For generations Californians have recognized the importance of higher education to a free and prosperous society. Under the higher education master plan, established decades ago under Clark Kerr, the top 12.5 percent of high school students would have a place in the internationally respected UC system. Thirty-three percent would have a place in the CSU system, and the remainder would have a place in the community college system.

This master plan has never been realized, and now it is under more threat than ever.

No other state and no other nation has made such a vast commitment to higher education. It is the very reason that we are the greatest state in the greatest nation on earth.

We are all aware of the budget crisis and the need for choices to be made regarding cuts in state spending. Some in Sacramento want to cut the higher education budget in three ways: increased fees, reduced faculty or reduced student population. All three options are shortsighted and unacceptable. A Jan. 8 Los Angeles Times report indicated plans to increase UC fees by 10 percent next year with a graduate student increase of 40 percent.

Higher fees mean that higher education is less accessible to the student population. More students will defer their education or try to rush through their education. Students struggle now to finance their education and they do not need additional pressure. A reduced faculty or student population is precisely the wrong direction as well.

In our new global economy, some of our manufacturing jobs have been lost to Asia. Now many of our service jobs are going well. The only hope we have on maintaining our place as a world economic leader is with a highly educated population. We can face the future by shrinking many things but not by shrinking higher education.

When I was in the legislature, I was chair and vice chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee and was named UC Alumni Legislator of the Year. As a candidate, I made a rash promise not to vote for a budget that included a higher education fee increase. I am pleased to say that I made good on that promise when I served from 1994 to 1998. I authored 27 pieces of legislation relating to education and am now teaching contemporary American history.

One of the key reasons that I’m running for the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is for the honor of representing UCSB. My experience has prepared me very well to be an advocate in Sacramento for UCSB. I intend to travel to Sacramento often as supervisor to testify against fee increases and for capital projects and other funding for UCSB.

I look forward to this and I would be a good representative for our campus.

Brooks Firestone is a candidate for Third District Supervisor of Santa Barbara County.