S.C.C. Walkout Speech, April 16, 2019
Today we are here to call attention to a systemic injustice, an inequity that our legislators have the power to remedy. We are here to talk about our commitment to public education, equity, and most importantly, our commitment to each other.
I am a product of public education, and I continue to serve public education because I believe that it is fundamental to a democratic society. An educated populous is essential to a tolerant, equitable, democratic government. Democracy requires an educated constituency. Following that logic, education is a right, not a privilege – a necessity, and not a luxury, and in fact, our state constitution deems it the paramount duty of our state government.
Our state and local colleges are a critical pathway in every citizen’s right to access a free and public education. A huge number of our Shorewood and Shorecrest graduates attend Shoreline C.C., many of them gaining early credits through Running Start. S.C.C. professors are committed to teaching the broad range of students who come to them from many stages and walks of life.
When I went to Shoreline CC it cost $95 a quarter, and we were outraged when they wanted to raise the tuition $5 a quarter to pay for tennis courts. That was back when the state paid more than 80% of the cost of tuition. There was a commitment to education beyond high school, and the role of a local Community College was recognized as essential for many students.
Community Colleges offered a broad spectrum of classes from vocational education to World History and Choral Music, from Math 99 to Theater production. A student attending their local community college could explore myriad avenues to the job market or make their way to a four-year institution. Community colleges offered ‘teaching’ professors and small class sizes, both scenarios from which I benefited.
We don’t all come to our college experience from a perspective of privilege, nor have we all had the opportunity by the time we are 18 to be the students we need to be to get the most out of a four-year institution. Some of us come to college straight from high school, others may seek new training to enhance their prospects, and still others come back, later in life, when in our rapidly changing world, their career becomes obsolete, and they seek to continue to participate productively. And some might come for the pure joy.
Whatever the reason, public community colleges are here to provide that service, committed to engaging all comers to a life-changing experience, an experience that benefits us all in a democratic society. So why, if community colleges are so important to the success of so many, do we short change nearly half of the professors who bring them the experience?
Community colleges are indispensable in our effort to provide access to higher education and success for all students, particularly students of color, low-income students, and other historically underrepresented populations. Community colleges came to “be” partly out of a desire to level the playing field, to provide vocational training and access to academic subject areas to students other than those who attended four-year institutions.
I went to school here, and the professors I had were some of the best teachers I had in my college experience. They were academics with a passion to teach. Shin and Peter’s Integrated Studies was a groundbreaking collaboration of departments. Alex Maxwell’s English and Literature classes opened my mind to a world of ideas and the beauty of the well-crafted message.
All students seeking an education deserve to navigate systems without bias or prejudice, classes that meet their needs, and educators who believe in them. Education is no small task, no easy undertaking. It requires commitment, collaboration, and an unwavering desire for equity.
But how can professors influence an educational community without a voice? How can educators create engaging, authentic, learning environments for students if they are not invited to the table, if they are not given the opportunity to participate in a career? Teaching is not a part time pursuit, nor on the other hand, do I believe it is a “calling” as some would have it. It is a career, like many, which requires continuing education, a commitment to excellence, a passion for equity, and a desire to see every student succeed. There is no equity in serving an underrepresented population when half the professors themselves are asked to serve students without appropriate compensation, access to health care and benefits, or due process. How can we offer students a system in which nearly half the professors have no opportunity to participate in an educational community, nor do they have a voice in the creation and development of the system they serve? But they do have one advantage – they are many.
The first day of school in 2018 was a good day to be a new union president. Shoreline had just negotiated one of, if not the highest, salary in the state. Yes, there was a billion dollars on the table expressly designated for salary, but had we done nothing, we would have gotten none of it. We negotiated for four and a half months and well into the wee hours of the morning on the final day
But none of that happened by accident. We organized for success. We engaged our members through one-on-one interviews, a survey, and group forums where we learned of and subsequently bargained for more than 20 different issues that were important to our members.
When we stand together, we are more powerful, without a doubt. It is why there is such a vehement anti-union voice right now. Unions, if they are doing their job, can organize large numbers of people rapidly. WEA has over 94,000 members, most of whom are willing to wave signs, doorbell, and call or email their legislators over issues that impact education.
As individuals, we all want improvements to the systems in which we orbit, but we struggle with the cognitive dissonance of change. We make efforts to change personally but are often unable to see ourselves in a new situation without experiencing the angst of change. Organizational change is even more difficult. Without a strong collective voice and a commitment to take action, there is very little pressure that can be brought to bear on decision makers.
So, what is our commitment to Public Education? There are always barriers. Money is usually at the head of the list, but it often masks the power and control so dear to those that wield it. Washington has one of the most regressive tax structures in the country, yet none of our elected officials have the courage to take even the first step toward a more equitable structure. Our social systems are underfunded while we live in one of the wealthiest states in the Union. Education is held up as the way forward, yet many students must incur massive debt to earn a college diploma, literally hedging their prospects against their future earnings.
And what is our commitment to equity? We cannot risk moving any closer to a fully adjunct community college system. Colleges like Shoreline represent a unique biome in the ever-decreasing diversity of public, higher education. By providing access to the gamut of classes I mentioned before, they are by their very nature more diverse and equitable for those seeking an education. But for many of those teaching in our local colleges, the system is repressive and inequitable.
And, indeed what is our commitment to each other? The only way to change an organization is through organizing change. It starts with calls and emails to legislators and state-level administrators, and it ends with a commitment to action. Our job is to motivate people to overcome the discomfort that change can bring and engage those who want change to work together. The McCleary lawsuit which brought massive new funding to K-12 education was no simple lawsuit. It was a carefully organized, 12-year commitment to changing the funding structures of K-12 public education. It was a collaboration of many stakeholders from the outset to its legislative conclusion, and our job is not finished.
Today we stand together in unity with our higher education brothers and sisters not only to let our legislators know that there is a problem, but to show them that we have a commitment to change and the will to organize.
December 11, 2018
November 6, 2018
September 27, 2018
September 3, 2018
August 24, 2018
August 21, 2018
July 17, 2018