A group of approximately 200 students, faculty and staff protested tuition hikes, proposed furloughs and bloated administration Thursday on the Northrop Mall as part of a “National Day of Action for Public Eductation.”
Spurred by activists in California, students at campuses across the United States staged demonstrations to draw attention to what many believe is a disproportionate burden being placed on universities’ students and their lowest paid employees as public institutions scramble to deal with widespread budget shortfalls.
At the University of Minnesota, the group started in front of Morrill Hall before marching through Coffman Union, focusing most of its disdain on top administrators and University President Bob Bruininks . Amidst funding cuts and economic turmoil, protestors said well-paid administrators are capable of making sacrifices that students and lower level employees are unable to. Chants of “Chop from the top!” sprang up every few minutes.
A host of organizations represented a breadth of ideas and opinions, but those that gathered presented a unified message.
Jen Rosenberg , a junior theater major, arrived with her professor and a handful of students from her history class. Though she may not have otherwise attended the rally, she said she thought it made sense to ask administrators to cut their salaries instead of cutting low-paid employees and hiking tuition.
Several speakers railed against a proposed three-day unpaid furlough for all University employees, instead suggesting a voluntary program that doesn’t jeopardize the livelihood of those living paycheck-to-paycheck.
“I’m one of the lowest paid employees,” said Tanisha Jones-Lindsey , a University office specialist. “[Administrators] can actually afford to take pay cuts.”
But for some, the issues they came to address are bigger than tuition and furloughs and salaries. Decisions by the administration — financial and otherwise — must be more transparent, said Ron Greene, a communication studies professor.
“[There’s] a call for a true, honest dialogue with faculty and sharing the governance of the University,” Greene said.
Geography professor Bruce Braun echoed the sentiment: “Right now, we have an administration that I find to be quite isolated from the faculty.
“[They] make decisions we have to implement, decisions about what education should look like, about what programs should look like. They’ve got it backwards right now.”
And with others rallying for higher education throughout the country, Greene also said the issue is larger than the University. It pervades the state, the nation and perhaps even the world, he said.
“This day is part of an international movement to defend public education and to remind people that, without education, there is no democracy. We need to be out to support these moments.”
-Austin Cumblad is a senior staff reporter. Taryn Wobemma contributed to this story