Guest viewpoint: Student voice on proposed tuition proposal is “non-negotiable”
This piece reflects the views of the author and not those of Emerald Media Group. It was originally submitted by ASUO President Helena Schlegel to members of the Emerald staff on Feb. 3. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected]
University of Oregon campus community,
On Jan. 4, a new term began for most students at the UO, and with that began another round of weekly talks about tuition with the Tuition & Fees Advisory Board. This board is comprised primarily of administrators and faculty, with two students appointed by students and two students appointed by the administration. At the start of the term, guaranteed tuition was off the table for 2016-2017, and administrators presented an increase of 4.7 percent for in-state students and 4.46 percent for out-of-state students. Over the course of the year, if a student were to take an average of 15 credits per term — the required amount for graduation in four years — than this would amount to an increase of about $484 for in-state students and $1,428 for out-of state students per year. Factor in the duration of loan payment and interest rates, and students will be paying this increase back for many years to come.
The student representatives, including the ASUO President Helena Schlegel, opposed this increase and looked forward to negotiating ways to adjust the budget in order to reduce the proposed tuition and fee increases. During the week of Jan. 25, the student participants left the meeting a few minutes early in order to make it to class. The rest of the group came to a consensus about the 4.7 percent increase after the student representatives left.
Both student-nominated representatives were informed on Monday, Feb. 1 that this decision had been made, as well as that all remaining TFAB meetings for the year would be canceled as they were no longer deemed necessary. An additional message was sent to Schlegel mentioning that an open forum for all students could only take place at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 3. Previously, there had been talks of holding the forum later in the week or possibly the next week, but instead it was moved up, on the same day that students would be in Salem to lobby for higher education funding for a statewide lobby day, and at a time that many students would still be in class.
Aside from these divisive tactics and increases, which are inaccessible for many students and communities on campus, all of this comes at a time when there is a dangerous rhetoric being spread around campus by University President Michael Schill. At an event on Jan. 26, Schill failed to acknowledge how his two percent budget cuts across the board are trickling down and students’ incidental fee dollars are having to pick up the gaps left in some student groups and resource budgets. He also directly stated that debts of $24,000-$25,000 are not insurmountable, and that borrowing is actually a positive thing that fills gaps now before one has the money at a later time. On many other occasions in addition to this event, Schill has mentioned that tuition increases are inevitable and will happen every year.
This rhetoric is at odds with Schill’s initiatives on improving equity and inclusion at the UO. The tuition hike affects all students, but it disproportionately affects students from marginalized backgrounds, like students of color and low-income students. Investments in the Pathway programs will not be enough if tuition is increased in an unsustainable manner. Tuition affordability is vital to improving the dismal state of diversity at the UO; Schill and other administrators need to realize this if they are truly invested in bettering our campus.
Our own president is not in touch with the needs of students on campus. He speaks of funding completion services and budget cuts, but does not work to encourage administrators to allocate the dollars to the services and resources students are asking for. Students on campus are frequently divided by the administration — see the 2014 GTFF strike for recent context — and are either completely ignored or constantly left out of conversations about situations that directly impact us.
Our tuition dollars keep the school running, yet our voices are ignored on a daily basis. Students across the nation are facing the same circumstances, but are being taught that because it is “just the way things are,” we have no power to hold administrators accountable. It is time for the UO and students across the country to come together and engage critically with administrators about where our dollars are going, and why we are going into debt while our administrators are making as much as $798,400 a year (yes, Schill makes that much a year).
This funding model of raising tuition is not stable or sustainable. Operating in a non-transparent way to exclude students from vital conversations is not an acceptable way to run an institution of higher education. Commoditizingmarginalized students and denying the importance of affordability in their ability to attend UO is outrageously misguided. We need an administration that cares about, listens to and includes our voices and opinions. That is non-negotiable.
AccessABILITY Student Union
Associated Students for Historic Preservation
Climate Justice League
Nontraditional Student Union
UO Student Mental Health Advocates
Kevin Dobyns, ASUO Senate President
Andrew Dunn, ASUO Senate Seat 7
Mario Radic, President, Pi Sigma Alpha
Nicole Hendrix, ASUO Senate Seat 18
Quinn Haaga, ASUO Senate Seat 2