Students for Quality Education (SQE) hunger strikers and their supporters met Friday with Chancellor Charles B. Reed, General Counsel Christine Helwick and Systemwide Police Chief Nate Johnson in Long Beach.
SQE started a hunger strike Wednesday after Chancellor Reed and the CSU Board of Trustees did not respond to their four demands relating to quality higher education. There are currently 12 students parcitpiating in the hunger strike, including Cal State Fullerton history graduate student David Inga.
The four demands were to create a five-year freeze on tuition increases, eliminate all housing and car allowances for all 23 campus presidents, rollback executive salaries to 1999 levels and an extension of freedom of speech on all campuses.
Reed told the students he had 45 minutes to listen to their concerns. The students presented their demands and the reasoning behind them.
Students said the board has increased tuition by 318 percent since 2002, leading to high student debt and other students not being able to afford basic expenses.
SQE also told the board that executives are not immune to the budget crisis, and a message needs to be sent to the state that money is being allocated appropriately.
Inga, the only CSUF student participating in the hunger strike, called for students’ rights to free speech to be restored at all CSU campuses. The SQE group asked Chancellor Reed and the board to act on their behalf to take the burden off of students and enact change.
“Your demands … are not possible. You are focusing on the wrong group of people,” Reed told the students at the meeting. “You should be focusing on the Legislature and on the government because that’s where the resources come from.”
“I don’t particularly like the decision to raise tuition, but the reason that we’ve had to raise tuition is because the Legislature and the governor haven’t given us the money to able to offer the classes and sections that you want,” Reed said.
“I think we all agree here at the table about the issues with Sacramento,” Inga told Reed at the meeting. “We understand that this crisis is multifaceted. But what we are here at the table to present to you is not necessarily the problems of Sacramento, but the problems with the structural makeup of the CSU and the decisions that are made … by the Board of Trustees that are supposed to represent the students, faculty and greater university community.”
Reed claimed the average student loan debt of a CSU graduate is $13,000, while nationally the average student is $24,000. The numbers were derived from a 2010 survey.
“I think we are doing a pretty good job of keeping our costs as low as we possibly can,” Reed said. “Student debt is not a big issue for California State University students, on the average.”
Reed said welfare of campus starts with the president, and he has an agreement with the presidents for their pay and benefits. Reed contended that presidents at the CSU campuses have not received pay raises since 2007, even when a president goes from one CSU to another with an increase in salary.
“I think there is a huge amount of disconnect with the reality of students and other members of the university community when you raise our tuition in November 2011 (and) then the very next day you raise the salary of the CSU San Diego president Elliot Hirshman by $100,000. These decisions are extremely problematic … It’s a gross misallocation and misappropriation of funds,” Inga said to Reed at the meeting.
During the rest of the meeting, students continued to press Reed on various issues, such as the privatization of the CSU, CSU presidential pay and their perception of a disconnection between the Chancellor and the plight of students.
Although Reed denied the group’s demands, he told the students that any concerns about free speech should be brought to the attention of himself and the board.
After the meeting, CSUF SQE member and history major Lex Deschuytter said he was disappointed by Reed’s rejection.
“(Reed) said some things that were disheartening,” said Deschuytter. “Primarily the fact (that he said) the well-being of a university starts with the (campus) president. That’s something I don’t feel is true. The president is there for the students, the students are not there for the president. I think the well-being of a university starts with the students.”
Inga said SQE students will be staying in Long Beach for the duration of the strike.
“What we are asking is that they take the demands seriously,” he said. “The meeting was somewhat of a game. We want them to stop playing games with us … Until they come to the table to engage in direct dialogue instead of playing word games, we will continue with the hunger strike and not end it until the demands are met.”