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Give students a vote on budget cuts

BY MICHAEL DAVIS | OCTOBER 28, 2009 7:20 AM

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The heightened atmosphere is palpable. Students are bracing for the first hard hit, their knees buckling. This is not the picture of Pat Angerer about to demolish an opposing running back.

This week’s opponent is the state Board of Regents. With the power of the regents’ pens, they will decide the fate of our university. Tuition increases and layoffs are highly likely as the state tries to find ways to stave off our banishment into budgetary hell.

Students have little voice in this decision. The current UI Student Government made promises about freezing tuition last year, but the only thing frozen is the members’ courage. In this democratically run country, we vote for major decisions in our many levels of government. So it comes as a shock that students, faculty, and staff — those affected most — do not vote on proposals to fix budget woes.

UI officials have stated they will do as much as they can to prevent these cuts from hurting the quality of our education. I’m sure they feel that’s possible, but the effect of this crucial decision will say otherwise.

If layoffs — temporary or permanent — are implemented, great teachers will be out on the street, and more and more TAs will be left to fill the educational gaps. TAs are often the most underrated cogs in this machine we call “Higher Education,” but even they can’t withstand the pressure they will be under.

The voting could be as follows: someone would send all students, faculty, and staff a document via e-mail with a list of questions regarding each issue and whether to implement the changes. To promote fairness, the regents, in consultation with UI leadership, could come up with the list of questions for people to vote on.

For example: “Would you be in favor of a tuition surcharge for the spring semester, an increase in tuition in 2011, both, or neither?” “Would you be more inclined to support an increase in temporary layoffs to halt any permanent dismissals, or would permanent layoffs be more practical?”

Right about now, I can guess what you’re thinking: “Michael, no one is going to vote in favor of layoffs or an increase of tuition.”

In most cases you might be right, but assuming that we have no logical thinkers in this hub of education is a bit naïve. We all understand that officials will spread out these tough choices among all employee groups and students.

To counteract these worries, we could require not just a simple majority, but a supermajority of 60 percent of the voters. Obviously, officials would give more weight to the opinions of faculty and staff regarding layoffs and students in regard to tuition.

Part of me wishes that as students, we could revolt and march the streets of Iowa City in protest. But the days of civil disobedience have long been squashed by the average citizen’s worries about its repercussions. The Man is stricter than when my father went to this university.

The sentimentalist in me hopes that one day very soon students and faculty members will stand up and shout out their windows: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

God, I love Network.

To be honest, “mad” is not the right adjective to describe my intense dislike for tution increases.

In the last 25 years, American colleges and universities have raised tuition 440 percent, according to Harper’s. That’s four times the rate of inflation, twice the increase in health-care costs, and even more than the housing collapse.

These figures kind of make you want to join a commune or even move to Canada.

Has education increased in quality four times over in the last 25 years? Would these cuts and layoffs really provide a better educational experience for UI students?

The short answer is no, but a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach says it won’t matter.

The university wants us to take pride in our education. I don’t believe that there is a better way than voting for the future of our university. Recent events have shown that UISG is not working in our best interests. We must look to ourselves for leadership.

The regents will decide our fate, but my hope is that our voices won’t end on a whimper.

Instead, let’s make it a loud cry of “no.” There’s courage in that response.


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