Students, teachers protest university privatization, tuition hikes

EUGENE, Ore. – A new coalition of students, teachers, and workers at the University of Oregon rallied and marched Oct. 3 against rising tuition and plans to privatize governance of the university. The event drew over a hundred participants and observers to the student union amphitheater.  

Sponsored by LESST, the League of Educators and Students Slashing Tuition, the rally included a wide variety of speakers addressed the rising cost of higher education in Oregon and around the country.

Judith Lechner, president of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (AFT Local 3544, the graduate employees union at the University of Oregon), gave the opening remarks.  A visiting scholar from Germany, she talked about how baffled she is by the lack of support for higher education in the United States.

“Students work long hours while trying to do well in classes,” she said, “and still graduate with thousands of dollars in debt.”

Michael King, board chair of the University of Oregon’s cultural center, noted that students in Quebec recently won a fight against rising tuition.

“It’s our fight, too,” he said.

Congressman Peter DeFazio, representing Oregon’s 4th Congressional District, also spoke, about the dismal state of support for students from the federal government.  He pointed out that during the budget crisis last year, the one thing Republican lawmakers insisted on was cutting subsidized federal loans to graduate students. That was met with loud jeers from members of the graduate teaching fellows union, GTFF, who helped organize the rally.

“A 1 percent addition to the taxes of people who earn over $350,000 a year would pay for the low-interest rates forever for national direct student loans,” DeFazio said.

“These people are already paying a lot less in taxes than they were in the Clinton era,” he continued, referring to the super-wealthy who continue to enjoy George W. Bush’s tax cuts. “They’ve already made it, and they made it by virtue, probably, of a good education.”

DeFazio said, “We need to assure that the future leaders of America, whether it’s in science or business or government or education” aren’t forced in the direction of having to “earn a high salary in order to pay back an exorbitant amount of debt.”

Gregory Rose, a retired professor and chairman of the Communist Party of Oregon, told the crowd that this issue demands activism and resistance from the current generation of students, likening it to the struggle against the Vietnam War a generation ago.

“You must throw yourselves athwart the machine that is devouring this generation, capitalism,” Rose said, to cheers and waving signs. “It has commodified education, it has commodified teachers, and it has commodified students. It must stop, it must stop here, it must stop now!”

After the speakers, organizers led the assembly on a march around the campus, chanting, “There ain’t no power like the power of the students, ‘cuz the power of the students don’t stop,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, student debt has got to go,” among others.

“We need change,” GTFF officer Jacob Barto shouted into a megaphone, “and we don’t mean pennies!”

As the march returned to the amphitheater, organizers emphasized that this was the start of a long campaign.

“We would like at least a tuition freeze,” said Dana Rognlie. another officer of the GTFF and an organizer of the rally. “And of course lower tuition … this is a long term game we have to be playing.”

Marchers distributed literature announcing a fundraiser for LESST, the student-teacher-worker coalition, at the Cowfish Dance Club on the evening of Friday, October 5, as well as a panel discussing the possibility of a tuition freeze at the Erb Memorial Union, on the evening of October 10.