Most of my students here at Green River Community College have never heard about Kent State, where in 1970, National Guardsman killed four college students and wounded nine others during a nonviolent anti-war protest. They don't know that in 1968 deaf students at Gallaudet University took to the streets to get a blind college president hired.
The rich history of student protest is lost on many of them, but there's hope.
Seattle Central Community College is now the hub of Occupy Seattle. Oct. 29 saw a day-long teach-in outside in the rain. My first six weeks teaching at Green River Community College have also been encouraging. Green River faculty has put together a six-part teach-in called The Attacks on Higher Education. The first two, held Oct. 5 and Oct. 26, drew 240 people, most of them students.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has some of its roots in the student rebellions of the past three years, especially at California colleges, where students risked arrest and pepper spray to occupy administration buildings in protest of 32 percent tuition hikes and cuts to programs.
We've all got reason to be concerned. We live in a state where lower and lower tax revenues are the rule, while bulging millionaires' coffers increase in a state with one of the country's most tax loopholes and regressive taxation system. Nationally, the current student loan debt is expected to surpass $1 trillion by the end of 2011. It worries Green River student activist Renata Bryant.
"When you see students entering this job market saddled with debt that's been known to reach $100,000, what are you supposed to do in that situation? Hold out for a high paying job relevant to your degree, or take your standard 9-to-5 job in the food industry or sales to try to pay off your debt?" said Bryant.
Education has been getting the budget ax for more than two years, and Gov. Gregoire's recent fiscal assault goes after colleges and universities by reducing support by 15 percent; cutting levy equalization payments to property-poor school districts in half; and increasing class sizes in Grades four to 12 by two students.
She calls this a $453 million savings. Others see it as stealing the futures of this and the next generation.
Issues at GRCC parallel those at other colleges in the state. There are fewer full-time faculty hires for programs that are growing and more part-time instructors as a permanent instructional pool. Class sizes are increasing and domestic students are getting short shrift as schools like our 150-year-old University of Washington put international students on the priority list since they pull in three times or more the total tuition revenues.
Counseling services at several community colleges and state universities are being gutted while students with PTSD from this country's illegal wars and those with learning challenges receive fewer services.
Here is what some of the GRCC faculty are saying about the current billion dollar cut to Washington's institutions of higher learning:
"It has come down to money versus people."