When the pepper spray used to thwart a storm of angry student protesters cleared Tuesday night, trustees still refused to ditch a second tier of higher-priced courses.
Trustees said their contentious plan to roll out 50 privately funded courses this summer that would otherwise be annihilated in the wake of severe state budget cuts was not communicated well to students who demanded administrators launch a referendum.
As many as 30 were pepper-sprayed by campus police trying to keep the students from storming Tuesday's board meeting. When the meeting resumed two hours after the melee, members of the college's Student Organizing Committee said they wanted officials to agree by Sunday to put the two-tiered funding plan up for a campus-wide vote.
"We don’t want to be bullied," said Trustee Louise Jaffe.
Many of the students believe the classes—which will be offered at a non-subsidized rate of about $180 per unit—will create a class-based system and will ultimately lead the privatization of public education.
Their chants as they protested Tuesday's board meeting were "no cuts, no fees, education should be free!" and "shame on you!" directed at the board. They held a banner that read "education is a human right."
But trustees said Tuesday night that the program is a temporary solution to years of reduced state funding. Since 2008, Santa Monica College has cut its course offerings 15.4 percent, and officials warned recently that the number could hit 23 percent if a November ballot initiative to raise taxes fails.
There's a "lot of misinformation among students… [they think] it’s going to cost them all this money to take classes and it’s going to be this way all the time— which certainly isn’t the intention," said Trustee Nancy Greenstein.
Board members are toying with putting "pilot" in the program's name, currently titled "Advance Your Dreams." They said it will be thoroughly vetted at the ends of the summer and winter terms. They'll track the demographic of students and how much they each paid. Scholarships of $300 will also be offered based on need and academic standing.
Student Trustee Joshua Scuteri suggested they consider sunsetting the program, terminating it when a certain level of state funding is restored.
"We're hearing these classes will overtake the state supported program… we [need to] somehow make it clear that this is by no means intended to replace" those classes," said Trustee Susan Aminoff.
Aminoff said the college's Student Services Division will find ways to ensure students' voices are heard, likely through town hall-type forums, and that the board's intentions and actions are communicated better.
"It's clear from tonight that students do not have all of the information and some of the information is inaccurate," she said after the meeting.
Meanwhile, Santa Monica College's Public Information Officer Bruce Smith said there will be an investigation into how the campus police department responded to the protests.
"We will be investigating this thoroughly," he said. "I do think that Santa Monica College PD is an outstanding police force."
City News Service reported that no arrests were made.