Outreach supporters mull new coalition

    On April 27, a day after students held statewide protests against cuts to higher-education funding, a group of students, staff and faculty members concerned with the elimination of outreach programs met to discuss the organization of a new coalition.

    In addition to discussing the spectrum of the pre-collegiate programs devoted to increasing access to higher education for students from impoverished or poor-performing districts and disseminating information, attendees at the gathering reflected on the impact that outreach programs have had on their own lives. The event was sponsored by the Graduate Student Association.

    “We know that there are a large number of people on this campus — faculty, staff and students — who are concerned about outreach … and what we wanted to do is bring these people into a forum,” Heather Flowe, GSA vice president of external relations and a sixth-year psychology graduate student, said. Flowe organized the event.

    Graduate students accounted for approximately half of the 20 people present for the event. Each described their personal connection to pre-collegiate programs and opportunities they received through targeted outreach.

    “These programs have been crucial with my persistence in schooling and higher education,” GSA adviser Freeda Warren said.

    She credited the extra boost enrichment services under the outreach umbrella gave her to attend college.

    The group pledged to support UC President Robert C. Dynes in his negotiations with state lawmakers, whose budget plan proposed eliminating all funding for the programs. Representing various campus groups, several of those present said they would write letters backing Dynes in his pledge to redirect portions of the university’s core budget to fund the programs slated for cuts.

    “I support [Dynes’ pledge] full-heartedly,” Hugh Mehan, a sociology professor and director of the Center for Research on Educational Equity and Teaching Excellence, said.

    However, Mehan, who defended outreach programs in a December 2003 testimony before the state Senate’s budget subcommittee, called Dynes’ proposal a “mixed blessing” that could alienate faculty members who have proven to be an important but lukewarm ally in the fight to preserve the programs.

    Predicting that few among the faculty would be willing to sacrifice money slated for salaries and research, Mehan said they nevertheless had a stake in seeing outreach succeed.

    “We have to get the faculty to realize that it’s in its best interest to have a diverse student body,” he said.

    According to Mehan, the issue has become a “political football” for UC administrators and legislators — one that has lacked sincere backing since its inception.

    “I’m incredibly pissed off about the situation,” Kris Kohler, a second-year sociology graduate studen, said.

    Kohler also chaired the UC Student Association when the Board of Regents initially adopted SP-1 and SP-2 in 1995, two resolutions banning race and gender preference in admissions and employment.

    According to Kohler, the Regents compromised with students and faculty who had united against the decisions by boosting funding for outreach programs to preserve access to the UC system for disadvantaged students.

    “As we were fighting to protect affirmative action, we were excited that people wanted to expand these programs,” Kohler said.

    He now says he believes that decision was disingenuous, with the Board and legislators waiting for the first available opportunity to make “political backdoor deals” and eliminate the programs again, an opportunity they discovered with the state’s budget crisis.

    Rafael Hernandez, director of the Early Academic Outreach Program, urged students to speak out and pressure political leaders.

    “You, as students, have a tremendous amount of power, especially when you remind them that you vote and that you register others to vote,” Hernandez said.

    EAOP had met and surpassed three of its four five-year goals set during the 1998-99 school year one year early. It projected to meet the last goal by the end of the required period, according to Hernandez. Because of the program’s success, he argued lawmakers had poor timing in proposing their cuts.

    “If this was a business, it would not be a time to cut [its budget],” Hernandez said. “When you’re having success, it’s time to add to the coffers.”

    The proposed budget cuts would affect 28 outreach programs run by the UC and CSU systems, he said. These programs involve academic development for all students, including those from K-12, community college and graduate or professional programs.

    According to Hernandez, the state had a duty to maintain funding for the programs, pointing out that only 20 percent of high schools in California supply more than 55 percent of the students admitted to the University of California.

    Emmanuelle Regis, an organizer at the San Diego chapter of Californians for Justice, said the group would back efforts to stand up to the state. She said CFJ, a grassroots group that organizes high school students, would hold a planned protest on May 17 to mark the 50-year anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruling ending segregated schooling.

    Flowe pledged to schedule more events to address the outreach cuts.

    “I think this is just a first event, and there will be very many more,” Flowe said.

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