Saturday, August 22, 2009

Open Letter to the 2009 Freshman Class of San Francisco State University

Dear Freshman Class of 2009:

The other day as I looked out my office window, I saw you scramble out of mini-vans and SUVs that crowded the curb by the dorms. The sidewalk was littered with boxes reinforced with cellophane tape, overstuffed suitcases, and backpacks stuffed with teddy bears and laptops. You looked nervous and excited. Here you are – at the beginning of a new semester at SFSU, a campus with a proud history of diversity and student activism. But I wonder if you know what is happening here and at CSU campuses across the state.

Do you know you have paid 32% more in tuition fees than students from last fall? I’d like to tell you the increase in fees equals an increase in the quality of your education, but I can’t. Course offerings and class sections have been slashed; classroom instruction time has been cut by roughly 20% through a CSU-imposed furlough on faculty.

Faculty will lose about 9.53% of our pay because of the furlough, but you will lose nine days of instruction. That might not sound too bad – maybe you think you can use those days to sleep in or do your laundry. But in my first-year composition course, those nine days represent one entire essay unit that helps prepare students for the challenge of the next essay, the next semester, the next composition course. With 20% less instruction time, I can’t prepare you as well as I have prepared previous students.

My office hours have also been cut by 13%. Previous students will tell you that meeting with me during office hours made a significant difference in their ability to improve their writing. But with less office hours, I can’t meet with as many of you as want to see me, nor as often.

Although I will do everything I can to mitigate the impact of these cuts, I can’t possibly provide you with the same quality of instruction I provided students last fall. The quality of your education will decline, even as the cost increases.

But the quality of education is not the only issue; access to education also finds itself on the chopping block as well. CSU will turn away 40,000 students over the next few years. Typically, when access is limited, students who come from economically- and educationally-disadvantaged backgrounds lose out. What will become of those students denied a university education? Will your younger siblings be part of that 40,000?

In the past, when the quality of and access to education has been threatened, SFSU students have not sat by idly; they have organized, made history and headlines, demanded and created change. They have not been alone in that effort; faculty has stood with them. We will stand with you again.

But this fight will depend largely on what you choose to do. As students you have more power than you think. And you have more to lose than any other stakeholder in this high-stakes crisis.

My dear freshmen, are you up to this challenge? You have a choice to make: you can meekly duck your heads, scurry off to your classes (if you’re lucky enough to get them) and accept this decline as inevitable. Or you can, in the words of Bob Marley, “get up, stand up, stand up for your rights; get up, stand up and don't give up the fight.” Will you fight for your education? Will you demand a restoration of quality education and open access – for yourselves and for those who come after you.

The choice is yours. What will you do?