Students should rise up against U misuse of funds

A strange sort of class warfare has broken out on campus. It can be summarized like this: the administration vs. everyone else.

Although protests have become so commonplace that the average student on the street walks right past one without even noticing it, the clerical workers’ strike is different. This time the people holding the picket signs are working men and women, and their fight goes right to the heart of everything that is wrong with the University.

Yes, some of the workers have crossed picket lines and gone to work. They had to. And yes, some of the health-care costs in dispute are relatively small. But students can tell you that a 12 percent to 15 percent tuition hike is relatively small as well until you start adding it up year after stinking year.

What is really at stake is whether the administration can continue on the course it has been so recklessly pursuing: gouging tuition, squeezing employees’ wages, raising administrators’ salaries and generally running this place like the collegiate wing of Enron.

Whether they know it or not, students and workers are actually in the same boat – or rather, sinking ship. The University that screws one group screws the other equally.

Although few will actually join picket lines or attend rallies, most students are keenly aware of their own situation. There is a rising crescendo of grumbling and griping among students who are fed up with the ever-increasing tuition rates, the ridiculously high cost of University housing, the endless construction projects being carried out at the students’ expense and a host of other grievances.

The animosity is palpable. Even mentioning one of these problems is likely to elicit a stream of invectives about the other ones.

Take the lack of seating at our new $72 million student union. If you note this to any student who has been to Coffman Union in the last month, you are likely to send an otherwise taciturn person into a mean-spirited rant about “how much this University sucks.” (One person urged me to write a column using these exact words.)

On the face of it, this kind of thing would appear to be little more than abject whining, but it needs to be looked at in context.

When my stepmother attended class here in 1984, she paid approximately $35 per credit. Today the price is more than $229 per credit for an in-state resident, plus an additional $750 per semester in various fees. Even when adjusted for inflation, those figures are unconscionably high.

Just within the last five years, tuition has risen 48 percent. The price for a liberal arts student attending college is edging toward $8,000 per year, and that doesn’t even include food and housing costs. Anyone who is a non-resident or chooses to live in overpriced University housing will end up paying two or three times that amount.

Meanwhile, the administrators are not only making more money but hiring more administrators. The number of high-end administrators making six-figure salaries has quadrupled in less than a decade, and the number of administrative jobs has doubled in roughly the same time frame.

To put it plainly and succinctly, what has been going on for the last 10 or more years at this University stinks.

Unfortunately, unlike the clerical workers’ strike, the war between students and administrators is a cold war, at least for now. Most students view the tuition hikes as something beyond their control, and few make the connection between their own situation and that of the clerical workers.

The almost stoic complacence of the student body in accepting tuition hikes is supremely ironic given that the Gophers men’s hockey team winning the NCAA title is grounds for turning Dinkytown into a stygian inferno of anarchist destruction.

Just imagine what could happen if some of the latent energy unleashed during the hockey riots could be used toward forcing the administrators to put the interests of students and staff ahead of their own ambitions. The students might actually have some leverage if University President Bob Bruininks thought that he might someday look out his window and see a bunch of maniacs with torches in their hands erecting a bastinado platform and getting ready to storm the place.

But the angry hippies of the world haven’t learned how to rally the Abercrombie and Fitch types to their cause. As a result, the great silent majority of the student body looks down on protests as a frivolous waste of time and ignores the strike as something that does not concern them. All of this subdued anger over tuition hikes is wasted because students never make the connection between other people’s problems and their own.

Students need to make this connection, and they need to get rid of their fear of activism. Four years is too long to get pushed around.

Nicholas Busse’s column appears alternate Mondays. He welcomes comments at [email protected]