Occupy College

Many protestors connected to the Occupy movement are very concerned about tuition. But while President Obama is interested in a “candid discussion about why higher education costs so much,” protesters have a general, though perhaps ultimately more compelling, demand: stop privatizing public colleges.

According to an article by Josh Eidelson in The Nation:

The University of California (UC) and the City University of New York (CUNY) are both massive public university systems, long points of pride for their respective states. Together they claim over two million graduates. And now, as administrators declare there’s no alternative to austerity, they’re both occupied. Though these occupations draw tactics and momentum from the Occupy movement, their lineage is as mixed as Zuccotti Park’s: international anti-austerity activism, struggles for graduate student unionization and union democratization, student occupations of decades past. As winter—and police raids—set in, universities are becoming an increasingly important face of occupied America. How is occupying a public university different from occupying Wall Street? For one, few of the occupiers want their schools abolished.

What they want, in general, is to make the universities stronger, and cheaper.

Protesters in California object to both the business language used in higher education reform (“efficiency” and “economies of scale”) and the close relationship many member of UC Board of Regents have to large corporations.

Protestors in New York, in contrast, object more specifically to plans to hike tuition at the school. CUNY’s Board of Trustees recently voted to approve a five-year plan to increase tuition at the college. The fee hike was recently authorized by the governor, despite campaign promises not to do that.

Berkeley, as Eidelson explains, has produced one of the most sophisticated of campus protests:

Berkeley’s has produced perhaps the most comprehensive set of demands, local (replacement of administrators through campus-wide election), statewide (affirmative action), and national (bailout public services and schools). Those demands passed Occupy Cal’s General Assembly by an 83 percent vote, though there were vocal dissenters.

Just demanding changes, however, probably won’t be enough. The whole thing about public universities is that they’re funded and partially run by the state legislatures. And if the state won’t budge, students have no options. They either pay more or they don’t go to those schools.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer