“Reclaiming the U” criticizes University decisions

Students and faculty called for collective action.

Evelina Smirnitskaya

University of Minnesota faculty and students gathered in a lecture classroom on the West Bank Thursday night for an event meant to counter President BruininksâÄô discussion on future of higher education held later that evening.

âÄúReclaiming the University: Fulfilling our Promise to Students and the PublicâÄù was organized by Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education (FRPE) and Education Action Coalition  in a response to what they felt to be a one-sided and exclusive discussion held solely for the benefit of the administration.

The event focused on ways for students and faculty to reclaim their place in dialogues on the future of higher education, and instigate change within the University to steer away from the increasing market influence on the school policies.

Guest Speaker Gary Rhodes, the general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, spoke about a national issue of academic capitalization among public universities.

âÄúWe behave increasingly like an economic firm âÄì an economic enterprise,âÄù Rhodes said.

According to Rhodes there is a false idea of scarcity upheld by the administrations all over the country. But in reality, Rhodes said, with tuition hikes and alternative revenue incomes like outside research grants, the UniversityâÄôs revenue has actually been increasing.

Sofia Shank, another guest speaker and a student at the University, said âÄúincreasingly, we are buying our degrees, not our education.âÄù

Shank criticized the goals pursued by the University as part of its Strategic Positioning Plan approved by the Board of Regents  in 2005 in order to raise its ranking as a research institution.  

She questioned the benefits of the transformations brought by the UniversityâÄôs idea of creating a âÄúsingle cultureâÄù. Shank brought up growing tuition, budget cuts, and escalating class enrolment numbers as disturbing trends emerging in the midst of UniversityâÄôs track to lift its ranking.

During a question and answer session, concerns were raised of academics taking the back seat to research and financial initiatives. The speakers were asked what possible strategies were available to prevent this.

Both Rhodes and Shank emphasized the importance of student and faculty involvement at large.

âÄúIt doesnâÄôt take that many people to change an institution,âÄù Rhodes said.

Rhodes also brought up the need of transparency within the University. A discussion needs to be opened by the faculty to shed light on the reasons behind decisions being made, he said.

According to Rhodes endless aspiration never leads to solid results because it continues endlessly. What the University needs, Rhodes said, is a new source of creative and imaginative ideas, and that comes with conversation and active pursuit of alternative ideas.