Prof. offers extra credit to demand free tuition from state legislators

A California State University, Channel Islands professor asked students to endorse part of Bernie Sanders’ platform for extra credit by asking their state legislators for tuition-free college.

“In a 1 to 2-page business letter, write your assembly member and/or state senator as to how the high fees and tuition of the California State University impacts you, and your family, not only financially but also psychologically and in other ways,” description of the assignment obtained by Campus Reform instructs.

“Also include why you believe free tuition would better impact your education.”

Prof. Frank Barajas offers the assignment to students in his history of the United States since 1887 course, which surveys America’s political and economic institutions from the reconstruction era to present day. The three-credit course is a requirement for all history majors at CSU.

To help facilitate the letter-writing process, Barajas provides a list of links to a few blog posts he has written on the subject, saying they will help “provide a historical context to what university students are experiencing today.”

In one of his blog posts, Barajas argues that student loans are a new form of financial slavery and urges his elected officials to reinstate a 2008 budget cut that apparently reduced the cost of CSU’s annual tuition.

“In the end, the pursuit of a higher education should not relegate students and their families to an intergenerational existence of a new form of debt peonage,” he writes. “So what is the solution? A good start would be for Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature to restore the $1 billion in cuts to the CSU budget between 2008 and 2012.”

[RELATED: Cal Poly students demand less tuition, more diversity]

Barajas then asks his students to provide him with copies of their letters so that he can postmark them himself in order to ensure that they are in fact delivered to California’s lawmakers, even asking permission to send the letters to Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and the Chairmen of California’s Higher Education Committee, as well.

“I require that you provide me a copy of the letter(s) and the original of the letter(s) within a stamped envelope for me to place in the US Mail on your behalf. I would also like your consent to mail copies of your letter to the governor of California and the chairpersons of committees of higher education in Sacramento,” he writes.

Barajas then adds that if the “letter fails to conform to the above instructions, zero points will be awarded.”

When Campus Reform asked Barajas for comment on the assignment, he asserted succinctly that it “does not direct the contents of their letter,” and was only for extra credit.

When asked whether he offers additional extra credit assignments, he described two, one entailing attendance at “certain events” throughout the semester and “the review of films of historical import,” but did not respond to follow-up questions seeking additional details about the alternative assignments.

UPDATE: Barajas has since disputed the claim that he asked students to "include why you believe free tuition would better impact your education." He then provided an alternative description of the assignment, which excludes the disputed portion. There are several other differences between the two, which Campus Reform is investigating. We will continue to update this story upon learning more. 

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