Students to march on Whitmore Thursday in defense of education
Today, Thursday March 4, has been declared a “Day to Defend Education” across the nation. Students from numerous organizations at the University of Massachusetts are rallying, marching, calling Massachusetts’ political officials and, according to several of the protesters at UMass, “standing in solidarity” with the students of the University of California.
The group spearheading the majority of the activities today calls itself the UMass Coalition for the March 4th Day of Action to Defend Higher Education.
The UMass Coalition will be holding a public demonstration rally in front of the UMass Student Union at noon. The group will also be marching to the Whitmore Administration Building after several speeches, many of which the group expects to be students voicing their opinions about the current state of higher education.
“We are trying to gain momentum for a march to Whitmore. We have a list of demands that we are going to be making of the university to be completed by March 31,” said UMass Coalition Public Relations Officer Evan Serio, “at which point, the administration will need to be able to supply us with the steps with which they will be tackling these issues.”
“This is a mobilizing effort,” said Serio. “We have a list of our demands, and we have stated that we will not stop organizing or demanding until our demands are met.”
According to Serio, the Coalition’s concerns surround such issues as stopping the rising cost of attending UMass and preventing fee proposals such as the Commonwealth College fee and the flagship fee from being placed on the student body.
The Commonwealth College fee would be a mandatory fee placed on all student members of Commonwealth College, but has not yet been officially instated.
According to SGA Senator Andrew Prowten, interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life Jean Kim said in a Student Leader Advisory Council meeting at 5:30 p.m. yesterday that the administration is not going to discuss implementing the flagship fee until after federal and state money for the school’s budget have been determined.
“We’re not asking, we’re demanding because we’re students, and we pay the salaries of the administration,” said Serio.
In an e-mail sent to Don Lippincott, one of the organizers of the event, interim Kim stated, “I understand that you are among the leaders planning to participate in the National Day of Action to Defend Higher Education on March 4th with a demonstration here on the Amherst Campus. As you know, I offered to meet with you to discuss several of the issues of concern to you and others. The invitation still stands.”
“I personally attempted to see Jean Kim, but unfortunately the days I have gone to see her she has been in larger administrational meetings,” said Serio. “The coalition has never purposefully avoided talking to her, but I think it was difficult coordinating when people were available. [Kim] has only been available to speak during her popcorn hours.”
Serio said he attended one of Kim’s popcorn hour meetings, held daily at 4 p.m., and he was unable to speak with her about the matter because she was in what he believed “was a department meeting.”
“We are mobilizing on the UMass campus because that is where we are, that is where the education hits home and that is where the budget cuts and the fee hikes hit home,” said Serio. “I personally know my children will be going to get a public education, and regardless, if I were going to a private institution or not, I would still be mobilizing for this cause.”
“We have undergraduates and graduates, faculty, staff and community members working with us,” Serio continued. “This is an issue that is plaguing the K-12 schools and any public institutions and the private institutions are feeling trickle-down effects because it has to do with state funding.”
“I think it is going to go well,” said UMass Coalition member and senior Katie Roussos. “I think it is going to be a really great launching point for further action on behalf of the students and promote student participation in budgetary issues.”
“We want to hear as many speeches as possible, and we want to hear as many peoples’ stories as possible,” said Serio when asked if the group’s speakers were already pre-determined. He stated that all students are invited to speak in what is an essentially “open mic” forum outside both the Student Union and then Whitmore.
“Everyone here has a stake in what is happening and the changes being made,” said Serio. “We have a stake, but we don’t have a choice, and we’re starting to take that choice back.”
Members of the UMass Student Government Association are planning a “call-in” day to contact Senator Scott Brown and gain his support for the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA).
“We have contacted Senators [John] Kerry and [Paul] Kirk,” said SGA Senator Melissa Urban. “They both have told us they support SAFRA.”
Several attempts to contact Senator Brown were unsuccessful.
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