Sunday, February 11, 2007
Daily Collegian article
Daily Collegian article
Student Union rally addresses campus policies
AMHERST - The freezing temperatures outside did not cool down the fervor expressed by members of the community at a rally at the University of Massachusetts Student Union, yesterday.
Members of the Graduate Employee Offices, the Student Government Association, undergraduate and graduate students of UMass, as well as members of the Amherst community, united in front of the Student Union steps to raise their voices about the University's administration and its current policies. About 80 people gathered to listen and show their concern on issues such as educational funding, campus diversity, UMass' quality of education and the overall future of the University's credibility as a public institution of higher education.
Jeff Napolitano, president of the Graduate Student Senate, spoke to the crowd, first stressing a concern about how the administration distributes its funding.
"For the past several years here at UMass, students have been repeatedly told that there's no money to make things better here," he began. "The Vice Chancellor and Chancellor both have claimed the poorhouse when it comes to making this school diverse and representative of people who live in this state." He explained how the administration has cut funding for outreach programs in Holyoke and Springfield, but has managed to double tuition and fees for UMass students.
During his speech, Napolitano raised his arm to display a chart to the audience, illustrating the pattern of tuition and fee increases since 1977. A loud "boo" arose from the crowd as he pointed to the peak of the chart, which represented 2006 ? the year of the highest hike in fees in the past thirty years. He claimed that the administration blames state funding on higher education when students and faculty complain about the lack of resources, but expressed his realization that the blame shouldn't be entirely placed on the state.
"Last year, Chancellor Lombardi claimed that bringing back faculty to 1999 levels was his number one priority," Napolitano explained. "But when we checked this year, he took the money that he promised away and instead, reduced the student-teacher ratio. He cried 'poor' and said we didn't get enough money from the state, but we have to use the money to repair buildings instead."
Napolitano said that not only is the funding being distributed to the on-going campus construction, but it is falling into the pockets of the administrators themselves. According to Napolitano, as of October 2006 the cost for administrators on campus was $11 million ? a $4 million increase from 2004. He shared the numbers for the increases in salaries of Vice Chancellor Gargano, Provost Charlena Seymour and Chancellor Lombardi, which were $20,000, $70,000, and $100,000 respectively.
"The administration has managed to increase their salaries by 50 percent," Napolitano said, stressing that "this isn't just about gaining funds from the state.
"This is about the unaccountable ways that the people who are getting the money spend it largely on themselves," he said. "We've had enough, and we're no longer going to settle for cries of a poorhouse. We're going to the State House to make sure this university is properly funded," he concluded.
Stephanie Luce of the Massachusetts Society of Professors took the platform briefly afterwards to stress the importance of taking direct action on campus to ensure that students, staff and faculty get a voice in how the campus is run.
"It's not only about actually setting the priorities but also, who sets them. And it's clear that the administration doesn't want us as a part of the decision-making," Luce said.
The next issue on the rally agenda was the issue of diversity at UMass, in which Yveline Alexis, co-chair of the Black Graduate Student Organization, addressed concern. Alexis touched upon milestones in educational history, such as the case of Brown v. Board of Education, sharing her fear of history repeating itself. She explained how racially motivated incidents at UMass in the past years caused the administration to develop a diversity commission in 2004.
After the release from the Commission, Vice Chancellor Gargano and Chancellor Lombardi issued a report saying they were committed to building a community of racial and ethnic diversity.
But Alexis described that the number of underrepresented students have dwindled in 2006.
She asked listeners, "Why is it that, in 2006, the diversity fellowship has been re-channeled somewhere else? Why, as a public university, haven't we taken a public stance against the blows to affirmative action that benefits our nation as a whole? And why is it that we are still waiting for the answers to these questions?"
In terms of fighting for fair wages, decent healthcare and working conditions for students at UMass, Justin Jackson of the History Department believes more involvement from students and spreading knowledge on the issue will help win the cause.
But Jackson also suggests that "if the University doesn't want to negotiate in good faith, then we take our hands, and put them in our pockets. We take our pencils, and put them in our desk drawers. Maybe we should take our grades and put those away too at the end of the semester and see how well this university runs without us."
Elvis Mendez addressed the lack of student accessibility to places where students can just be. He shares his concern of how the administration treats its students like consumers and how the University has become a business for administrators to gain profit.
"Whenever I talk to administrators, all they ever talk to me about is marketing and branding the university," Mendez, the SGA president said. "Our relationship to them is as consumers, and their position to us is suppliers. Education should not be a sellable good. It is our right, and to reduce the relationship of students and teachers to one between a supplier and consumer is to devalue the importance of education and undermine why universities exist," Mendez said. He explains that although students have access to places such as the Campus Center and the Student Union, students aren't their top priority because they are run by UMass Auxiliary Services ? a revenue-generating operation.
He also spoke of the recent riots occurring on campus, raising the question of why the administration hasn't addressed the root of the problem. Instead, Mendez says, the University has turned the campus into a police state, clamping down on rioting students.
"How does the University believe it's justifiable to have eight cops for a 400- person party but only one professor for a 500-person class?" Mendez said. He emphasized the importance of having a university designed with student input ? not one where students' priorities are marginalized.
Other issues that were addressed were housing situations for student-parents on campus, in which a student-parent spoke of the need for more housing options for these members of UMass. Local union workers also joined the rally and spoke of the poor working conditions they experience due to the lack of state funding.
Each speaker at the rally stressed the upcoming rally at the State House on Feb. 14. Buses will leave from the steps of the Student Union to Boston where concerned citizens will fight for more representation. The rally lasted about a half hour before the entire group marched through the Campus Center, holding signs and chanting "Ain't no power like the power of the union, 'cause the power of the union don't stop!"
Nicole Boonjakuakul is a Collegian staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.