Tuition on the rise: Proposed 4.2 percent hike sparks opposition

Approximately 200 students and faculty gathered in front of the Branford Price Millar Library for the PSU Rally to Oppose a Tuition Hike prior to the March 12 Board of Trustees meeting. Attendees voiced opposition to the proposed tuition increase.

Some students sported “Fearless Advocate” T-shirts. Many held signs relating to student debt. One sign read, “According to my calculations, I will have my student loans paid off 5 years after I die.”

PSU Student Union members coordinated the rally and collaborated in some aspects with the Associated Students of PSU and the Oregon Student Association.

“We had ASPSU folks at the rally,” said president of ASPSU Eric Noll. “We were able to reach out to the media and put out a press advisory. That’s where the news stations came in, and that was really helpful.” Reporters from KGW, KOIN, The Oregonian and Oregon Public Broadcasting were present at the rally.

Noll continued, “So we were able to collaborate on some of the rally pieces, but, for the most part, the organizing that happened that day was [PSUSU].”

PSUSU members led chants and encouraged students at the rally to become involved.

“We’re told that the only way our tuition is not going to go up is if the state reinvests in higher education,” Noll said. “And guess what’s happened? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

On Feb. 12, over 500 university and community college students from Oregon institutions gathered in Salem on the State Capitol Steps to advocate for a tuition freeze during a rally hosted by OSA. Students pushed for the Senate to set aside $755 million for universities and $550 million for community colleges in order to prevent tuition hikes during the 2015–17 biennial budget year.

“[President Wiewel] talked about how he was in support of a tuition freeze,” said Brianna Holgate, a member of PSUSU. “He actually came out to that rally.”

At a student media press conference in March, however, Wiewel said that a total tuition freeze would not be possible.

“The stance of ASPSU is that there should be a zero percent tuition increase,” he said. “They also tied that very closely to pushing for the $755 million…If we get more than [the $670 million] the co-chairs now recommend, we will reduce that percentage increase.”

“This is my fourth year in student government, and this is my fourth goddamned tuition increase,” Noll said at the rally.

In 2013, the Oregon University System published tuition and fee trends in its biennial Fact Book.

According to the Fact Book, resident undergraduate tuition and fees increased by 61 percent between the 2003–04 and 2013–14 academic years. The Fact Book shows a 105.8 percent increase in resident undergraduate tuitions and fees since 1993, when adjusted for inflation.

Student hardship

PSU freshman Jacob Munro spoke at the rally as well. Munro said that over the summer, he worked over 60 hours per week to save up for school. After this year, he is moving back to Colorado for financial reasons.

“I came to PSU because of the location and the great programs,” Munro said. “I love University Studies. I love the academics…My dreams are being crushed because of money.” Munro added that he has taken out $9,000 in private loans to pay for the remainder of the school year.

Holgate said she will be moving back to her home state of Missouri, in part because of inability to pay tuition at PSU.

Dr. José Padín, Associate Professor of Sociology at PSU, spoke at the rally.

“I’m here to express my solidarity with you on behalf of 1,200 faculty advisors and academic professionals…Higher education is a right, not a privilege,” he said.

Padín also pointed out salary rates of high-ranking administrators at PSU.

An article published in The Oregonian in March 2014 outlines that at least 23 administrators earn more than $150,000, including eight paid more than $200,000 annually.

“When a university president receives the kind of compensation that ours does, I expect [Wiewel] to be the hardest working person on campus, engaged in finding real solutions to our economic woes,” said graduate student Monty Hess during the rally.

Protest at Board meeting

Following the rally, several students sat in on the Board meeting, which was open to the public, on the third floor of Millar Library. While Board meetings have traditionally been held at University Place, the location was selected to allow students to see the Board in action, according to Chairman Pete Nickerson.

After the public comments portion ended, students started to protest the meeting just before Wiewel gave his presentation.

Students circled around the Board and chanted, “Stop increasing our tuition, education is our mission.”

Nickerson asked the students to end the interruption. “This is a democratic institution,” he said. “We ask you to please stop.” He then called a recess, which lasted 25 minutes.

After the recess, many of the protestors left and the meeting went ahead as planned. After listening to presentations about the tuition and fees resolutions, the Board voted 10-2 to raise tuition.

After the meeting, Munro said, “I know that [protesting is] a very powerful message to send, and I really like that…I feel like if we took a much more professional approach, it might have changed the outcome.”

In President Wiewel’s closing comments, he responded to the protestors.

“I want to say that it’s really personally offensive to me to think that…the Board of Trustees and the administrators don’t care about [the cost] to students,” he said. “This is why we’re in education—to make education accessible. That’s why we’re working at an institution like [PSU]. Most of us had other options. We chose this because this is what we care about.”

Additional reporting by Lisa Dunn and Colleen Leary.