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Guest Viewpoint: A critical response to Schill

This piece reflects the views of the author, Chayne Thomas, 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 [email protected]

“Strange it is that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free speech but object to their being “pushed to an extreme,” not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case.” — John Stuart Mill

University of Oregon President Michael Schill was quick to dismiss the protesters of his Oct. 6 State of the University Address on the grounds that “they don’t understand the value of free speech.” While I believe he may be well-meaning in his desire to “teach all of our students and members of the community the value of free speech and tolerance,” Schill fails to acknowledge the defect in his fundamental misunderstanding regarding freedom of speech. Namely, he ignores the fact that speech is tied to access. It is strange that Schill, who has the loudest voice on campus and multiple platforms at his disposal, can claim that his rights and freedoms are being infringed upon, while other’s voices are being silenced.

Marginalized students don’t have a voice on campus, but Schill was able to post a statement on the school website, release a video and directly email all students regarding his speech. He also swung private conversations where $50 million suddenly appeared out of mid-air — conversations that didn’t include student voices. Students don’t typically have access to platforms and forums for speech sanctioned by the university, and this needs to change.

This newspaper is one exception, of course, but the Daily Emerald also gives a fairly large and consistent voice to Schill. The insidiousness of his statements regarding free speech, particularly his remark that protesters “don’t want to listen,” actually undermines constructive dialogue on this campus by stifling any further discussion. I am not one of the protesters, but I support them.

Demeaning the Oct. 6 protesters by comparing them to the Black Student Task Force is frankly ahistorical. The university didn’t listen to Black students until they protested. Protest is a fundamental expression of free speech and needs to be protected as a student right on campus — especially when the administration disagrees with it.

In addition, as I understand it, the primary reason students are frustrated is because the university administration, the Board of Trustees and the budget and resource planning officials don’t want to include students in discussions and decisions regarding the allocation of university funds, nor effectively tackle the rising cost of tuition. This is in addition to other issues which directly affect students.

Hopefully Schill recognizes his mistake and gives a greater voice to students, in keeping with his respect for speech and debate. This would be better, in my opinion, than trying to pacify us with magic money that is mostly allocated towards science and technology, accompanying Schill’s interests like the Knight campus project. Many students want to be involved in our school’s decisions, but don’t have access to create dialogue about it. If the university receives a mysterious $50 million donation, we want to be involved in the conversation.

One way Schill can give students a greater voice is to include us in decision-making processes that are about us. Including student voices in conversations about the budget will prove enlightening all-around, as we have a lot to talk about. There is a lack of financial transparency at the university. For example, most students don’t know how the increase in tuition is related to Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Federal Pell Grants. Seems to me, this money goes straight into the university’s coffers before being allocated and disbursed to students and rises directly proportionate to the cost of tuition. Schill’s comment that students can “borrow money” to pay for the increase suggests that tuition increases might be being used to increase lending money, rather than to directly tackle costs. Why can’t we create a balanced budget and reduce our costs? There are plenty of brilliant students here just itching to help in that endeavor.

I look forward to learning about our freedoms, and I hope that the student voice is integral to Schill’s upcoming lectures.

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