Point/Counterpoint: A call to arms

In case you have not seen one of the million posters hanging around campus, have not been addressed by someone walking around dorm halls and in case your professors have refused to address the issue, there is a student strike today and tomorrow. Do not go to your classes; take the two days off in support of your fellow undergraduate and graduate students. The University of Massachusetts has long ignored the voice of its students – it is now necessary to step up and demonstrate solidarity within the student population.

In recent years, the University’s administration has taken steps against the student body largely in an attempt to create a new national image. The current leaders no longer wish the University of Massachusetts Amherst to be known as Zoomass or as a “safety” school to prospective students, alumni and employers. This is a worthy cause; it is a shame that when most of us go to a job interview, the person across the desk will recognize UMass for its distasteful celebrations after the 2004 Red Sox World Series win or its disgusting riots after UMass’ loss in the football championship last year. But the way in which the administration is trying to crack down blatantly infringes upon student’ civil rights, as well as their rights as students.

Having police roam the halls of the dormitories is a violation of privacy. It is frightening for a school to endorse Orwellian tactics because it may foster a society in which daily intrusion into one’s private life is not only accepted, but also viewed as status quo. The University’s mission statement declares that the school strives to “improve the lives of the people of the Commonwealth, the nation, and the world.” How does this correlate to teaching that the Fourth Amendment is not really that important?

Another issue the SGA is demanding be given attention is student control over student space. The Student Union and Campus Center originated as areas for student activities, but have been taken by the University for its own needs. Despite this, students are still paying for the maintenance of these buildings. Another issue is the growing number of freshman-only buildings. Why does the University give first choice to those students who have not even spent one day on campus? Upperclassmen and even sophomores deserve the right to choose a residential space before any incoming students.

Sure, a two-day strike will not magically grant the student government all the demands it wants, but it sends a clear message to the University: The student body will no longer sit by idly. At the least, it demonstrates that all students share concerns about the direction of the school. This is not the first time that the University leaders have overtly ignored an organization of people willing to provide valuable input. Recent Boston Globe articles and national studies have shown the University’s clear and utter disregard for its alumni. UMass ranks among the worst in keeping their alumni in touch with the school. Why? As Jack Leader, a one-time UMass Alumni Association president told the Boston Globe, “The University wants our money, but doesn’t want our involvement or our advice. Alumni relations are not important to them.”

It appears the same is true for the general student body. The administration wants students to spend tens of thousands of dollars, but they do not want any input to hear their opinions. The committee charged with finding the next chancellor of UMass has not attempted to incorporate a loud student voice. Ruth Thompson, the SGA’s nomination to the committee, lamented to The Daily Collegian that there are only three students “out of 20 plus people on their search committee.”

There are a number of issues that the strike is meant to address, but space limits how many I can address. There is a call for a rollback of student fees as the Governor has dedicated over $1 billion in an education initiative. There are calls that more money be used to increase the level of diversity found at UMass. Even if the statistics add up, does anyone really think that the school is diverse? Who sits with whom at lunch and dinner? The school is still very clearly divided by races.

In too many ways, UMass ignores their very own ideals. The Mission Statement’s first line reads that “The University’s mission is to provide an affordable and accessible education of high quality.” Demonstrate that you stand for real diversity, affordable education, student control over decisions that affect students and Fourth Amendment rights. Going on strike means standing up for what you believe in.

What could be more American?

Nick Milano writes on Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected]