Guest Viewpoint: ASUO Executive highlights student effort in opposing tuition hikes
This piece reflects the views of the author, the ASUO Executive, and not those of Emerald Media Group. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On March 9, an editorial was published in the Register-Guard which minimized the efforts of students at the University of Oregon in the tuition setting process. In the opening paragraph, the piece questions the work of students, stating, “They should have been in Salem the day before, when the state Legislature adjourned without doing anything to relieve the pressures that are relentlessly pushing tuition skyward.” The truth of the matter is that students from across the state, including students from the UO, are constantly in Salem asking for tuition cost relief and other resources for students.
Throughout the month of February, ASUO State Affairs Commissioner Amber Potratz and now ASUO Multicultural Advocate Vickie Gimm – both dedicated student activists promoting positive and inclusive change on campus – attended an Oregon Student Association statewide lobby day and meetings with the Higher Education Coordinating Commission in order to advocate for students.
With President Schill taking a defeatist approach to additional state funding, reinforced by his comments at the Board of Trustees meeting, there was no support from bodies such as the HECC. After hearing testimony from Amber and Vickie, HECC questioned Jamie Moffitt, the UO’s Chief Financial Officer, and was disappointed by the allocation of funding that was given to the University last year.
In January, the University Government Affairs team asked that the ASUO aid in sending students to Salem for a University Lobby Day with other campuses across the state. The priorities that university presidents and the schools were looking for included capital construction and extensions of tax breaks, but no requests for helping students where we need it the most – tuition dollars. The University of Oregon wanted to take students in order to get what they wanted with the support of students, without prioritizing our needs as funders of this campus.
Several years ago, the UO administration along with other schools in the state asked the Legislature for support in breaking away from the Oregon University System in order to gain more autonomy in being able to gain funding. It is true that the state appropriation of funds to higher education has been dwindling since certain policies passed in the 1990s; however, the University has not done enough to support students who ask for state funding, and does not work properly to secure more funding and allocate it to student needs in order to earn more funds from the state.
One role of the Board of Trustees is to keep tuition affordable without significant hikes. When the Register-Guard asks why students are not in Salem asking for money, they should actually be asking why board members and administrators aren’t in Salem asking for more funding, or increasing fundraising efforts to bridge gaps in tuition. Students should be thanked for taking time outside of classes and work to go to Salem and advocate for themselves while the board and administrators consistently ignore their needs.
When the state does not allocate more funding to higher education because it does not trust what the administration prioritizes with the dollars, it does not hurt the administration; instead, it devastates students. Jamie Moffitt will collect her check at the end of every month, just like Michael Schill and Scott Coltrane will.
Their irresponsible practices force students to go hungry, to be homeless and to drop out of school with enormous amounts of debt. The school prioritizes funding specific scholarships, which privilege traditional students rather than creating new funding mechanisms for marginalized students who wish to, and need to, attain a higher education.
In addition to being hurt with added costs, President Schill’s priorities for budget cuts sees that social science and humanities departments are being cut significantly or completely in order to prioritize funding to hard sciences, journalism and business. This practice limits the ability for all students to complete general education requirements here at the UO, and is therefore antithetical to the supposed goals of the University.
With non-tenure track faculty being cut in these departments, students are losing people they look up to and seek guidance from in scholarship and life. We are paying more to lose opportunities based on what a president who has been here for less than a year seeks to prioritize. There is not a place for student input, just a Johnson Hall who pretends to listen.
Since last June, students have participated in every Tuition & Fees Advisory Board (TFAB) meeting, including asking for three forums for more student input than just the regular members. At these meetings, the administration came in with a list of budgets and priorities which were made without student input, presented the information to students and then took feedback with no action or change made to address student concerns. At the forums, administration members often had a condescending tone towards students and were not willing to change any of the recommendations they were making to the President.
Additionally, from June until January, the primary discussion point of TFAB and the Board of Trustees was a guaranteed tuition model, leaving less than a month for discussion on tuition increases for the 2016-2017 academic year. Students testified against guaranteed tuition model at the September Board meeting as it would have raised tuition by approximately 10% for the next incoming class, and not been accessible for many students who dream to attend the UO. The University continued to pursue researching this model and dismissed student voices at the time. Though the model was taken off the table for this year, the tuition increases for next year are still not sustainable for students in the future.
We have been involved in talks about tuition for the entire year. In the past, students have been involved for the entire year as well. We are constantly advocating in Salem. We are constantly working with the administration. We are constantly questioned and ignored. We are constantly asked to pay more. We are students. We are parents. We are Veterans. We are people of color. We are people in the LGBTQIA community. We are people with disabilities. We are from around the world and within the United States. We are people, asking for a fair chance at a degree in higher education, but without a board, administration or community there to support us, we are forced to pay more money each year at the risk of not being able to afford it.