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With the current crisis in higher education, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees two-day meeting on Sept. 23-4, 2010 was a highly anticipated one. At the end of the second day during the period for public comment, Pine Lounge in the UIUC union was a full, with others spilling into an overflow room. Present among the crowd were many students from the Graduate Emplyees’ Union (GEO), MEChA, and Undergraduate-Graduate Alliance.
During public comment, several students got up to address the board. Carlos Rosa addressed the difficulty of working class black and Latino students getting into the University of Illinois with the growing costs of tuition. He referred to the recent figures that only 359 African American students were in this year’s freshmen class and said it was “utterly ridiculous.” He pointed out it was more than 40 years ago that Project 500 was launched to bring 500 freshmen students to UIUC, and yet today these numbers are not nearly being met. Carlos called for the recruitment of minority students “from Chicago, to Champaign, to Cairo.”
Ben Rothschild spoke next and questioned the privatization of the university. He talked about the incentive for corporations to pay a graduate student at $20,000 a year, rather than hire a professional with a $75,000 salary. “Costs are being socialized,” he said, “and the profits are being privatized.” He also criticized former President B. Joseph White who stepped down after the “cloutgate” scandal and is now teaching in the Business Department. Ben asked, “Why is President White being paid $100,000 to teach a class on Business Ethics?”
Peter Campbell of the GEO cited Southern Illinois University President Glenn Pochard who has instituted a tuition freeze. Campbell asked the board if they would consider a similar freeze on tuition. Board of Trustees Chair Christopher G. Kennedy said, “There is a tradition of public comment, not of question and answer.” Peter replied that he had read the BOT documents permitting appropriate time for responses. Kennedy did not answer Peter’s question.
Stephanie Seawell, GEO co-president, was the last to address the board. She spoke about the growing burden on her own students she had spoken to as a graduate instructor. She asked the board if they would allow for a future presentation on the impact of tuition hikes on minorities at UIUC. Again, none of the board members responded.
Chair Kennedy said he was at the student senate the previous night and had spoken with students. Before he could finish explaining himself, Ben Rothschild yelled out, “Are you going to answer the questions?” Kennedy stammered. Ben began chanting “Whose University?” Other students in the room shouted back, “Our University!”
Students then got up out of their seats, stood in front of the board, put on t-shirts that spelled out “TUITION FREEZE,” and tied white handkerchiefs around their mouths. The board meeting was effectively over.
The board voted earlier on a request to give Emeritus status to controversial professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Bill Ayers. Chair Kennedy made a speech stating that he was voting to deny Emeritus status, claiming he was not making his decision based on issues of academic freedom, but because Ayers had dedicated one of his books to the man who killed his father, Robert Kennedy. Ayers had dedicated his 1974 book Prairie Fire to the more than 100 political prisoners in the United States, including Sirhan Sirhan, who had shot Kennedy.
At noon, the Campus Labor Coalition staged a rally attended by approximately 100 people on the quad.