In January, when ASUO Vice President and UO senior Natalie Fisher first heard the tuition increase would reach 10.6 percent, she wasn’t surprised.
She first heard of the raise during a meeting of the Tuition and Fees Advisory Board, a group the University of Oregon set up to create more transparency in its tuition decisions. Fisher, a political science major, serves on that board.
What did surprise Fisher was when she realized that she and ASUO President Quinn Haaga would be the only student government representatives from five Oregon colleges to advocate for any tuition increase at all.
Students in the crowd last Thursday “shamed” Fisher after her endorsement of the tuition increase to the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission; and although she realizes it sounds “oxymoronic,” she doesn’t want tuition to increase, even though she is advocating for it.
Students cheered and took to celebrating on social media after the tuition increase failed.
But Fisher doesn’t feel she is understood.
“I feel as though I saw no better option,” Fisher said of the 10.6 target number during the TFAB meeting in January. Members, including students, faculty and staff, had been testing different scenarios in a custom tuition calculator made by Jamie Moffitt, the university’s finance expert.
Download the tuition calculator here.
Fisher, born in Bend, Oregon, said the university needed to balance cutting faculty jobs and increasing tuition.
And so the board landed on 10.6 percent — a little more than a halfway compromise between a 0 percent tuition increase with cutting enough staff to solve UO’s financial problems entirely, and a 20 percent tuition increase, which would also solve UO’s deficit.
Fisher recalls conversations during those early meetings in which TFAB members would say that any tuition increase under 10.6 percent “would be cutting into the bone of the university.”
She said she remembers pressuring other TFAB board members, including Brad Shelton, UO vice provost for budget and planning, asking him what he thought was the most the school could cut.
“Brad [Shelton] said he wouldn’t be comfortable with more than 9 million dollars” in faculty cuts, which left them with a 10.6 percent tuition increase.
“What is so tragic is this was our best option. We will be asking students to pay more for significantly less services next year,” Haaga said to the HECC board last Thursday.
Fisher felt in no way manipulated by the school, and she said she represented the entire student body’s collective best interests. She said faculty cuts hurt students too, which she feels many don’t acknowledge.
“While all of these students are celebrating this [vote], how many professors went home and cried to their spouses and said, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to have a job next year’?” Fisher asked.
She ultimately blames the state government for UO’s money issues. When she talks with politicians, they often comment on UO’s new buildings and sports teams; they think the school is being irresponsible with its money.
“A lot of people have this idea that the University of Oregon is bleeding money because we have a couple nice buildings and a football team that has a lot of uniforms. That’s such a false narrative,” Fisher said.
On Wednesday, ASUO is hosting a phone bank to lobby state legislators to give more money to UO. The event is called the WTF Phone Bank and will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the EMU Call Center. ASUO has scripts prepared for students.
Now the university is holding talks with HECC members, trying to convince them to reconsider votes on the 10.6 figure as soon as this month, according to a statement from Oregon State University leaders.
“If at least five of the voting commissioners agree to provide approval, the HECC will convene a meeting within the next two weeks to reconsider the votes,” according to the OSU statement.