Monday, February 8, 2010
PULLMAN -- Several hundred Washington State University students endured an icy breeze Thursday to assemble in protest of past and pending state budget cuts.
Holding signs that decried high administrative salaries, tuition increases and the WSU student government's decision not to participate in the protests, they gathered for two hours on the Glenn Terrell Mall, marched, and even broke into a spontaneous rendition of the Bill Withers classic "Lean On Me."
"A few of us got together and decided something needed to be done on campus," said 21-year-old women's studies senior Jack Shultz of Waitsburg, who helped organize the walkout. He said the idea for the protest began on WSU's other campuses in the state. "We wanted to show our solidarity with them and with other universities across the state that are doing this as well."
Similar demonstrations were planned at most of the institutions that make up Washington's public college and university system. Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed a 6 percent cut for higher education that would mean the loss of $13.5 million at WSU.
Students also took a 14 percent tuition increase this academic year that will be followed by a 14 percent hike this fall.
The university lost $54 million in state funding in 2009, and is also worried its state research budget could become a target for lawmakers trying to fill a $2.6 billion budget deficit.
WSU faculty members are also lining up against the pending cuts. On Thursday morning, those who are members of the nonprofit American Association of University Professors issued a statement against the possible use of furloughs and vertical cuts that could eliminate entire departments.
The professors also offered some alternatives, like elimination of some highly paid administrative positions and cancellation of searches for new employees in both academics and administration.
They also suggested the restructuring of the state budget process so funding for construction projects could be diverted to support teaching and research during tough financial times.
Like the AAUP faculty members, Shultz said some students he's spoken with are against vertical cuts, like the decision last year to phase out the WSU theater department.
Unlike the professors, he said furloughs should be considered as a short-term way to save money. "Our economy is in a recession right now," he said, "so maybe a one-time or a two-time thing would help until we can get back on our feet again as a state."
Shultz said the state should also begin serious consideration of an income tax.
Chelsea Tremblay, 21, is a member of the Progressive Student Union and a senior in political science and women's studies. The Petersburg, Alaska, native said students were also protesting proposed cuts to state financial aid programs, like the need-based grant.
"The only reason I was able to come here was because of financial aid," she said. "I'm glad I came here, but if that possibility were taken away, I don't know if I would have made the same decision. I don't want people's choices to be limited."
Student body President Derick En'Wezoh was not immediately available for comment on Thursday. But he told the student newspaper student government would not participate in the walkout because it disrupted classes.