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MJC president answers protestors’ questions about cuts

Journalism one of proposed eliminations

MJC president answers protestors’ questions about cuts

Modesto Junior College students protest proposed budget cuts on Friday by marching to the MJC administration building with signs.


POSTED February 25, 2011 10:14 p.m.

Modesto Junior College administrators informed faculty members on Thursday that jobs may be cut – and that the communications department could be eliminated entirely – as the college attempts to shed $8 million from its budget in response to declining state contributions.

According to MJC President Gaither Loewenstein, approximately 20 percent of full-time management employees, 5.6 percent of faculty, and 15 percent of classified workers would lose their jobs in his budget proposal. Those layoffs would be effective June 30.

“To me, this says they no longer care about students,” said Steven Brewer, an MJC anthropology student who organized a protest on Friday. “They care about money.”

Student protestors marched on Loewenstein’s office Friday morning – the third such action in a week against proposed budget cuts, following a Wednesday protest, and a Tuesday “funeral for the arts” – and were surprised to find Loewenstein willing to hold an unscheduled forum to address concerns.  Loewenstein took questions from the approximately 30 protestors for about two hours.

Loewenstein confirmed during the impromptu Q&A that the entire communications department, including majors in journalism, television and radio, would be entirely cut from MJC in his budget reduction proposal. He declined to comment in detail on the cuts, or why certain programs were being cut, stating answers would be available when the budget reduction proposal is released on Monday.

“That document will provide as good a rational as I can for the budget cuts I’m proposing,” Loewenstein said.

For the third year in a row, the State of California is proposing drastic cuts to community college system funding. Last year, Loewenstein said, MJC reacted to those cuts by reducing sections, laying off part-time instructors, and cutting in non-personnel areas. And those cuts have already had a detrimental effect, Loewenstein said, forcing MJC to turn away thousands of students.

Today, 96 percent of MJC’s $51 million general fund budget is tied up in salary and benefits. Facing an $8 million cut – 16 percent – MJC is left with little option but to cut staff, according to Loewenstein.

“It's not possible to identify $8 million worth of cuts without eliminating faculty, staff and positions,” Loewenstein said.

Lowenstein said the budget reduction proposal was targeted at certain programs, rather than split across the board, to leave the college with fewer strong programs rather than making the entire college mediocre.

“If these budget cuts go through, we're going to be a smaller college, we're going to have fewer programs, but we're still going to be a darn good college,” Loewenstein said.

Protestors understood the fiscal exigency involved – “the legal term for broke,” a student deadpanned – but questioned why certain cuts were proposed.

Many students spoke of losing their favorite instructors, like anthropology professor James Todd who several cited as keeping them interested in school. A mother asked how she would keep attending MJC if on-campus child care is cut, as proposed, while a dyslexic student asked how he would survive without disability services, also due for cuts.

Others questioned the loss of programs like journalism and the associated student newspaper, The Pirate’s Log, which was termed crucial to campus discourse. And others yet questioned the dismissal of top administrators like Student Development and Campus Life Director Wendy Byrd, credited with assisting students to form and run myriad on-campus clubs.

“The whole student body feels that they’re getting a kick in the groin,” said Mayson Meares, an MJC art and graphic design student.

“While they’re already on the ground,” tacked on Mike Sharif, an Associated Students senator.

“How many kids do you think will be affected by this, their dreams and hopes?” Meares continued.

Students asked to be a part of the decision making process, offering possible solutions to some of the college’s problems. Suggestions ranged from organizing a foundation for MJC arts programs to renting out on-campus facilities like the Little Theater, merging MJC with Columbia College, and aggressively fundraising to support education.

Students also asked why faculty pay cuts were not considered, rather than eliminating positions and programs, but Loewenstein said all cuts would have to be negotiated with the faculty union, and those negotiations would likely take too long. All cuts must be made by March 15, Loewenstein said, but he said it was possible negotiations would yet occur.

The timeline would see the Yosemite Community College District Board of Trustees take action on Loewenstein’s budget reduction proposal on March 9. That decision would follow MJC Academic Senate review on March 8, and a 10 a.m. March 4 public forum on the cuts, scheduled to occur in the MJC auditorium.

The process would be completed long before the State Legislature will likely have decided on a budget bill. Loewenstein said the $8 million cut is based on the worst possible scenario, which would see voters reject an extension of the current half-cent sales tax, but even should the cut not be as drastic as expected it is unlikely staff would be retained.

Approximately half of Loewenstein‘s budget reduction proposal is comprised of savings rolled over from this year, combined with anticipated faculty retirements and additional reductions in part-time faculty, he said. And the budget doesn’t account for increasing utility bills – some related to new buildings going up at MJC campuses, which are funded with Measure E tax dollars – and benefits costs.

But the rationale, while understandable, wasn’t comforting to protestors whose majors were on the chopping block. Sam Rolicheck, an MJC radio and computer graphics student, will see one of his two majors dropped.

Loewenstein said the university would work with students to identify replacement classes to complete a major and obtain a certificate, or to identify a different college to complete one’s degree, but that’s not much comfort to students like Sarah Yocum, an MJC photography and audio engineering major. Yocum’s programs will not be cut based on information available Friday, but both may lose instructors.

And just because a program hasn’t been cut yet doesn’t mean it won’t disappear in the next round of cuts, said Ian Wright, an MJC computer programming student.

“I’ve been going here for two, two and a half years, and now could all be for nothing,” Yocum said.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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