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College Braces for Gov’s Visit

By Ann Williams and Gene Williams

June 14 -- No one knows exactly what will happen when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger comes to Santa Monica College Tuesday except that, like the man himself, it will be big.

The visit by the larger-than-life governor -- who will give this year’s commencement speech -- has pumped up the college’s traditionally low-key graduation ceremony into Brobdingnanian proportions which, like Swift’s giants, threaten to cast a shadow over the graduates’ big day.

As the college gears up for the crowds, preparations for the commencement are “much, much more extensive” than they have ever been, said college spokesman Bruce Smith.

This is the first time the college has ever needed to issue tickets to the ceremony, Smith said. They printed 5,000 and have had to cut back on the number they can give to each graduate from 15 to six. They expected to run out by Monday.

In addition, the college expects to issue more than 100 press passes to reporters and camera crews from across the nation.

The governor’s visit is “incredibly prestigious,” said Associated Students President and graduate Jeronimo Saldana, who will share the stage with Schwarzenegger.

“Governors usually don’t pay much attention to community colleges,” Saldana said. “Regardless of what’s going on politically, the fact that he’s coming to speak acknowledges the importance of community colleges.”

But Schwarzenegger -- who attended SMC in the early ‘70s -- will be bringing as much political baggage as prestige when he comes home to his alma mater and marches with the students in the graduation procession.

This has many students and faculty worrying that the controversial governor and his many opponents could turn the commencement into a political free-for-all.

“This day is possibly the best day in a person’s life,” said Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, president-elect of the Academic Senate, who worries that a political speech by Schwarzenegger could diminish the occasion.

“Our faculty is absolutely committed to hearing all voices,” said Jesswein. However, he stressed that the governor’s visit shouldn’t be “misconstrued” as a faculty endorsement of his policies.

For over a month, there has been mounting opposition to Schwarzenegger among students and faculty, some of whom urged the college to “disinvite” him (see related story).

In May, the Academic Senate passed a resolution critical of his policies which they say shortchange students and teachers and attack the tenure process, although the resolution stopped short of asking the college to cancel the governor’s visit.
The governor says his policies are necessary to restore the State’s fiscal health.

While families and friends of the graduates are expected fill the bleachers at Corsair Field to capacity, an equal number of protestors could gather outside.

Opposition has extended beyond the campus to include local residents, political activists and regional labor leaders who vow to show up en masse.

“Most of these people have nothing to do with Santa Monica College,” college spokesman Smith said, adding that campus police had met with some of the organizers.

Although estimates vary wildly, campus police told teachers and staff that they are preparing for some 3,000 to 5,000 protestors, according to a faculty member who attended the briefing.

At least two coalitions of protesters will be gathering Tuesday.

A group led by the unions will meet at St. Anne’s Catholic Church and march to the college parking lot at 19th Street and Pico Boulevard, where they will hold a rally. Protesting faculty will meet them on their way to the athletic field in a show of solidarity.

The student led A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition will assemble near the college entrance at 17th Street and Pico Boulevard, though police will likely move them a block west to keep access to the college clear. A counter-demonstration is planned by campus Republicans.

Handling the crowd will require the combined efforts of campus and City police, Smith said. The City police will handle crowd control outside the campus, while campus police will take care of security on the inside. They will work together to handle the rally at the campus parking lot.

The protests are expected to extend along Pico Boulevard, down 16th Street and possibly around the corner up Pearl Street, drawing a semicircle around the college, SMC officials said.

Statewide, Schwarzenegger has been picketed repeatedly by teachers, firefighters and other public employees since he unveiled his proposed budget earlier this year.

Another log was added to the fire Monday, when the governor called a special election that will put a series of initiatives before the voters in November, including the “Live Within Our Means Act” to cap spending which his opponents say will undermine Proposition 98, the funding guarantee for California’s schools.

“Because Arnold has lashed out at a whole array of working people in this state, he has created probably the broadest coalition this state has ever seen to oppose his policies,” said former Santa Monica mayor Paul Rosenstein, an AFL-CIO national field representative who will be a key player in the protests.

“This rally Tuesday will be a reflection of that,” Rosenstein said.

Student President Saldana said he understands why some people are against the governor, but “if they’re going to come and protest, they should celebrate the students at the same time.

“If you’re going to chant, ‘Hey ho, you have to go,’ the next chant should be ‘Hey, congratulations.’”

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