Student protesters delay Board of Trustees’ tuition decision

Natalie Lutz Graphic Designer
The information in this graphic represents past and proposed total tuition and student fee increases per student based on 12 credit hours for three terms. The tuition rates for the 2017-2018 academic year have yet to be set.

Tiffani Smith, Jamie Chin News Contributors

Friday, a public Board of Trustees meeting held in the Memorial Union Horizon Room was interrupted by protesters, causing the meeting to be adjourned without any votes or decisions made.

The meeting was set to discuss the various fiscal budgets including tuition rates, mandatory fees and student incidental fees. Other action items on the meeting’s agenda were the operating budget outlook, the university’s Fiscal Year 2018 capital budget, a statement of mission, principles and core values and the handling of written comments submitted in advance to the board meeting.

There were seats in the meeting allotted for committee members, university staff and a few administrative guests, as well as a section for the general public. The meeting began at 9:33 a.m. with the Chair’s Comment from Pat Reser, chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, and a President’s Report from Ed Ray, Oregon State University president. This was followed by various reports from administration, staff and guests.

At 10:26 a.m. the meeting was opened up for public comment, allowing any OSU student to voice their opinions and concerns in regards to the action items in consideration during the meeting.

“Every last dollar counts when you’re living on loans and part-time jobs,” public commenter and former 2015-16 ASOSU Vice President Lyndi-Rae Petty said. “The state of Oregon has made extremely poor budgetary decisions by not investing in higher education and the future of Oregon. Because tuition is outrageously high, students need a zero percent increase.”

“Budgets are tight everywhere around campus, but even the Student Incidental Fee Committee was able to maintain a five percent cap on increases,” Petty added. “Considering we can all agree that OSU does not maintain the highest fiscal responsibility that it possibly could, I really encourage you to vote tution below four percent. I’m not the only student in the room who’s wondering how they’re going to pay for their next term of college.”

Reser then introduced action items. Tuition rates were the first action item on the agenda. Another public comment period was provided for comments specifically regarding tuition rates. Commenters were provided three minutes each to voice their opinions and concerns.

The topic of tuition rates was then given to the Board and other OSU administration and staff for open discussion. Immediately after Reser began the discussion at 12:25 p.m., 14 protesters filed into the room and formed a circle in the center of the tables where the Board members, administration and staff sat.

One protester began chanting from the center of the circle. The other 13 protesters echoed the spoken words. A fluctuating six to eight audience members joined in, repeating the chants as well.

The protesters’ chant included demands for cuts of upper-administration salaries, specifically focusing on Ray. They continued to bring attention to the alleged disconnect between the board’s decisions and the effects those decisions have on the general OSU community.

“The budget is a reflection of the Board’s priorities. It has been made clear that we are not one of them. As it stands, the budget fails to represent the people it affects. Most of the Board members reside outside of Corvallis and they are far removed from the consequences of their actions,” protesters chanted. “They are not elected, they are imposed and are completely unaccountable. We demand that this board answer to the people who constitute the core of the university. Faculty, lower staff and students must be the central priority. We are escalating our actions today because business as usual is unacceptable.”

The protesters continued to chant various messages with multiple protest members leading the chant. Steve Clark, vice president of university relations and marketing, stood close by observing the circle of protesters. At 12:33 p.m., Reser called an official meeting recess and multiple Board members, administration and staff left the room.

Chanting continued for a total of 46 minutes before the protesters sat down and talked amongst themselves. Through the duration of the chants, the protesters encouraged audience members to join the circle. By 12:39, the circle grew from the original 14 members to 20.

Among the audience members to join the circle was Jacqueline Logsdon, ASOSU assistant director of government relations.

“I knew the protest was going to occur, but I didn’t know what exactly it was going to look like,” Logsdon said. “I joined in because I agreed and identified with their actions and with their demands when they began speaking.”

Clark also foresaw a high likelihood of protest attendance.

“We understand that tuition matters are an important issue for both students and OSU faculty and staff,” Clark said. “We anticipated that the Board would hear considerable testimony on tuition, which it did. We also anticipated that opinions regarding tuition may be expressed in other forms, as well, such as expressions of protest.”

The protest was inevitable, according to Logsdon.

“I think the protest emphasized the frustrations that many students have held on campus for a long time, that the Board has not fully recognized or were fully aware of,” Logsdon said. “Honestly, I think this protest was a long time coming. Do I think it helped? I don’t know; I certainly hope so.”

