Santa Monica College president Dr. Chui L. Tsang defended campus police who dealt with demonstrators Tuesday evening, pepper-spraying dozens of students and bystanders, including a four-year-old child.
"Although a number of participants at the meeting engaged in unlawful conduct, Santa Monica College police personnel exercised restraint and made no arrests," Tsang said in a statement.
Students were trying to voice their strong opposition to a plan that would dramatically increase the cost to take classes at the community college, imposing a higher rate for in demand classes. In-state resident students currently pay $36 per credit unit, but that could jump to $180.
Community colleges in the state have lost billions in funding in recent years and Santa Monica has cut more than 1,000 classes. Around 100 students showed up at the Board of Trustees meeting shouting "Shame on you!" Tsang said attempting to disrupt the Board of Trustees meeting was "unlawful conduct."
"Santa Monica College regrets that a group of people chose to disrupt a public meeting in an unlawful manner," Tsang said. "The college has launched a full investigation into the matter."
The American Civil Liberties Union said campus police went too far.
"The college must respect the right of students to make their voices heard, especially when they are expressing profound concern about college policies that will impact them and their studies," said the ACLU's Hector Villagra, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. "Free speech means being able to speak freely without being doused with pepper spray, which has excruciating effects that can last for days. When campus police respond with excessive force, it makes students afraid to speak out."
Trustee David Finkel said he wasn't convinced the use of pepper spray was absolutely necessary.
Patch reports after the meeting, the Board of Trustees still planned to move forward with the controversial new funding plan. The Chancellor of the California Community College system wants Santa Monica to hold off on the new plan.