The “Education is NOT a Commodity” Rally was held by the League of Educators and Students Slashing Tuition (LESST) on Wednesday, October 3rd, 11:30a-1:30p at the EMU Amphitheater on the University of Oregon campus.
LESST is composed of undergraduate and graduate students, especially from the ASUO Multicultural Center and the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF 3544), classified staff from Service Employees International Union (SEIU 503), as well as some faculty members. Our current purpose is simple: raise awareness about the increasing rate of tuition.
This year’s graduating seniors are paying 40-45% more tuition than what they paid as incoming freshmen. Tuition increased 6% for 2010/2011, 9% for 2011/2012, and 6.1% for 2012/2013. Just as tuition is at record levels, so is enrollment, meaning that more students crowd the unexpanded classroom space. Meanwhile, the University of Oregon has an $89 million surplus. Where does tuition money go?
It doesn’t go to paying educators. Graduate Teaching Fellows, who are graduate students that do 31.5% of the teaching and grading at the University, are paid at or below the federal poverty line. The administration uses the high cost of our tuition waivers to justify this low pay for graduate students. Classified staff also struggle for fair wages and benefits. And the faculty recently won a fight against the University and its hired union-busting firm last year as they formed their union, United Academics.
We at LESST do not think education is an investment. As American philosopher, John Dewey, once claimed “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” But that life should not be burdened with student loan debt, nor exhausted by attempting to balance a 40-hour work week to pay for full-time student tuition. These conditions hamper education, and therefore hamper life itself. And that’s a logical syllogism.
Undergrads, grads, faculty, staff, and the community are coming together at a rally to speak together about these issues. The rally featured Beatriz Gutierrez (Vote or Vote, undergraduate student), Karyn Smoot (UO Survival Center, undergraduate student), Thomas Walker (UO Survival Center, undergraduate student), Jacob Barto (GTFF VP Operations, graduate student), Judith Lechner (GTFF president, graduate student), Michael Stern (UO faculty), a member of SEIU (TBA), Phil Barnhart (Oregon House District 11), and Peter DeFazio (US House Representative for Oregon’s 4th district).
There was also a speak-out, which gave space for students and educators to voice their own stories regarding tuition, as well as a march through campus.
A fundraiser for the movement will take place 9:30p, Friday, October 5th at Cowfish, and a panel of students, faculty, and members of the UO administration is also scheduled next week, Wednesday, October 10th at 7p in the EMU Gumwood room at the University of Oregon.