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Starving for Schooling

Starving for Schooling
Tue, 5/1/2012 - by Michael Levitin

Photo: Cal State University Fullerton students protest tuition hikes in November 2011. Mark Boster, Los Angeles Times.

Twelve students from six campuses in the California State University system announced Friday they will be going on hunger strike beginning on May 2 to protest the failure of university administrators to halt rising tuition fees and budget cuts.

"Our classes have been cut and our programs slashed," said Yeimi Lopez of Sacramento State University. "We are thus taking the torch and are escalating our direct actions. We are taking a stand as students of California, for our sisters and brothers.”

Student debt just passed the $1 trillion mark, as steady increases in the cost of attending school has meant more and more students taking out ever bigger loans to pay for their education. According to a press release issued by Students for Quality Education (SQE), 16,000 students are now facing the threat of frozen enrollment. Meanwhile, fees are rising, faculty and courses are being gutted to save money, yet California State University Chancellor Charles Reed and Chair Robert Linscheid have approved not just salary increases but executive compensations and lavish bonuses for CSU campus presidents.

On March 21, Students for Quality Education took a stand.

In a letter addressed to the chancellor and the chair, Erika Flores of SQE issued the following demands: a five-year moratorium on student fee hikes, which have more than tripled in the last decade; an elimination of all 23 campus presidents' housing and car allowances; an immediate end to cuts in classes and student services; and an extension of freedom of speech areas to include entire campuses. "Universities should be a safe space to express ideas and opinions without intimidation by campus police and administration," the letter read.

The SQE also requested a meeting with the university heads to discuss their concerns and the solutions they proposed.

On April 18, Chair Linschied wrote back in response, "If you have concrete suggestions or ideas to help the CSU through the current budget crisis, you are welcome to submit them to your elected student leaders. While the board has heard your concerns and issues... the implied threats issued by your members are not a useful form of discourse on complicated issues."

Finally, on Friday, SQE submitted another open letter "as a formal request and second attempt to schedule a meeting" as students held a press call to reaffirm their demands and issue the call for a hunger strike. “CSU students have fought back against budgets cuts to education and we've tried just about everything you can think to prevent the dismantling of our public university system," CSU Long Beach graduate student Donnie Besson said on the call.

"We've lobbied our state legislators, we've mobilized thousands to our state capital, and we've presented new strategies to our Board of Trustees so that we can change the course and try efficient alternatives,” Besson said.

The alternative now, for 12 students, will be to go without food until university administrators agree to come to the table and discuss a way forward that addresses their needs. For the Students for Quality Education, the educational injustices and inequities that thousands in California are facing leaves them no choice.

For more information about SQE and the hunger strike, please visit


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