The people’s state of the University

Activists speak out against the budget policies proposed by University administration.

by Grace Kelley

On Wednesday, the Save Our School and Chop from the Top coalitions held a community forum called âÄúThe PeopleâÄôs State of the UniversityâÄù in Coffman Union. Initiated by Students for a Democratic Society, the event served to counter University of Minnesota President Bob BruininksâÄô State of the University address (published online) with alternate viewpoints from the University community. Bruininks claims in his address to âÄúhave the best interests of the University and our students at heart,âÄù but the administration continues to balance the budget on the backs of students and frontline staff. The forum served as a venue to speak out against the hypocrisy of our administration and as an opportunity for students, staff and faculty to continue the discussions ignited by the national education rights protest March 4. The forumâÄôs panel speakers included Phyllis Walker, president of AFSCME 3800 clerical workersâÄô union; professors Eva von Dassow and William Messing from Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education; Eli Meyerhoff and Elizabeth Johnson from Graduate Student Workers United; Student Solidarity Alliance member Jesse Simmons; and SDS member Mia Overly. The audience included students, staff and faculty. Notably absent was the representative from the administration Bruininks had promised to send. Walker declared that although administration has stated that everyone should tighten their belts, it is the lowest-paid âÄî clerical, technical and health care workers âÄî that have been targeted. The administration has proposed forced furloughs, which would mean a âÄú1.15 percent pay cut to the lowest-paid,âÄù Walker states. Things arenâÄôt much better for students. As Simmons pointed out, the average student from the University of Minnesota graduates $30,000 to $40,000 in debt, and tuition just keeps increasing. Meanwhile, the administrators are paid bloated, ridiculous salaries. Overly said, âÄúThe [budget] crisis âĦ has been brought on by the greed of the administration, and now they are kindly asking the students to pay a bit more in tuition, the grad students to continue to pay their extravagant fees, the staff to kindly take a few more unpaid days, the faculty to teach more and larger classes, and the list goes on.âÄù Overly expressed doubts about BruininksâÄô intentions, despite his claim to have our best interests at heart. âÄúSDS finds this hard to believe when the majority of the cuts to funding and to programs are aimed at the most underprivileged in our community,âÄù she said. Overly also pointed to the skewed priorities of the U.S. government: it spends trillions on war and occupation and negligible amounts on higher education. Messing spoke of the free universities in Europe, hoping that the U.S. could follow their example. Meyerhoff took the comparison a step further: students in Europe riot when university fees go up. âÄúWhere are our riots?âÄù Meyerhoff asks, adding, âÄúNon-action is supporting the status quo.âÄù The panel members, along with the organizations they represent, have definitely had it with supporting the status quo. Although the groups involved in the SOS and Chop from the Top coalitions have diverse backgrounds and tactics, it is clear that our goals are the same: to make a more fair University where faculty work together instead of competing for grants and promotions, where staff are valued and paid fairly and where any person can afford to attend this public University. We see our goals and we understand that in order to achieve them, we must unite and fight the powers of corporatization and greed together. Overly finished her remarks by quoting Howard Zinn: âÄú âÄòThe oppressors always try to force victims to turn on other victims.âÄô This is clearly the way the administration would like us all to see it; one group against the other, and let us fight for the limited remaining resources, when in fact we should be allies together in this struggle against the one oppressing us all: the administration at the University of Minnesota.âÄù Grace Kelley Students for a Democratic Society University undergraduate student