The Education Defenders: Students Protest Tuition Hikes

Mar 4, 2010 6:47pm

ABC News on Campus reporter Xorje Olivares blogs: Storming into the University of Texas Tower chanting “Whose school? Our school!” about 150 protestors in Austin, Texas, joined dozens of schools across the country to voice their concerns about tuition increases and budget cuts. The idea for the protest started within the University of California system, where students are facing a 32 percent increase in fees. They were quickly joined by students and faculty from 33 states and the District of Columbia for the March 4 Day of Action to Defend Education. “It’s absolutely clear that since last September, there’s been a huge increase [in frustration],” said Angus Johnston, creator of StudentActivism.net, and a historian at City University in New York. “Students see themselves as part of a movement now. There’s a very different self-perception in terms of seeing themselves connected on a national level.” Since last week, Johnston has been following the number of March 4 events and decided to aggregate them onto a Google Map on his website. He said he has counted 122 events nationwide, including those at Arizona State University, Syracuse University and the University of Texas at Austin. “[Students] have every right to express their point of view and we applaud that,” said Don Hale, vice president for Public Affairs at UT, adding that the university was originally committed to a low percentage increase in tuition. On Tuesday, it was announced that the UT Board of Regents approved a 3.95 percent increase in tuition for the 2010-2011 academic year. Undergraduate students from within the state will reportedly pay $4,709 per semester on average come next fall.   “The [university] doesn’t feel too bad because [tuition increases] are happening elsewhere, but that doesn’t concern me,” said Diane, a government, Latin-American studies and African-American studies sophomore who asked that her last name not be used. The Arlington, Texas, native, admitted that her family was “already at the breaking point” with having to pay for her tuition.  Nedra Lee, a UT anthropology graduate student, who received a fellowship to attend the university, said, “In a lot of ways, I’ve been very lucky. But [tuition hikes] do have a detrimental effect.” At Syracuse University, some students decided to protest by holding a sit-in at Bird Library, on campus. Since noon today, Syracuse student organizers collected more than 70 signatures on a petition that called for a lock on tuition increases and an end to cuts in employee benefits.  The petition, which was begun two weeks ago and IS to be presented to the school’s administration, has more than 1,000 signatures. “We figured we would do something at the library because we saw it as symbolic and action-oriented,” said Mariel Fiedler, member of Students for a Democratic Society. “The sit-in is the culmination of everything.” The broadcast journalism senior said they received a phone call from the school’s Chancellor, Nancy Cantor, saying she was open to a discussion with the students about their concerns. Fiedler said they were going to return her phone call later today. StudentActivism.net’s Johnston  said that while many students have a number of issues they are worried about, it seems as though the financial crisis was at the root of everyone’s concern. “Students are being asked to pay more,” Johnston said,” at the exact moment when they have less ability to pay.”

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