Panel protests rising tuition and OUS restructuring

The Portland Coalition to Defend Education hosted a panel discussion on Wednesday about the proposed restructuring of the Oregon University System and rising tuition costs.

The Portland Coalition to Defend Education hosted a panel discussion on Wednesday about the proposed restructuring of the Oregon University System and rising tuition costs. Professors and students spoke to an audience of about 30 people in the in the Native American Student and Community Center before opening the floor for discussion.

Thursday was International Solidarity Day against budget cuts, and coalitions in California called for action. Tasha Triplett, a Portland State senior and the event’s moderator, said that a protest or rally at PSU was impossible due to the proximity of finals week.

However, plans are “still in the building stages” for a bigger event on May 4, Triplett said. This day coincides with the release of PSU’s budget for the 2011–13 biennium.

 “We’re having this event today to bring people in,” she said before the panel began.

Marcia Klotz, an assistant professor of English at PSU and one of the panel speakers, was excited about the alliances between faculty and students that the event encouraged.

 “It won’t happen today,” she said. “But I’m hoping that this will be the beginning of a collaboration.”

The speaking panel consisted of Klotz, political science Professor Barbara Dudley and Zaki Bucharest, an economics student.

“Student and youth voice and action have the power to change nations,” Triplett said. “We can no longer be silent or complacent as we watch our tuition increase year after year…If we don’t do it, no one else will do it for us.”

PSU student Tim Rice showed a silent film he created before the panelists spoke. Images of student protests across nations filled the screen.

Klotz spoke first, describing her financial experience at the University of Colorado, where she graduated in 1983 to the tune of roughly $4,000 for four years.

 “Public education used to be a kind of public trust, a system of social justice,” she said. “That system has been systematically eroded.”

She said that restructuring also affects teachers and professors.

“At the same time that administrators are raising your tuition rate, they’re putting a squeeze on us,” she said, alluding to the recent 3 percent across-the-board cuts PSU implemented.

“We get that mandate every year,” Klotz said.

Commenting on the restructuring of the Oregon University System, Bucharest said that he is surprised that students have been so passive.

“Someone recently told me that it’s going through and there’s nothing to do about it,” he said. “Why are we as students so lethargic?”

Dudley spoke last. She discussed Ronald Reagan’s gubernatorial campaign in California, during which Reagan used the slogan “Clean up the mess at UC Berkeley.” Dudley, who studied law at the University of California, Berkeley in 1969, said that the “mess” Reagan referred to was student demonstration.

“The way he decided to clean that up…was to basically drive students into debt so they would no longer be able to act as independent agents,” she said. “That situation has only been made worse…You all don’t believe there are alternatives.”

She asked why the country isn’t rebelling and imagined what would happen if students across America collectively refrained from paying interest on student loans as an action against increased tuition.

“Debt-free education is a right,” she said, drawing cheers from the audience.

Community members and students asked questions and made speeches after the panel.

“What would it look like to have a nuanced youth movement that can struggle for public education…and challenge debt?” asked audience member Marko Lawson. “What would a movement at PSU look like?” ?