Ten students laid dead in front of the Administration (building 1) on Monday afternoon.
Some were on the ground, limbs splayed like they had fallen at the spot. Others looked peaceful — with eyes closed and hands knitted together over their stomachs. And in the middle, a cutout of California State University (CSU) Chancellor Timothy White peered out from a black, makeshift coffin.
For 55 minutes — symbolic of a 55 percent increase in administrative pay since 2010 — the students laid in front of the building as part of a CSU systemwide demonstration.
The protest at Cal Poly was put on by Students for Quality Education (SQE). The die-in — in which participants lie on the ground and pretend to be dead — was organized in part by political science sophomore Mick Bruckner and harkens back to 1980s-era die-ins for AIDS activism.
“Recently, it’s been used in all sorts of social justice movements, and I think it’s really good at getting the message across that whatever you’re organizing against is on the demise,” he said.
Additionally, SQE has issued a letter to Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong with a list of their demands. The group demands that Armstrong condemn the Sustainable Financial Model, publicly pressure CSU and Cal Poly leaders to invest in ethnic, gender and critical theory programs and develop a plan to roll back Student Success Fees implemented before the 2008 recession.
Chico State University, San Francisco State University, CSU Stanislaus and CSU Los Angeles all held similar rallies during the day, and participating student groups issued letters of demands to their respective campus presidents as well.
SQE spoke out against three major flaws it sees with the CSU system: the rise of both student fees and administrative salary spending; the lack of ethnic, gender and sexuality studies; and the continued implementation of Student Success Fees, of which Cal Poly has the highest at $790.
The Cal Poly demonstration had grown to about 30 people during a mock funeral service for the CSU, where SQE voiced its grievances before staging the die-in at the front of Administration.
Rallying cries of: “Whose university? Our university!” “Education is under attack — what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” and even a reworked version of “Baby Got Back,” saying, “The CSU don’t want none unless you got funds, hon,” were chanted by participants.
Communication studies lecturer Lisa Kawamura helped with the protest by calling out to passersby for their attention.
“I’d like to see more of our students joining in with them,” she said, adding that the SQE isn’t asking students to make speeches on their behalf. “They’re asking you to be here and be seen. And I think that’s really important.”
One of the largest points of contention for SQE during the rally was the proposal of a new Sustainable Financial Model by the CSU Board of Trustees. The financial model would raise tuition annually by about 2 percent, according to SQE.
The rationale, according to the Sustainable Financial Model proposal, is that annual raises to tuition and fees across the CSU system would help it maintain purchasing power amid decreasing state funding.
“Cal Poly is pleased that its students are passionate about their education and willing to speak their mind about maintaining its quality,” university spokesman Matt Lazier wrote in a statement regarding the protest. “A California State University education remains one of the most affordable options for students seeking to better themselves through higher education. A Cal Poly degree continues to provide one of the best returns on investment among all undergraduate programs in the U.S.”
Lazier added that Cal Poly is working to continue diversity and inclusivity programs and classes. “To be clear, Cal Poly has not reduced funding of allocation of resources related to programs promoting multicultural, gender and sexuality studies. The university will continue to place high priority … the goal of creating an open and inviting campus environment for all students, employees and visitors.”
Ethnic studies department chair Denise Isom echoed the statements in an email, saying that while similar programs had struggled at other CSUs, Cal Poly’s ethnic studies major and women’s and gender studies minor “are not simply thriving, but growing.”
But students at the protest argued that more could be done to give students a more affordable, quality education, pointing to the Master Plan for Higher Education in California, from the 1960s.
“Being tuition-free is actually possible,” said political science sophomore Matt Klepfer, who also co-founded the activist group SLO Solidarity along with Bruckner. “It’s happened before in the state of California, and it’s essential.”
Further, SQE stated that the Sustainable Financial Model would unfairly impose up to $10,000 in additional tuition costs for undocumented students who don’t qualify for AB 540 — which can relieve some students who have immigrated to the country from paying out-of-state tuition.
“If you, yourself, don’t feel like you’ll be affected by these tuition increases, I just want to ask you to consider the fact that this proposal … it could upend someone’s life,” Bruckner said. “So the students who are not accommodated by (AB 540) will see a $10,000 tuition increase. And, how does someone deal with that? I don’t know. Loans? Drop out? It just — the effects of this are really much larger than a lot of people realize.”
The CSU Board of Trustees is slated to vote on the Sustainable Financial Model in the upcoming months, and SQE intends to ramp up their efforts against the proposal as the voting date draws closer, according to Bruckner.