Office ban fails to deter protesters

by Ken Eisinger

The number of listless demonstrators dwindled Monday to the amount of pounds some of the hunger strikers shed over the last six days: 11.
Meanwhile, school administrators refused to give in and banned the hunger strikers from sitting in University President Mark Yudof’s office. The remaining protesters were not deterred.
“I’ll stop fasting when my fear for my health outweighs my dedication to education,” said Alexei Ditter, a Chinese graduate student and strike organizer.
Protesters kept up their peaceful vigil during a press conference on the steps of Morrill Hall on Monday, but sternly contested University officials enrollment figures for the Chinese program.
With a raspy voice and stooped shoulders, Ditter said statistical accuracy is integral to determining an appropriate number of professors for the program. Along with an equal and independent East Asian Languages, Literature and Linguistics department, protesters demand a fourth tenured professor. This is in addition to a third professor promised by administrators last Friday.
Documents from College of Liberal Arts Dean Steve Rosenstone’s office place the number of undergraduate majors at 22 with 15 graduate students. However, protesters claim the program contains 39 majors and 11 to 12 graduate students.
But officials said the demonstrators included students who’ve graduated or haven’t registered for a class since, at least, the fall of 1997. Some Chinese majors listed were from other colleges.
Demonstrators are standing firm by their findings.
“I think the dean should not use false numbers to dupe the public,” said Yu-shih Chen, a Chinese professor and vocal strike participant. “And there should be changes in the office.”
Rosenstone said he has not had an opportunity to look over the demonstrators’ documents. But he said a variety of factors could contribute to the discrepancy such as students dropping out or changing majors.
Several top officials, including Yudof, said even if there were 39 majors, the fourth position would have to wait until the need becomes solidified over time.
“If that’s the trajectory of the enrollment, we will allocate more faculty,” Yudof said. He added that the students will most likely never have the level of support they desire.
There are two tenured and two temporary professors in the Chinese program, which is housed in the Institute of Linguistics and Asian and Slavic Languages. During Friday’s tense meeting between administrators and protesters, school officials pledged a $50,000 student recruitment scholarship and an 18.1 percent increase in funding.
The increase translates into an addition $64,664 over the 1997-98 program budget.
The third faculty position was approved last fall. Administrators said the funding increase was approved in February, but the scholarship was not to be unveiled until May. Rosenstone said the administration will not bow any further to the hunger strikers.
“The bottom line is they are not going to stop until they get another position and that is not going to happen,” Rosenstone said.
However, the number of students who started the hunger strike Wednesday — 27 — dropped by more than half. Demonstrators said most students quit fasting to maintain their studies, work and health.
Ben Baker, who is hypoglycemic, resumed eating over the weekend when he began suffering from heart murmurs.
“The strike is a voluntary thing,” Baker said. “If an individual reaches a condition or a situation that requires them to drop out, of course they’ll do so.”
After six days on a liquid diet, the remaining protesters’ conditions are deteriorating. Baker and Chinese program graduate student Ben Ridgway said they had both lost 10 pounds between Wednesday and Friday. Several students said they suffered from fatigue, dizziness, hallucinations and headaches.
But the remaining students’ resolve persists. They contend the administration is forcing them to continue the strike.
Although they can no longer sit inside Yudof’s office, the protesters still gather just outside its doors under the watchful eyes of two University Police officers. Administrators and police used a local statute that calls Yudof’s office a private reception area. Under the statute, the area is for temporary use and persons waiting cannot interfere with normal business operations.
“They have paintings in there that are more disruptive than we are,” said Chantra OL, a sophomore political science major and one of the remaining hunger strikers.
Other students could not find humor in the administrators’ actions.
“Guests come wait in Yudof’s office all the time,” Ridgway said. “We’re no different. Only we’re still waiting for our appointment.”