The exterior of Santa Monica College.
Update: After the airing of this segment, SMC trustees voted to put the two-tier pricing plan on hold
Following Tuesday’s pepper spraying incident, and a request from Community Colleges chancellor, Jack Scott, trustees at Santa Monica College are meeting this morning to reconsider their controversial two-tier pricing system.
The pilot program will make certain classes about five times more expensive than most others at SMC and would have gone into effect this summer.
The move proved to be very unpopular with students, who made their voices heard especially loudly at a board meeting on Tuesday. Apparently students stormed the small meeting room, prompting campus police to pepper spray the crowd. The blowback from that incident has garnered national media attention and may have prompted today’s emergency session.
But students aren’t the only ones opposed to the plan.
“Most faculty that I’ve spoken to feel opposed to it because we know there's a certain bias that’s going to be in the system that’s going to leave out certain students,” said Nick Pernisco, spokesperson for the Santa Monica College Faculty Association. “We're just afraid there's going to be a lot of students left behind and not able to get the classes they need.”
Also weighing on trustees has to be the threat of a possibly lawsuit from Chancellor Jack Scott. His office has indicated that they don’t believe the pricing plan is legal under California’s education code and could price poorer students out of an education.
They want more time to investigate the legalities before the rate hike goes into effect.
“The first time we heard about it was when the president of the college announced it and then the board adopted it at the last board meeting,” said Pernisco. “So we didn't have a chance to comment on it or speak about it. It just kind of flew under the radar.”
For their part, SMC believes they’re on solid legal ground. The events at SMC over the past couple weeks are raising a lot of questions. The fact is California colleges have gotten slammed by budget cuts and must come up with some way to pay their bills while still serving their students.
Is this two-tier system a way to do that? Other community colleges in the Southland will be watching closely to see how the legal issues shake out. If the program is compatible with the education code, will other colleges consider it?
Did students take it too far when they tried to enter a small meeting room at SMC? Or did campus cops indiscriminately pepper spray a non-violent crowd? Are administrators to blame for not anticipating the passion students felt about this issue?
Vanessa Romo, KPCC education reporter (covering the SMC Trustees meeting at SMC Theatre Arts Main Stage at 1900 Pico Blvd.)
Jasmine Delgado, Vice President of the Associated Students of Santa Monica College
Nick Pernisco, Spokesperson, Santa Monica College Faculty Association; Professor of Communications