By Steve Demarest
Earlier this semester, the Coalition of American University Students (CAUS) delivered President Neil Kerwin a petition containing the signatures of more than 1,700 students, demanding a tuition freeze for the next two years and student bargaining rights in budget decisions.
We had hoped, seeing this petition was signed by more than a quarter of undergraduates, Kerwin would respect the will of the students and back down on planned tuition hikes that will result in about a 30 percent tuition increase over the next five years.
Instead, Kerwin responded with a dismissive and condescending letter that unambiguously indicated that he would not yield to student demands.
Recognizing that working through such “polite” methods would result in no progress toward realizing a tuition freeze, the CAUS has embarked on a strategy of disrupting and inconveniencing the lives of those individuals who are making the decision to saddle us with thousands of dollars more in tuition and, for many, thousands of dollars more in debt. The goal here is to escalate such actions to the extent that these decision makers would rather abandon the tuition hikes than continue to deal with these disruptions.
The demonstration Nov. 7 was part of that strategy, and to that end it was successful. Kerwin was visibly angry as he emerged from his house after calling the police on student protesters, who had woken him up by banging pots and pans outside his house. He told us that a tuition freeze would not happen, we should just “go home,” and he was accountable to the Board of Trustees, a body packed with corporate executives, rather than to the students.
Kerwin should know that AU students have a proud history of direct action. After all, former AU president and embezzler Benjamin Ladner was forced to resign after student opposition culminated in dozens of students storming a Board of Trustees meeting.
We are sorry for any students who were disturbed by the demonstration. Our goal in making noise on campus was to bring attention to the action and increase involvement, not to upset any fellow students. But it is important to remember that every successful social movement in American history has involved actions that are loud, disruptive and sometimes even illegal, be they strikes by workers which halted production or marches by civil rights activists that disrupted traffic. Even the particular style of last Wednesday’s demonstration (banging pots and pans at night) was utilized by Montreal students in their recent and successful campaign to stop tuition hikes.
The action on Wednesday night will not, in itself, wring concessions from the administration, but it is part of a strategy that can and will. So long as Kerwin does not let us dream of a future in which an AU education doesn’t mean exorbitant fees and enormous debt, we will not let him sleep.
Steve Demarest, SPA 2013
The Coalition of American University Students