San Bruno, CA - Hundreds of Skyline College students left class and gathered on the campus quad for their Day of Action protest against budget cuts, on March 4. The action was organized by Skyline Against Cuts, which grew out of the students’ struggle against budget cuts last fall. After a short song, Skyline Against Cuts leader Michelle Araica led off the march. As student marshals held open doors, led chants and stopped traffic, nearly 500 students and a dozen or more faculty and staff supporters marched through almost all the buildings on campus, chanting “Hey hey! Ho ho! Budget cuts have got to go!”
After the march, there was an 11 a.m. rally that included faculty and students speaking out against the budget cuts. Skyline history professor George Wright told the students that this was a “historic protest” along with other schools throughout the state and across the country. Later that afternoon, carloads of students went to a 5 p.m. rally in San Francisco’s Civic Center called by local unions. A contingent of teachers from the faculty union, American Federation of Teachers 1493 also went to the rally.
This protest was possibly the largest student action ever in Skyline’s 40-year history. Skyline College is a small community college with about 10,000 students, located about 15 miles south of downtown San Francisco. It has a fairly diverse student body (45% Asian, 25% White, 20% Latino, and 10% other) which is mainly working-class. It is a commuter campus which empties out in the afternoon and then fills up again in the evening.
The college, like almost all community colleges in California, mainly depends on the state government for its operating funds. Last fall, the district called for $7 million in cuts for the upcoming year (2010-2011) due to the state government cutting 10% from spending on community colleges. At Skyline, the Child Development Center, which provided on-site childcare for both students and staff, as well as being a site for the college’s Early Childhood Education program was put on the chopping block. There had already been deep cuts in programs and services for disabled, low-income and first-time college going students, along with cuts in class sections. The struggle against these cuts led to the formation of Skyline Against Cuts last fall.
In February, Skyline Against Cuts organized a teach-in that involved faculty, student service directors and campus workers that drew hundreds of students. Following the teach-in many new student organizers joined Skyline Against Cuts and they began to plan for the March 4 Day of Action and organize for a student walk-out. Student organizers began tabling in the cafeteria, speaking in classes, putting up flyers and reaching out to other student groups. To build up for the Day of Action students did a ‘flash mob’ in the campus quad which got a front page photo in the school newspaper.
Through the fall struggle and the teach-in, students had formed a strong alliance with progressive faculty in the new Concerned Faculty of Skyline College. The Concerned Faculty had also formed in the fall to oppose the termination of two academic programs, Health Sciences and Nutrition. Faculty were angry that programs were being cut and the fact that faculty had no cost of living increase while most administrators were getting an average of 24% increase in their salary schedules.
Skyline Against the Cuts was also able to forge a broad united front in support of the March 4 day of Action. Students, along with Concerned Faculty members, mobilized for a meeting of the faculty Academic Senate and got a strong resolution in support of the Day of Action passed. Skyline Against the Cuts also met with the student government to get them to pass a resolution in support of March 4 and to work together on a rally that day. Students had support from the faculty union, which provided buttons and coverage of the teach-in. They also reached out to the California State Employee Association, which represents office staff and to facilities workers represented by AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees). Members from these unions had borne the brunt of job cuts in the district, along with the part-time faculty.
The broad support for the Day Action led to a very positive statement from the college president to all the faculty and staff about the Day of Action. Some faculty members cancelled their classes; others cut their classes short so that their students could participate in the Day of Action.
I was able to speak with a number of students after the rally. Floyd Pitts, President of the Black Student Union and member of Skyline Against Cuts, was one of the main organizers of the Day of Action. He said, “I was glad to see such a big turnout. I hope that we can keep the energy going.” Morgan and Josh, two other organizers with Skyline Against Cuts, told me that they were excited to see picket lines at elementary schools on their way to college that morning.
I also spoke with Alejandra, who said that it was her first protest. She said, “It was very unified. I was happy to see the school come together to fight the budget cuts.” Another student, Mícheál, said that he had heard about the walk-out from one of the student organizers. He was thinking of going to class, but said that “When I got here, I saw the signs and people and I decided to stay. This was the most effective protest that I have every been in.”
This upsurge in student activism is part of a growing wave of struggle against budget cuts to education that is sweeping across California and most of the country. In addition to teach-ins, walk-outs and rallies, students are planning to march on the state capitol in Sacramento on March 22 and faculty are organizing educational programs about the budget cuts.
Masao Suzuki is a member of the Concerned Faculty of Skyline College and a participant in the March 4 Day of Action at Skyline College.