Dec 12 2015

Student Activism and Campus Reform

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Student Activism and Campus Reform

In recent weeks, student protests have rocked campuses across the nation and put business-minded college and university administrators under pressure to create inclusive learning environments and address widening wage inequality in the academy.

At the University of Missouri, system president Tim Wolfe and chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned after high-profile incidents of bias and discrimination on campus. Student tactics included a hunger strike, a boycott, and a refusal by black athletes to practice or play until Wolfe stepped down.

Elite private colleges and universities are also benefiting from burgeoning student reform efforts. At Claremont McKenna College, dean Mary Spellman stepped down after two students began hunger strikes against a campus culture of exclusion and intimidation.

In rural upstate New York, Ithaca College students overwhelmingly voted no confidence against president Tom Rochon in protest of a learning environment where many people feel marginalized. The faculty at Ithaca College will hold their own vote of no confidence later this week.

As John Evelev observes, colleges and universities were once “democratic spaces, spaces of civic representation in American life,” but in the wake of decreased public funding, they are “run more like businesses with leaders who are unresponsive or downright dismissive of students and faculty.”

For this reason, the rediscovery of informed civic engagement by American students is a most welcome development, for they may leverage the power of collective action to create concrete and enduring change in the academy.

At more than one hundred American colleges and universities, thousands participated in a “Million Student March” to demand free public education, student loan forgiveness, and a $15 hourly wage for campus employees.

These are sensible calls for reform, as students have foot the bill for the expansion of lucrative administrative positions, and an unprecedented building boom in higher education, while a majority of their professors are made contingent and work for fast-food wages.

More than half of the American professoriate are adjuncts who frequently fly between campuses, lack trajectories for full-time (or tenurable) appointments, and work without fair compensation for duties outside of the classroom (such as grading, preparing class, meeting with students, and penning letters of recommendation).

The Institute for Policy Studies recently concluded that “top-heavy executive spending” resulted in “more adjuncts, more tuition increases, and more administrative spending” at most public state universities between 2005 and 2012

However, more domestic and international students on American campuses realize that while tuitions and fees are amongst the highest in the world, institutional financial resources are increasingly diverted from the classroom—into executive and administrative pockets.

As a consequence, faculty members joined with students at North Carolina universities to hold system administrators accountable for excessive executive salaries (reaching more than $330,000 per year in the case of Sheri Everts and David Belcher)—while tuitions at their institutions have increased more than 50 percent since 2008.

In contrast to that administrative largess, part-time adjunct faculty members across the nation earn a paltry $3,000 per semester-long class on average—often without health benefits or opportunities for professional development (including conference funding or course load reductions for research).

Therefore, when the protests begin on your campus, stand together to put an end to the corporatization of American higher education by insisting that tuition dollars go to support classroom teaching—and that means streamlined campus bureaucracies, full-time professors, and inclusive learning environments.