UMass Trustees Raise Fees, Despite Protest

by Michelle (NEFAC-Western Mass.)

February 27, 2009

Today, I woke up at 4 am. Knocked on my roommates door to wake him up also and stuffed some snacks in my bag for the long day ahead of me. Our ride showed up at 4:30, and we were on our way to UMass Amherst to catch one of the two school buses to Dartmouth. We were on our way to try to persuade the UMass Board of Trustees to table the vote to increase our fees by $1,500 next year.

Sixty of us rode down on that bus, eating the bagels and drinking coffee, courtesy of the Graduate Employee Organization, UAW Local 2322. GEO and the Student Government Association were the main organizers of the trip. On the way we prepared chants and posters. We were informed that if the vote to increase fees happened then we would interrupt the meeting by chanting and yelling til we were threatened with expulsion.

When we got there, we met up with other students from around the state, including a group of students and faculty walked from Amherst to Dartmouth last week in protest. We were also met with twenty to thirty police, and were informed that only some of us could come in. We packed the meeting room, overflowing out the building.

The fees hike was the first discussion item on the agenda, lasting two hours. Some spoke of the fact that UMass is going broke in the recession. Others said we should protest at the State House and not at UMass. One trustee, who voted to increase the fees, had the nerve to say that he would like to be our comrade in arms in a march to the State House! These remarks were met with emotional speeches, informing us of the salaries of trustees are paid - a few make around $450K per year. Others commented that the administration is turning it’s back on us. One saying that if the increase is necessary it should only be for a year or two and then amend the constitution to include fee roll backs, were the fees would go back to the original price. Some also reminded us that this package to help poor families deal with the fee increase is only for next year and that the fees will stay up. A trustee told the board that UMass would begin to lose its diversity, turning into a white upper class school, since it will only provide education for upper class students. He moved to table the decision for at least 30 days, until Obama's stimulus package came in and we knew were the money could be spent and in what quantity, after which they would meet again to discuss these decisions.

In the end, the trustees decided not to table the vote, and were met with chanting, stomping and shouting. When we calmed down a few more people spoke and then they voted. The result was 12-4 to increase student fees, while we the students get no say in the matter. We started chanting and yelling, stomping and standing on our chairs, a black and red banner was raised in the back of the room with, reading “Whose University? Our University!” I must say that I am disappointed in the fact that we left so early. We walked outside and met with people who had been denied entrance. We could hear them chanting throughout the meeting. About 100-150 of us rallied outside for around 30 minutes and then jumped back on to our buses to make it back to the classes we pay for and the jobs we work to afford our already expensive education. Some stayed behind, and people from all of the UMass schools met to discuss strategy and plans for the future.

UMass is now an elite school. Massachusetts was already one of the worst states in affordability of higher education. Now many of us who are working toward a bachelor’s degree will be unable to afford school. I will not be able to go back after next year when the assistance package is stopped. My story is not uncommon, and many people I know will have to drop out or go to school in another state. This is yet another example of how the rich make decisions with no regard for anything but preserving there own privilege. I refuse to accept this, and so do many others. As one of the speakers said on Friday, if the fees are increased then there will be an insurrection from the students. Is this true? I don’t know but I hope so, and if so do you think the trustees are ready? One thing I do know is that we will continue to protest.