Protesters, including the audience members that joined, continued chanting, listing demands for accountable action from the OSU Board of Trustees.

At 1:40 p.m., the Board trickled back in to reconvene the meeting. The protesters stood back up chanting, “We’ve had enough, we will disrupt.” Reser called the meeting to order, proposing 15 minutes of listening time as an alternate way to communicate with the protesters. The proposition was rejected by the protesters and they continued to chant. The meeting was officially adjourned at 1:43 p.m.

Following this, the room emptied. The protesters linked arms as they left the MU. The group of protesters began chanting, “Shame,” and followed Ray and other Board members down Jefferson Avenue toward Kerr Administration Building. The protesters stopped outside of Kerr, awaiting further activity, and dispersed after a while.

“As a student, I have to commend their activism because I think it was incredibly powerful and effective,” Rachel Grisham, current 2016-17 ASOSU president said. “From an activist standpoint they were very organized, they knew what they were doing and I don’t think they fully accomplished what they wanted, but I think they got more traction than they have in the past.”

Grisham believes that the protesters picked the best time to enter the board meeting. By entering after the public comment period ended, they were able to be more disruptive in their participation without infringing on those who voiced their opinions and concerns as public commenters.

According to Sherman Bloomer, the director of budget and fiscal planning, every student voice is important.

“I think it’s important for the Trustees to hear from as many different students as they can,” Bloomer said. “I’ve talked to a lot of students over the last two months, and the views of tuition are very different. For some students it doesn’t make a difference, for others there is a wide range of voices.”

Despite this, he admits that the protesters’ methods were executed poorly.

“Figuring out ways to have meaningful engagement is something we all can work on, it’s something that we tried this year and we have more work to do on, with ASOSU and with the faculty,” Bloomer said. “Tuition in the short term has the most impact on students, in the long term it has big impacts on faculty and staff and programs. But in the end the Board has to make those decisions because they are legally charged with maintaining the financial health of the university in the long term.”

Clark agreed that while students should be given the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns, they should do so through the proper channels.

“This is America,” Clark said. “Free speech is protected and Oregon State University has principles that support freedom of expression. The university also has time, place and manner policies regarding when and where free expression can be conducted without disrupting education, research or other activities and operations of the university.”

Susie Brubaker-Cole, vice provost of student affairs, presents occasionally at Board meetings on topics relating to student life and student success. She was present at the January meeting, as well as the one Friday, March 17.

“We know from the hundreds of students that have attended information sessions about the possible tuition increase that many students feel that increased tuition could prevent them from being able to stay at OSU to complete their degrees,” Brubaker-Cole said.

Various parties worked on recommendations of tuition rates increasing based on student interests and potential student impacts.

According to Grisham, due to many students voicing their concerns in regards to tuition rates increases, ASOSU decided to write a resolution recommending a 0 percent increase in tuition rates to the Board.

The Finance and Administration Committee recommended a 4 percent tuition rate increase for resident undergraduates and a 2 percent increase for non-resident undergraduates.

According to Bloomer, financial aid is not one of the departments that will be impacted negatively by the tuition hike.

“Every year the university, like any other enterprise, has cost increases, so utilities increase, insurance increases and tuition is about 70 percent of the budget,” Bloomer said. “Any time we have a tuition increase, financial aid from the institution increases. The budget for financial aid will go up, in any scenario.”

Much of the dropout rate of students depends on how much of the tuition increase would be directed to the financial aid pool, according to Brubaker-Cole.

“The proposal that the administration made to the Board would direct 1 percent of the increase into additional financial aid,” Brubaker-Cole said.

Due to the unexpected disruption and the incomplete commencement of the Board meeting, according to Clark, the meeting will be postponed until some time in the future to complete the agenda. When an official date and time is decided, the meeting will be noticed so that the public is informed and aware. There is a substantial possibility that the meeting will be continued via phone call.

“Given Board members’ schedules and other logistics, it is likely that this will be a telephonic meeting,” Clark said. “It will be open to members of the public to listen in.”

The Board must make decisions in regards to tuition rate increases by a certain deadline, according to Grisham. Because of this, such stipulations of the continuation of the Board meeting may include meeting during the students’ finals week or spring break, with a higher likeliness of the meeting continuing telephonically.

“I really hope that they don’t reconvene via phone,” Grisham said. “I know that they probably will have to meet telephonically, which in my opinion is a shame because then students probably won’t have as much access or ability to participate in the conversations around tuition.”