Civil Rights

Santa Monica College Students Blind-sided by Campus Police

By Roger Linnett

Santa Monica College has joined the list of places where the police have used pepper spray for crowd control under questionable circumstances. A dubious honor to be sure, SMC joins UC Davis and the original Occupy Wall Street in New York City, where, in the last year, police have callously pepper-sprayed participants.

To be fair, the action of the SMC campus police, unlike the other occasions, was more a reaction to a perceived loss of control than the flagrant and callous brutality exhibited at Davis and Wall Street. But that does not lessen its egregiousness.

Around thirty people, including a four-year-old girl, were doused with the capsaicin-based spray when campus police, reacting to the overflow crowd that gathered at the board’s meeting room that was woefully inadequate to handle the number of students that showed up.

Three needed to be rushed to a local hospital for treatment. The others were treated at the scene with low-pressure water hoses and gallon jugs of milk by Santa Monica Fire Dep’t. crews, summoned to assist the injured.

SMC student Monte Hawkins, one of those sprayed, told the SMC newspaper, The Corsair: “The board knew there would be this many students there. They should have relocated the meeting to a bigger venue.”

On the evening of April 3 the SMC Board of Trustees met in the campus’ Business Building to consider a measure to create a two-tier system for the high-demand requisite classes needed to transfer to four-year institutions. Students massed in the hall outside the meeting room intending to appear before the board to voice their opposition to the measure.

These transfer-requisite classes, which are always the first to be closed, necessitate waiting lists, and leave many desperate students attempting to crash the class on the first day. Most must be turned away, which can mean another semester, possibly a whole year, before they can transfer.

Ironically, SMC’s contention that it’s the country’s  #1 two-year school in transfers to UC and CSU schools, the source of much school pride, and its strongest recruiting tool, is the reason why the dual system had been proposed to begin with.

A common student complaint about the two-tier system is that the very students who attend SMC because of limited resources would not be able to afford the higher per unit fees. So they feel those students who have the money to pay the higher rates have an unfair advantage.

And some advocates for the measure are of the mistaken notion that the measure would actually make the regular classes more accessible, but who in their right mind would pay four times more for a class than necessary.

The state’s budget woes, necessitating drastic cuts in education funding, are the major factor in the board’s search for a way to satisfy the demand for these classes. Decreased funding will raise present credit-unit prices from $36 to $46 next semester, or $138 for the average three-credit class.

The proposed system would raise that to around $189 per unit, or $567 for the same class, which reflects the true cost to the school to offer a course. This subsidizing of these costs has always been understood as an investment the State of California makes to help improve the lives of its citizens, which every study shows results in a many-fold increase in future wages, productivity, standard of living and, ultimately, the tax revenues to the state, that more than justifies the initial cost.

Community colleges, of which SMC, established in 1957, was one of the first in the state, were founded so that those who could not afford, or meet the academic requirements to attend, a four-year college could bolster their academic record, enabling them to go on to earn a college degree, or, now long abandoned, to train for a good job in the trades like the automotive sector.

Associated Students President Harrison Wills told The Corsair that he feared that should ‘Contract Ed’ [as it is commonly known] pass, it would create a precedent for the state to allocate fewer funds for community colleges in the future, “It’s taking away the social equalizer which is open access to the college.”

In a letter to The Corsair board member Rob Rader made the case that the “at cost” rates were still lower than for-profit schools, and because it was widely-acknowledged that state funding would not recover for three to five years, the board faced the choice of either reducing the number of classes available, or figure a way to fund the classes internally by raising tuitions.

Photos of the incident, taken by The Corsair staff, can be seen at www.thecorsaironline.com. The photos apparently are property of Getty Images, which requires licensing fees our esteemed but humble publication refuses to pay.    

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