Chicago students decry tuition hikes

CHICAGO – With the famed Chicago “hawk” whipping across campus, a coalition of university and high school students, faculty and staff protested at the University of Illinois campus here Feb. 20.

The 10 percent hike would effect students at three campuses of the University of Illinois system and offset cuts in the state budget aimed at closing a $500 million deficit. The University Board of Trustees is expected to vote on the tuition hike March 6. The hikes would mean a 44 percent increase in tuition over the last two years for incoming first-year students.

In his state of the state address, Gov. George Ryan admitted that the budget deficit had widened and further cuts were necessary. More cuts to the university system are possible.

“The state government can spend billions on new airports but ignore poor, working-class and minority students,” declared Paul Fitzgerald, a member of the student assembly. Fitzgerald and other speakers accused the university of hypocrisy, noting that the tuition hikes would undermine the university’s mission of serving working class, minority and poor students.

“The numbers were identical in 1967 when my father was a student here,” he said. “We are expected to pay more yet nothing has changed.”

Miguel Rodriguez of the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition said this action was coinciding with campus nationwide protests targeting the Bush administration’s war drive and the vast amounts of money being wasted by the military and military corporations. “Tuition hikes are taking place everywhere,” he said. “The administration should be more interested in building smart students than smart bombs.”

Joe Isobaker, chief steward of Service Employees International Union Local 73, representing food service and hospital workers at the university, said he hoped the protest would send a message to the administration and state legislature. “Four years ago, students protested cuts to minority programs. We won then and we can win again.”

Isobaker said the one thing Gov. Ryan and legislators don’t want to talk about is taxing the rich. A coalition of labor and community organizations is calling for closing $500 million in tax loopholes as a means to stop the cuts.