“They should be doing their homework.”
This was the reaction of Cal Poly Pomona Provost Herman D. Lujan last Friday afternoon as he watched a battalion of students descend on the Manor House at a huge protest rally on behalf of recently terminated part-time lecturers and TAs of the university’s College of Science. The Manor House, which serves as home to Cal Poly President Michael Ortiz, was preparing for a welcome dinner for dozens of members of a school-sponsored National Development Council summit, who were congregated on campus for the weekend.
The quickly organized rally was a reaction to the stunning announcement earlier in the week that budget cuts would gut the College of Science of all of their part-time lecturers, student assistants and GTA’s, effective starting the winter quarter, and force the cancellation of classes (over 100 from the math and statistics department alone)—many of them required courses that students need to graduate. The affected faculty members received an email on Wednesday and were told of the cuts during a meeting on Thursday. Shortly thereafter, Cal Poly students made the decision to protest.
But even as student and faculty leaders were busy preparing banners and slogans for the Friday march, Cal Poly officials just as quickly reversed themselves and vowed that the budget had been restored. This announcement came at 2:30pm Friday, just two hours before several hundred students and supporters gathered outside Building 8.
In essence the protesters had already won the battle. But awash in a sea of whistles, they decided to go ahead with the march anyway.
So, as student organizer Brian Kim grabbed a megaphone and shouted, “We’re not going to take this lying down!” the protesters took to the streets for a peaceful, boisterous and somewhat jovial rally, if only to wave the many signs and banners:
“Bridges Collapse Without Math,” “I Will Graduate in 20XX,” “You Made My Teacher Cry,” “Faculty Contracts = Worthless,” etc.
Divided on both sides of the narrow campus roadway, for the most part the students urged passing motorists to show their support by honking their horns. They were not disappointed. Meanwhile, school officials like Provost Lujan stood somewhat puzzled and bemused while guarding the front gate of the Manor House.
Suddenly, President Ortiz could be seen walking alone down the street and as organizers surrounded him, Ortiz led them in front of the Engineering Bldg. for an impromptu Q and A. Ortiz then did his best Alberto Gonzales impression, claiming he was a bit fuzzy on the details of the budget cuts.
“Until I received an email, I didn’t know there was a problem.”
To which Kim asked, “You don’t even know what’s going on in your own school?”
Many students, suspecting Ortiz was attempting to divert the rally from the front of the Manor House, refused to leave their positions. Those who did listen to Ortiz speak offered frank assessments. “Sounds like he was just bullshitting,” said one student. “It’s all bullshit,” barked an organizer.
Another organizer, Adrienne Spina, who was leading the crowd in chanting “One-Two-Three-Four/We Deserve A Whole Lot More!” praised the protesters ability to rally so quickly. “We started this yesterday,” said Spina. And even if the cuts had been restored, they didn’t want the various VIP’s, CEO’s and school donors from across the country that make up the NDC to miss out on the action. “They don’t want [the NDC] to see this,” Spina said of Cal Poly officials.
Indeed. Up at Kellogg West Conference Center, where the NDC was being housed, a shuttle driver was planning some subterfuge. He told a Kellogg West worker, “I’m going around the long way,” in an attempt to circumvent the rally.
This strategy did take the protesters somewhat by surprise. When the van finally arrived, most of the signs were facing the other way. However, once spotted, the NDC members got a nice jolt of protest to go with their evening meal. Some smiled, some grimaced.
In the end, Kim was very proud. “We showed what we could do,” he said. “We showed we could make a difference.”
Presumably, after the protest, the students went back to their studies.