MSA sought compromise on tuition hike

by Brian Bakst

Minnesota Student Association members lobbied at this month’s Board of Regents meeting with one goal in mind — to fight an average 7.5 percent tuition increase found in University President Nils Hasselmo’s 1996-97 budget.
An MSA proposal to hold the increase to 5 percent was incorporated by Regent Hyon Kim into an amendment to the budget. The proposal was defeated in a voice vote, and so was the MSA effort.
“The students are our customers, and I have heard some students say if we increase tuition 7.5 percent, they will have to quit school,” Kim said.
MSA President Matt Musel said he thought the cause was gaining momentum before the vote on Kim’s amendment, but he said the outcome showed the regents are more supportive of the current administration than University students.
“They were talking about students and they were voting about administration and that’s what is shallow and hypocritical,” said a discouraged Musel.
MSA Vice President Rebecca Mathern said the acceptance of a 7.5 percent increase was a step in the direction of high tuition and low financial aid.
MSA conceded it would be unable to stop a tuition increase, but the group wanted to keep the rate hike to 5 percent. “We have seen tuition rise at huge increases for the last five to 10 years, and we can’t afford to see it rise higher because no one will be able to afford it,” Musel said.
Regent Wendell R. Anderson, who has voted for tuition increases for each of the last 12 years, said it was time to draw the line on rising tuition. Anderson said students have put up with tuition increases that have outpaced inflation for more than a decade.
Since 1983, increases in tuition and fees have exceeded increases in the Consumer Price Index by about 190 percent. But Hasselmo attributed the increases to cuts in state funding. He urged regents to approve the budget and its increases to “drive forward” necessary steps to reach University 2000 goals of a high-quality, cost-efficient institution.
“We are hearing the squeaking and creaking in the system because we are making tough choices,” Hasselmo said of the trend of tuition increases.
About 20 students attended the Thursday regents meeting to ask the board to consider the MSA proposal. Musel said four regents informally committed to the proposed 5 percent increase.
Anderson said the approach of the student lobbyists was proper, and their message was well-informed and prepared. “Their conduct had a great impact on me and others,” Anderson said.
Musel and 10 students sat outside of Hasselmo’s office an hour before the Friday meeting to plan their strategy to gain support from at least two more regents. Each student was wearing a sticker with the phrase, “Strategically invest in us,” a reference to the $44 million in “strategic investments” in Hasselmo’s budget.
If the tuition increase had been limited to 5 percent instead of 7.5 percent, the University would lose an estimated $2.5 million in revenue.
Mussel likened that lost revenue to an investment in students.
“I’m supportive of the investments,” Musel said, “but there are $44 million in investments, and we were only asking for $2.5 million.”
Musel also noted fee increases for next year in his argument against the tuition hike. Under the new budget, College of Liberal Arts students will pay $45 per year for a computing fee, and student service fees will rise by about $30. Administrators want to make CLA and Institute of Technology upper division rates equal, so while IT tuition will go up by 7 percent, CLA’s will increase by almost 12 percent. CLA upper division students will pay an additional $114 more than this year’s quarterly rate.
About 20 Progressive Student Organization members also attended the meeting. But their approach was different than that of MSA. The group erupted in a chant of “Hey, hey, Hasselmo, U2000’s got to go!” PSO members toting a “Stop U2000” sign and distributing protest statements were escorted from the room after board Chairman Tom Reagan called for order. Following the incident, a student representative to the board, Chuck Roehrdanz, formally apologized to regents for the actions of the students.