Lobbying for Higher Education

Mark Laluan

CSUEB students lobby for the reintroduction of the Oil Severance Tax.

Dolores Huerta, an ally of the late Cesar Chavez, speaks with CSUEB’s external Vice President Joe Tafoya.

Last weekend, student activists from CSU East Bay joined hundreds of their fellows from across the California State University system at the 16th Annual California Higher Education Student Summit (CHESS).

The conference—held from April 15 to 18—combined a series of leadership workshops and guest speakers to prepare students to lobby the legislature on behalf of student concerns.

This event, hosted annually by the California State Student Association (CSSA)—an umbrella organization bringing together the various student governments of each CSU campus—highlights examples of active student participation in lobbying for the CSU’s share of public higher education funding.

As of this writing, the CSU system stands to lose over $500 million in state support, which amounts to 18 percent of its total budget. Governor Brown and his Democratic allies have shifted support for minimizing cuts to the social safety net through harsh cuts to public higher education, infrastructure and public safety.

Through CHESS, the CSSA makes the argument that our state’s economy would be in jeopardy without trained graduates from the CSU entering California’s workforce. According to the California Master Plan for Higher Education of 1960, the CSU would be created in such a way that its focus would be to supply white collar and technical labor to California’s industries.

The theme of the CSU serving the needs of the state was hammered into the minds of all attendees through both workshops and speakers, with the message sometimes taking on a political tinge that would make more conservative or independent Californians blush.

While the CSSA remains non-partisan in character, keynote speeches delivered by Santa Cruz County Treasurer Fred Keeley and Dolores Huerta—United Farm Workers doyen and right hand of César Chávez—made no attempt to hide which ideological faction would best serve the needs of students.

In a sharp and most welcome contrast, Assemblyman Gilbert Cedillo’s (D-Los Angeles) remarks regarding the California DREAM Act addressed this most controversial issue in words that neither deprecated critics nor watered down his message.

Cedillo cited the much-maligned student body President of CSU Fresno, Pedro Ramirez, as one of his “inspirations” to advocate on behalf of undocumented students and an example of a qualified individual ready to work and learn. The assemblyman then went on to detail his own life experiences, hopes and dreams; a presentation which combined emotion and pragmatism in a manner which spoke to all sectors of Californian public opinion.

Much like the men of England—exhorted by Henry V before St. Crispin’s Day to strive for victory on the fields of Agincourt against the armies of Valois France—the students of the CSU having now had workshops and speakers to exhort them onwards, faced the task of lobbying legislators from the districts were each of their respective CSU campuses is located.

The student delegation from CSUEB lobbied on behalf of AB 1326, the reintroduced Oil Severance Tax; AB 130 and 131, the watered down California DREAM Act; and AB 176, a bill which would allow university identification to be valid for academic testing provided by outside services.

Students met with representatives of Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi (D-Hayward) and Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) to discuss the forenamed issues. ASI Vice President of External Affairs Joe Tafoya emphasized the necessity of such communication between students and their elected representatives.

“Lobbying our state representatives was an empowering experience,” said Tafoya. “Not only did we speak on behalf of all CSUEB’s students, we pursued policy objectives beneficial to every student in the CSU system.”