CSU hunger strike over tuition hike goes too far
Tomorrow 13 students from six of the California State University campuses will start a hunger strike to fight rising tuition rates and administrative luxuries, according to the Los Angeles Times. While these students have their hearts in the right place, a hunger strike for something as petty as a tuition increase is ridiculous. The students should either gain more support among their peers to make a bigger impact, or reevaluate their tactics.
Students for Quality Education, an organization at California State University schools, announced on Friday that they will consume only fluids, starting Wednesday, until the administration agrees to freeze tuition, roll back administrative salaries and meet other demands, the Times reported. These students decided on a hunger strike because Chancellor Charles Reed and Board of Trustees Chairman A. Robert Linscheid didn’t adequately respond to their demands — so the students hope fasting will get their attention.
“We’ve tried pretty much everything, and they just ignore us,” said Donnie Bessom, a student at California State University, Long Beach, to the Los Angeles Times. “We’ve talked to state legislators, written petitions, mobilized people on campus. The next step for us is in the tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience. They keep raising salaries and have those other luxuries, and we thought the symbolic nature of a hunger strike was appropriate to the crisis.”
This plan is inherently flawed. There are more than 400,000 students spread across the 23 California State University campuses, and 13 students going without food for a few days is not going to make an impact. Cal State officials told the Times they don’t even plan to intervene.
Moreover, Mike Uhlenkamp, a spokesman for the Cal State Universities, has criticized the students for not fully understanding the issues. For example, a considerable amount of their complaints are about high salaries for the administration, which actually only amount to 0.2 percent of the budget. Administration officials may be paid more than the students like, but 0.2 percent is not worth a hunger strike.
These students also complained about tuition, which will rise 9 percent for the 2012-13 academic year. This brings tuition to a whopping $5,970 per year, according to the Times.
UA in-state tuition for the 2011-12 academic year was $9,286, and many public state universities across the nation have in-state tuition at well over $10,000, according to College Board. In fact, the University of California schools, the other four-year public university system in California, cost around $13,000 per year for in-state students. Yes, rising tuition is unfortunate, but compared to tuition at other schools, California State University students have no right to complain.
The California State University system has lost nearly $1 billion in state funding since 2008, which has led to class cuts, layoffs, denied entry to thousands of students, tuition increases and plans to freeze enrollment in spring 2013, according to the Times. California as a whole is broke and politicians and school officials have been prioritizing costs and fees for years. Students for Quality Education doesn’t seem to realize that picking its battles and prioritizing issues is more important than what they’re actually doing. A hunger strike over 0.2 percent of the budget is overly dramatic and makes them appear like 4-year-old children refusing to eat their dinner because their allowance was cut.
Students should stand up for their rights, and Students for Quality Education represents that on some level. Some of its claims about administrative salaries are valid, particularly those concerning pay raises and high spending on university housing for presidents. However, hunger strikers are historically used in desperate social situations, such as the unfair British rule of India or women’s suffrage.
This isn’t desperate and it’s not popular enough to make an impact. Nonviolent student protests have been successful in the past, as Students for Quality Education intend, but they have also been campus-wide. Popular support and a strong opposition to the issue is why anti-war college protests during the Vietnam War received so much attention and were so successful. But 13 students spread over hundreds of miles won’t make an impression.
These students should look for actual possible solutions to the school system’s problems, rather than pretending to starve to death.