By Augustine Ugalde
We all learn that this road called life is difficult for the most part, but it can be rich and rewarding for those who dare to take a chance. The grounds of East Los Angeles College are currently playing host to a group of hardy souls who have had enough of state budget cuts and have decided to protest this injustice with a show of solidarity.
The exact number of participants is unclear, but for a guy that grew up in the’70s as myself, it is good to see some students become passionate about issues that affect their lives. Occupy ELAC brings back memories of the days Elans collected and marched in defiance of the social injustices of the ’60s and ’70s and it is encouraging to see.
Some have commented about the lack of participants and the turnout could be better, but perhaps that too shall come. The purpose of this commentary though is not to praise these protesters but to introduce some common sense into their venture. A quick scan of the Occupy ELAC list of demands has yielded three things that stand out from the rest.
The first is that the protesters want student representation whenever budgetary matters are discussed by those entrusted to make these types of decisions. Giving them the opportunity to engage in the decision making process about how state funds are to be distributed throughout the school is an excellent idea. It would give student representatives a first-hand view of what the process entails and perhaps more importantly, give those same students a taste of what a difficult process distributing limited funds can be.
Unfortunately, this is about the best the protesters have to say. The second and third demands are ludicrous at best and impossible to attain at worst.
Occupy ELAC doesn’t want affordable education. It doesn’t want low-cost education. It wants free education, free meaning no out-of-pocket expense to students.
Free education at the community college level is a thing of the past. It has been almost 30 years since the last time ELAC was able to offer students a free education.
What the Occupy ELAC camp needs is a major infusion of fiscal reality as it exists today. As unbelievable as the free education demand is, it is over-shadowed by Occupy ELAC’s other outrageous demand which is complete forgiveness for outstanding student loan balances.
If I interpret this demand correctly, students who borrowed money to finance their educations in good faith, want the US Government to wipe the slate clean with a “don’t worry about paying us back,” pat on the back. Wow.
I must say, if this ploy works, it may start a financial revolution where anyone who has ever borrowed money from a financial institution can petition to have their banks say, “never mind.” If I were to walk into my bank and demand that my outstanding debts be forgiven for no other reason other than it has become too much of a burden, I would fully expect a couple of burly, uniformed individuals to duly escort me off the premises.
Where does this impudence come from? Some might say that these demands are just the first salvo in the inevitable battle between budget committees and those who would want to negotiate with them, but I’m not so sure. I’m all for helping students get a low-cost education and maybe to grant some concessions about repaying their loans, but get real.
What kind of message would Uncle Sam be sending to students and financial institutions if it forgives all debts? Where does student responsibility come into play? The system works because people who borrow money pay that money back. It is a symbiotic relationship where the institution earns interest, while the individual gets operating monies.
Having the government waive unpaid balances can set a dangerous precedent. Students will get the false impression that whenever they borrow, they could just turn around and demand debt forgiveness when the payments become too much of an inconvenience. Again, when will responsible financial practices be learned?
I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic, but this is the real world we’re living in. I think it’s time for leaders of Occupy ELAC to re-evaluate their outrageous demands.