(CNS) – A pilot project at Santa Monica College that would offer some summer courses at higher tuition to make up for cuts in state funding was put on hold Friday by the college’s Board of Trustees.
The decision came three days after a raucous meeting that was punctuated by campus police pepper-spraying students and protesters who were trying to get into the board room to oppose the two-tier tuition plan.
“I feel we need to pause and take a broader look and spend more time and dialogue (on) the merits and impact of this pilot self-supporting fee-based program,” SMC President Chui Tsang told the board during today’s meeting, earning applause from the audience.
The pilot program, originally approved in March, would offer about 50 extra “self-funded” classes this summer at the college’s “actual cost” of $180 per credit unit, compared to state-subsidized classes that cost $46 per credit unit for California residents.
At a board meeting on Tuesday, dozens of students showed up to protest the program. With the board meeting in a small room, a confrontation ensued between protesters and police in the hallway as students tried to force their way into the meeting. Police wound up firing pepper spray into the crowd, and three people were hospitalized.
About 30 people were exposed to the pepper spray, including a roughly 3- year-old child.
“This is not the kind of college that we are, and we don’t want this to ever happen again,” Tsang said today. “And it hurts me to know that we have students, staff, faculty members who sustained injuries as a result of the incident.”
Tsang said an internal investigation would be conducted into the pepper- spraying, and he also called for an independent review.
On Wednesday, the day after the pepper-spraying at the board meeting, California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott spoke with Tsang and asked him to consider postponing the implementation of the two-tiered tuition system. That led to the scheduling of today’s board meeting to reconsider the proposal.
Tsang noted in a statement earlier this week that the plan to offer so- called “self-funded” classes was an attempt to continue offering necessary core classes that would otherwise not be held due to state budget cuts.
“SMC’s cost is far below the tuition rate at the state’s other public educational systems,” Tsang said. “The college’s action comes at a time when SMC is confronted with the greatest budget crisis ever to face higher education in California.”
One student at today’s meeting noted that two-tiered tuition program never would have gotten a second look if not for the pepper-spraying incident.
“Without the actions that happened on Tuesday, this would not be happening here,” he said. “We wouldn’t have gotten the media coverage.”