Last night, yet another campus protest in California ended with a burst of pepper spray. Police doused as many as 30 students after a large group of demonstrators attempted to break into a board of trustees meeting at Santa Monica College. But unlike last year's somewhat similar incident at the University of California, Davis, this wasn't another chapter of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Instead, the protest was aimed at officials who are debating a new plan that would effectively allow the school to charge more for its most popular classes.
Most of the attention to this story will probably focus on law enforcement's decision to once again violently subdue students. But hopefully the policy issues that fueled this 100-student protest won't be overshadowed. These events are only the most graphic manifestation of the long-gestating dysfunction within California's system of higher education, and could also be a preview of things to come nationwide.
As I've written previously, Santa Monica is facing a knotty problem. It has too many students, and not enough resources to teach them. State budget cuts have forced it to reduce its class offerings so severely that students are being turned away in droves as courses fill up beyond capacity. Out of frustration, some are transferring to for-profit schools.