Education Advocates Struggle to Cut Through the NoIse

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If California’s public colleges and universities are a radio, the static has nearly drowned out the music.

Campuses are so dominated by anger these days, so overwhelmed by angst, that it can be difficult to pick out the important messages amid the noise. Tuition hikes, budget cuts, administrators’ salaries, affirmative action — so many issues, so many protests.

“There’s a sort of fatigue,” said Max Neiman, a senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies. “There’s an expectation that every dispute will involve some anger.”

The worry, some say, is that fatigue could end up killing the message.

Organizers say they have had trouble gaining the attention of media who are constantly barraged by messages about budget cuts and tuition hikes, leading to worries about those messages being lost amid the din.

Those worries are well-founded, said Assemblyman Marty Block, D-San Diego, chairman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. Scattershot messages are difficult for lawmakers to handle, he said, and not particularly effective.

“Too often we’ll hear mixed signals,” Block said. Community college professors often argue for more full-time instructors, for example, but students’ needs for more classes mean colleges need to employ more part-time professors, he said.

“There are just so many issues,” Block said. “It’s a matter of all the groups getting together and agreeing on a realistic goal.”

and frustrating for the past several years,” said Jeffrey Michels, a Contra Costa College professor and president of the Contra Costa district’s faculty union. “It gets worse every year.”A major part of the frustration is confusion over who is responsible for California’s problems. Should protesters target chancellors, trustees, legislators or the governor, or is someone else to blame?”I think there’s probably a lot of blame to go around,” said Hans Johnson, a researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California. “Maybe we should be blaming the voters.”But the sheer volume of problems facing college campuses means voters, who some blame for California’s extensive money problems, can’t be blamed for everything. And that volume of problems often leads to different groups trying to talk over each other.

“It’s like we’ve circled the wagons and we’re shooting at each other,” said Lillian Taiz, a Cal State Los Angeles professor and president of the California Faculty Association, which represents instructors at the 23 Cal State campuses. “But I’m excited that people are angry. If they’re angry, they’re energized.”

Uniting to capture that energy seems to have caught on with different campus groups.

Michels said community college professors have started working with others to focus their efforts for more focused messages, as have students, said Claudia Magaña, president of the UC Student Association. Students in the UC, California State University and community-college systems, for example, plan to unite for a statewide demonstration in March, Magaña said.

“We’re all kind of losing our own battles every year,” she said. “If we can all join together on one issue, maybe we can be more effective.”


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