next step of taking any cuts off the table entirely will no doubt be much more difficult.

And Peralta Community College District activists aren't alone--they're part of a rising tide of campus organizing in anticipation of the November 18-19 strike by workers across the University of California system and a statewide day of action on March 4, 2010.

David McCarthy and Alessandro Tinonga contributed to this article.

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