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Santa Monica College Board Postpones Controversial Tuition Program  


By Jorge Casuso

April 6, 2012 -- With the national news media watching, the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees on Friday unanimously voted to postpone a controversial program to add classes at a higher cost in the midst of state budget cuts.

The college also will form a committee to investigate the pepper spraying by campus police of some 30 student protesters Tuesday that led to the hastily called meeting on Passover and Good Friday to reconsider the nationally unprecedented program that was set to begin next semester.

The college's performance arts auditorium was packed for a meeting that saw more than 60 speakers, mostly students, testify in front of a dozen television crews and a row of police officers who lined the stage where the trustees sat in the theater spotlight.

"This motion is really appropriate at this time," said Board of Trustee Vice Chair Nancy Greenstein before voting to postpone the program.

Most of the board members defended the "enrollment contract educational program," which would have offered more of SMC's most demanded classes during the summer and winter sessions at a higher tuition -- approximately $180 per unit, compared to $46 per unit.

"It is an additive approach," said Trustee Louise Jaffe. The program, she added, would "avoid layoffs of staff... a road we have struggled mightily not to go down."

Jaffe noted that later this month, Long Beach Community College will vote on whether to lay off 55 full-time faculty and scale back hours for 96 other teachers in the midst of drastic state budget cuts.

"There are no easy solutions and no decisions that don't have consequences," Jaffe said.

In an impassioned speech, Trustee Rob Rader warned that postponing the program meant that some 2,000 students would not be given the opportunity to enroll in classes they likely need to transfer and 50 teachers and 10 instructional aids will not be employed this summer.

"I advocate opening more doors and allowing more students than shutting" them out, Rader said. "We're not taking away the classes... I'm bummed about losing the opportunity.

"This is not the privatization of education," Rader added. "This is fighting the privatization of education."

But Margaret Quinones-Perez, the only trustee to oppose the program, said it ran counter to a Community College's mission to provide an education for all, regardless of race or income.

"There are limits in the sand," Quinones-Perez said. "When something is wrong, in my opinion, it's wrong.

"This is not the time to test it. This is not the time to redefine access," she said. "It's going to be misunderstood."

Most of the community college students who testified opposed the program. Some of them were student representatives who drove from as far away as the San Francisco Bay area and San Diego to echo Quinones-Perez's concerns.

"It sets the precedent that it's okay for colleges to provide classes with restricted access," said a student who drove down from Berkeley to testify. "Only people with money can take these classes."

Many of the local students said they felt shut out from the decision and noted that the college held the two previous meetings on the issue in a small room that could not accommodate the overflow crowds, leading to the pepper spraying.

"You did not pause because of their voices, but because of the police action," said a student from San Diego.      

To address the concern that the program had been approved in March with little input from students and other stakeholders, the board added an amendment to "consult" with the District Planning Advisory Committee on efforts to "expand student access."

The meeting took place two days after the chancellor of California's community college system, Jack Scott, called SMC President Chui L. Tsang and asked the college to put the program on hold.

Scott also called on the state attorney general to weighs in on its legality.

SMC officials have said they are confident the program is legal.


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