Occupy UM Rally at Regents Meeting Today

Participants in Occupy UM will hold Rally for an Open University today at 2:30pm at the Cube on the University of Michigan campus. Here is a statement released in conjunction with this event.

In June the Regents of UM voted to raise tuition for UM students for the 14th straight year. Tuition at UM has now increased 233% since 1990. You Regents are elected officials. You are accountable to the needs and demands of the public you are privileged to serve. Well the public is here. We are here to tell you that you have failed in this service. In raising tuition to such outrageous heights, you have ensured that education is no longer a service for the public good.

There was once affordable public education. Today there is only an expensive commodity. You sell this commodity to wealthy students. To the rest of us you offer a more ominous exchange: an education for a lifetime of student debt.

How have we arrived at this nightmare? You tell us State de-funding creates difficult challenges. We agree.  So we ask you Regents: how have you responded to this challenge?  By fighting back – and fighting for our right to affordable education? Or have you seized the opportunity to strip benefits from workers; raise tuition; and decrease tenure-track positions? You say cut back: we say fight back!

You say these are difficult financial times. We agree. So we ask you: how can we afford 2.5 billion dollars in construction projects? According to your math the pay of 20 senior administrators equals the tuition of 860 students. With math like this you can give no rational answers. So let us be clear: our question about construction is rhetorical. It is rhetorical because you have no valid answers.  We therefore demand: instruction, not construction!

There are two visions for the university. In your vision we must undertake this construction and make these administrators rich. We must build million dollar dorms and luxury boxes in football stadiums. We must have B-School buildings equipped with private gyms. Only then will we attract the best and brightest (to be direct: the richest and whitest) students and faculty. We have another vision. Job security, benefits, and intellectual freedom for faculty and staff; a student body with no student debt; and a community that shatters race and class divisions instead of reproducing them. This university claims to be an institution of inclusion and equality.  Our vision works for the future when this may be true. Your vision ensures its repression forever.

So we are here to reject your vision!  We reject the notion that education is for sale. We reject your participation in and reliance on the student debt industry. You actions imply that we are simply consumers of a product. But we make the university run. We, the students, the staff and the faculty. We teach and participate in class; We clean the dormitories; we fix the buildings; we contribute to public knowledge. We undertake the mundane and exhilarating tasks which animate this institution. So how can you sell to us what is already ours?

The spaces and actions of this university are not yours to privatize or profit from. They are the creation, the resource, and the right of the public. To treat them as if they are not is an obscenity. It is an obscenity not to be tolerated. We will no longer tolerate it!

You tell us that the University – like the State, the Nation and the World – faces economic challenges. You tell us that sacrifices must be made. But from what causes do these economic challenges spring forth? And which lives will be asked to bear the sacrifice? Let us consider these questions carefully. Let us consider them with the responsibility beholden to those whose decisions affect the well-being of a community. Let us consider them with care equal in measure to your acquiescence, your incompetence, and your cowardice in the face of an assault on a public right.

The situation is clear. The University is devolving and degenerating. Rather than generating a confident and conversant public proud of its erudition and equality, it is degenerating into a cloistered corporation whose motor is profit and false prestige.

You have demonstrated your disregard for this monstrous transformation. So we are demonstrating too. We are demonstrating our contempt for your cowardice; our solidarity over your divisiveness; our public right over your private interests.

But Regents do not think yourselves unfairly isolated. We know you are not alone. We know that your failure is shared. The State Legislature shares it; the student loan sharks share it; the Governor shares it; the U.S. Congress shares it. The President shares it. This is why when we address you, we address them too. We address you as representatives of a bankrupt system.

We, the true motor of the university, have two options: either continue to be passive consumers of a product that should not, cannot, must not be for sale; or, reclaim the university as a public space whose true owners are the students, the faculty, the staff, and the community members who make it run. In solidarity with our peers across the country, we opt for the latter vision. We will not stop until we realize it. We are Occupy U of M and we are the 99%!