ABOUT THE QUICK TAKE
The Coalition of American University Students marched on President Neil Kerwin’s house last week, sparking a campus-wide debate on the merits of the methods used to bring about change. While CAUS demanded a tuition freeze, this week the Quick Take discusses the methods they used to achieve its goal.
By Ethan McLeod
Last week, the members of the Coalition of American University Students joined together in protest of the recent news that tuition will undergo yet another hike. The demonstration took place just before midnight in the neighborhood of our University president’s home. This is simply the wrong way to go about things.
Let me preface this by saying that I too am a victim of the AU financial plan. Not only has my family been subjected to the 5 percent average annual increase in tuition, room, board and other seemingly hidden fees that show up on a mailed-out bill every semester, but I have struggled to keep my daily financial footing as an undergraduate at this school. I have even had financial aid that was offered to me as a freshman, a factor that drew me in very effectively, but rescinded little by little each year.
But what CAUS has done by carrying out their protest on Glenbrook Road is turn a national problem for undergraduates into something that they think applies only to AU. Universities have been increasing tuition across the country for years. Including adjustments for inflation, tuition, room and board have gone up by 42 percent at public institutions and 31 percent at private institutions in just the last decade.
Of course, the rational decision for any incoming college student is to pick the most affordable program to suit their needs. But students want more than the cheapest option. They want excellent faculty, programs, facilities and resources that will benefit them more in the long run. After all, we only get to be undergraduates once.
For this reason, many students, including myself, chose this school because of the benefits it could offer with a higher price tag.
It is a wonderful thing to voice the discontent of the student population. It is how we created excellent awareness of issues like sexual assault prevention and even got our favorite TDR employee his job back. But targeting the president of the university is the wrong way to get it done. We tread the line between activism and obnoxiousness when we bring our cause to the suburbs of Northwest D.C. at midnight on a weekday.
AU’s consistent tuition hikes are part of a national problem, one which will not be stopped simply by protesting on someone’s lawn. The problem exists at both the state and federal levels of fiscal policies that have been cutting Pell Grants and student loans and increasing interest rates on those very loans for years. What we need is a national movement to create awareness of the post-secondary education problem. A university protest does little. Perhaps a protest at the Capitol, organized even by our very own proactive AU students, would do much more.
What students hate to hear is that if they wanted to save their money, they should have gone to a more affordable institution. That is overly simplistic and unfair. Students come to AU to get the best in educational resources and opportunities. But just as it is not fair to tell one student to simply go to another more affordable school if the tuition is too high, it is incorrect to hold one university president accountable for what is in reality a larger national problem that affects students across the nation.
Ethan McLeod is a junior in the School of Communication.
By Robert Brockmeijer
The recent actions of the Coalition of American University Students have been noticeable, if anything. However, they are not shedding the type of light CAUS wants, or should want.
CAUS has made itself less credible as a group and only caused ruckus. Everyone has the right to express their opinion, which is why I am not saying that CAUS cannot do what it did, but it should accept that many openly disagree with their methods. It is not the cause they are fighting for that people oppose. It is the method they used.
Tackling one person at his residence is not going to solve anything and will only make it tougher for CAUS to keep student interest. If anything, members of CAUS created a rather poor reputation for themselves, as is evident by the many Facebook posts from students.
Although CAUS has a very strong and valid point, its most recent protest took things too far. Yes, the price at AU is quite steep, and the last thing it should do is go up. But there are good and bad ways of protesting. All banging pots and pans outside President Neil Kerwin’s home accomplished was rudely awakening neighbors.
The last thing this protest can be called is a “success,” because now the CAUS has garnered a bad reputation with many people, including several students. I watched the video posted online of the students yelling outside of Kerwin’s house, and all I can say is that I was utterly embarrassed by some of the things being said. If this is a representation of the AU student body, it is not a student body that I want to be a part of, or even associated with.
If they feel the need to express their concerns regarding the tuition hike, they should do it in an orderly and timely manner, and not in a way that unwillingly involves students who simply wish to lead their college life. We knew that AU would be expensive going in, and should keep it in mind while here.
The fact of the matter is that AU is a private school and can increase tuition if it so chooses. If students are so opposed to it, there are cheaper options, options involving in-state tuition and lower rates. Do not disrupt the people who are willingly paying the full rate because they choose to and can.
If this were a public school, all would be different. But it’s not.
Robert Brockmeijer is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences
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