June 18, 2013
Back to $chool
Posted on Oct 2, 2012
By Andy Kroll, TomDispatch
Anger and disillusionment over California’s abandonment of its students, teachers, and staff boiled over in 2011. Protests sprung up at campuses across the state. Students shut down a meeting of the University of California’s Board of Regents, walked out of classes at San Francisco State, and clashed with truncheon-swinging police in Long Beach and Berkeley.
But the most indelible of these protests unfolded on the campus of UC-Davis, an hour’s drive northeast of San Francisco. Student protesters there disobeyed campus rules by staging a peaceful sit-in on a footpath in the campus quad. For their efforts Lt. John Pike, a barrel-chested, helmeted, mustachioed campus cop, doused them with pepper spray. He did so in a manner so nonchalant that it triggered immediate shock and outrage; photos and videos of the incident shot across the globe in meme form. There was Lt. Pike pepper-spraying God in Michaelangelo’s “Creation of Adam,” soaking the Declaration of Independence in John Trumbull’s 1817 painting, feeding the raging flames that swallowed up the Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc after he had set himself ablaze in Saigon in 1963.
A rallying cry for the dozen or so students who occupied that path was the price of an education. In just eight years, tuition at UC-Davis had more than doubled.
Back to School—or Not?
Recently, Baltazar and a friend traveled down the coast to Santa Cruz. She stopped in a tourist shop, and a postcard on a rack caught her eye. It listed a smattering of facts from 1981, the year she was born. Her gaze settled on one particular figure: Harvard University tuition was then $6,000. The nation’s oldest and most prestigious university had cost just six grand. That’s $15,206 in today’s dollars. She couldn’t believe it. At De Anza, Baltazar said she spent $18,000 a year in tuition and living costs.
Baltazar told me that she’s still set on getting her bachelor’s degree. She’ll try again for Santa Clara, and also apply to state schools. She’s not picky; she can’t afford to be. “I will apply to anybody who will take me and help me pay for it,” she said.
Like a lot of young people in California, Baltazar clings to the dream of public higher education, but in her life, as in those of so many others across the state, it’s curdling into something more like a nightmare. “I went to school in California because I knew there were more financial aid options, I knew about the Cal Grant, and I thought, ‘I should be able to get these things,’” she told me. “In California, the education system is great—if you can afford it. If you can’t afford it, it’s kind of a moot point.”
California once led the way into a system of unparalleled public higher education. It now seems determined to lead the way out of it.
Andy Kroll is a staff reporter in the D.C. bureau of Mother Jones magazine. He’s the son of two graduates of California’s higher education system, and he himself graduated from a public institution, the University of Michigan. An associate editor at TomDispatch, he writes about politics, money and the economy, and can be reached at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com.
Copyright 2012 Andy Kroll
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