The crisis of the University of California has, of late, come to the forefront of our thoughts and discussions about the role of government in our lives. As the recession plows forward, the state finds itself with less and less money by the day. Funds are divested, year after year, from social services such as higher education, while the federal government invests massive amounts of money into the biggest banks, which proceed to make record profits. Those that caused our current financial crisis have gotten away with a mere slap on the wrist and billions of dollars in profit as we, the taxpayers, pick up the bill because politicians refuse to increase taxes on the largest, richest corporations. Politicians refuse to take meaningful steps to ensure this never happens again. While the banks continue to make money, we watch as our education system erodes before our very eyes.
We often talk about taxes as a burden, asking who must bear the burden of paying the highest taxes. A few weeks back, I was sitting in on a forum about higher education put on by the office of the EAVP in the ASUC. State Senator Loni Hancock was speaking and made a point that was always in my mind, but I had never put into words. She said, “Taxes should never be considered a burden.”
She was right, the term “burden” implies a negative, which taxes are not. Taxes provide for the collective, that which the individual cannot afford alone, and that which the private sector will not willingly provide. Taxes provide for the most basic of goods, like police, roads and the fire department. In the 1960s, the establishment of the Master Plan for Higher Education put California at the forefront in the determination that education is a collective good. In the 1960s, politicians understood that the average person, not to mention folks of lower socioeconomic standing, could not afford to pay for an education alone. So we invested — we put money into education because it was the right thing to do.
In 1978, Californians passed Proposition 13, which drastically reduced revenues coming into the state. Proposition 13 not only froze property tax rates at their 1975 assessed values, but also established the ever-hated “two-thirds” requirement in the state legislature, requiring that any new proposed tax must pass with a two-thirds vote of each house of the state legislature.
After that, we went from having one of the top public K-12 school systems in the nation to having one of the worst, and now the consequence of this shortage of funds is becoming apparent in our higher educaiton system as well. What took over one hundred years to create — the University of California — is being dismantled in a mere decade. It has become painfully obvious that our state legislators and our new governor are doing very little to stop the hemorrhaging of money from public higher education. The need for a conversation about the reform of Proposition 13 has never been more apparent.
We are part of an education system that no longer reflects the ideals upon which it was founded: access, affordability and quality. What have we done to reverse this? What have we done to return to the ideals of the Master Plan for Higher Education, and to start a conversation about reforming Proposition 13? We have protested, lobbied, occupied and walked out; We have yelled until we cannot yell any more, and what has that gotten us? What good does it do to yell when nobody is listening, when our struggle exists solely as a two minute sound clip on the nightly news?
We are socially conscious students, too aware of the crime perpetuated against our collective social service, but our struggle is not one that can exist in a vacuum. The fight for affordable higher education is not one that is isolated to UC Berkeley or the UC system. We will continue to be ignored until we realize that our struggle is shared with every single other student in this state, both residents and out-of state students. In a time of such inaction on the part of our elected officials, it is necessary for students across the state to come together and demand structural reform to save our right to public education.
Andrew Albright is an ASUC senator with the CalSERVE party.