Cal State teachers ‘bulldogging’ for Prop. 30

Oct. 16, 2012

By Katy Grimes

Even after California State University instructors received a mild rebuke for campaigning for Proposition 30 during class time, Gov. Jerry Brown is now making rounds to the state’s colleges and universities trying to convince students to vote for his tax increase ballot measure.

Despite the rebuke, state college instructors and professors continue to promote Prop. 30 during class time, according to Daniel Harrison, a student at California State University Fresno, and president of the Fresno State College Republicans.  “From talking about Prop. 30 during irrelevant class time, to student fees funding campaign materials, to giving an essay exam question mandating students explain the rationale and virtues of Governor Brown’s tax initiative, Fresno State is using taxpayer dollars for illegal political advocacy,” Harrison said.

In a press release this week, Harrison said, “The use of college campuses around California to promote Proposition 30, a current ballot initiative that people in California will vote on next month, has crossed the line of legality.”

Harrison said during a CalWatchDog.com interview that he became concerned about the college promoting passage of Prop. 30 when the Fresno State Associated Students, Inc. planned on voting during its second meeting of the new school year to endorse Prop. 30. Harrison had time to poll 100 students about the ASI’s championing the ballot initiative before the meeting, and asked fellow students if it was a misuse of student funds.

His results found that 91 of the 102 students polled thought Fresno State’s student government should not endorse Prop. 30, nor spend student fees on the political campaign.

Instead, Fresno State Associated Students, Inc. became California’s first public university student government to endorse Prop. 30. Harrison said that being the first to endorse was part of their motive.

Harrison had time to prepare a student petition and received 833 signatures telling the ASI that they were opposed to spending student fees on any political issue, and that they should not waste student money on politics. But the student government went ahead with the endorsement.

The 833 petition signatures is a much larger number than the total votes voting school senators received in their election, Harrison noted.

According to Harrison, the CSU Fresno student body Vice President, Parmita Choudhury, dismissed the opinions of the 833 petition signers. “We are not voting to fund Proposition 30, just support it. These signatures are irrelevant,” Harrison said Choudhury replied, about the petition.

However, the vote gives the CSU Fresno ASI justification to use student fees to print “educational materials” promoting Prop. 30, which the ASI indicated is their intent. according to Harrison.

Student Stories

Harrison shared stories of the classroom campaigning from other students as well: “Anne Badasci, a junior at Fresno State, stated that her professor ‘spent a good twenty minutes in class telling us exactly why we should vote for it, and later when I looked it up for myself I was shocked to see how one-sided his presentation of it had been.’

“Badasci’s professor was Nicholas Hernandez, a part-time faculty in the Political Science department in a course where students ‘examine institutional and political processes by which public policy is formulated, adopted and implemented,’” Harrison reported.

Not all of the CSU instructors were keen on the classroom campaigning. “According to two students in a media law course from the Mass Communication and Journalism department, Professor Faith Sidlow told students that professors and faculty were told to tell students to vote for Proposition 30,” Harrison reported. “But Sidlow did not tell students to vote for either side of Prop 30 because she felt it is a decision every voter should make on their own,” Harrison said. Sidlow is a television anchor on KSEE Channel 24 news in Fresno.

 CSU Instructors campaigning for Prop. 30

Last month, the CSU provosts sent CSU instructors and professors letters telling them that classroom time is not to be used for “inappropriate political activity.”  The Fresno State provost warned that class discussions regarding Proposition 30 would not be acceptable unless the course included a “focus on contemporary political issues.”

“This includes making presentations about Proposition 30 unless a discussion of Proposition 30 is relevant to the regular course material,” said the letter from Charles Gossett, interim provost at Sacramento State, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Harrison said that the memo indicated that it would no longer be acceptable for instructors to “dismiss class five minutes early and provide Proposition 30 information to those students who choose to remain.”

The memo included information on the relevant government codes:

* Government Code section 8314 states, “It shall be unlawful for any elected state officer, appointee, employee, or consultant to use or permit others to use state resources for a campaign activity.”

* California Education Code § 7054 states, “no public funds, services, supplies, or equipment shall be used for the purpose of urging the support or defeat of any ballot measure.”

* California Education Code § 66607 states that all employees of the CSU are required to remain “entirely    independent of all political and sectarian influence” during class time.

The CSU instructors were reminded in the provost memos, “[A] public agency may not expend public funds to promote a partisan position in an election campaign,” According to Stanson v. Mott (1976). According to Smith v. Regents of University of California (1993), expenditures of involuntarily assessed student fees to support any political positions are prohibited.

Yet the CSU Fresno website opens with a link advocating for Proposition 30.

Prop. 30 testing materials

Even worse than openly advocating for Prop. 30 in the classroom, a Fresno state government instructor, Dr. Marn Cha, assigned an essay question on a midterm exam, demanding that students “argue for virtues of Proposition 30 by referring to relevant parts of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s political philosophy.” The professor’s instructions included, “You will not earn any credit at all just by saying what Prop 30 is all about. Your goal is to demonstrate that you can use J.J. Rousseau’s ideas and concepts to explain the rationale for Prop. 30.”

The exam arrived in students’ inboxes at 12:50pm, and was due by 2:00pm.

Several students, wishing to remain anonymous out of fear of receiving lower grades, forwarded Dr. Cha’s email containing the exam question to several media outlets.

The exam essay question made it into the hands of the John and Ken show on KFI AM 640 radio in Los Angeles. On air, John and Ken asked the professor to defend his exam question.

According to Harrison, Dr. Cha said that the test question may or may not have an influence on the way the students in the class vote, having had to construct an argument in favor of Prop. 30 in order to receive a good grade. But when pressed on whether a poor grade would be given to students who write a poor argument in favor of Prop. 30, or students who used Rousseau to explain the rationale against Prop. 30, Cha said, “Giving grades is my business.”

Harrison said that Cha denied having a conflict of interest despite stating on the radio program that he supported Prop. 30. According to Harrison, Cha has even openly stated to the class, “If you don’t support Prop. 30, you should get out of college.”

When John and Ken asked why Cha did not give students an opportunity to choose either side of Porp. 30 to write about, or both sides in the essay, Cha said that class time was spent to discuss both sides of Prop 30, and both sides to all 11 propositions. But Harrison said that claim is not true. “Both sides to Prop. 30 have not been presented to the class, and as for the other propositions, students were required to look them all up for homework one day, but there has been no discussion.”

Harrison will be debating Prop. 30 with Sean Kiernan, President of the College Democrats and ASI VP of External Affairs.

By then, Dr. Cha is expected to have grades posted for the Prop. 30 essay exam.

Calls to Dr. Cha were unsuccessful; his phone number at Fresno State is no longer working.



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