Chapel Hill, NC - Twenty students picketed the Board of Trustees meeting, Nov. 18, as the trustees voted to increase out-of-state tuition by $1162 for the coming year at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The protest was called by Students Against Budget Cuts and Tuition Hikes.
While the tuition hikes were the immediate cause for protest, the students were also demonstrating against the budget cuts that have targeted the lowest-paid workers on campus, as well as departments and centers on campus that serve oppressed peoples and that were won through decades of struggle by progressive activists.
"It's not just about the tuition hike," explained Rakhee Devasthali, an organizer of the protests. "It is about the whole budget crisis. There is money in the university in the useless layers of administration and we need to cut that, instead of putting the burden of the crisis on the students and workers."
The protesters entered and surrounded the trustees during the finance committee meeting, holding signs that said, "No tuition hikes" and "Public schools budget info must be public." The students represented a broad range of organizations on campus.
The protesters were denied speaking during the ‘open’ committee meeting. Instead, Chancellor Thorpe told the protesters that they could have five minutes on the agenda at 8:30 a.m. on the following day.
On Nov. 19, a smaller group of protesters returned to have their say. After being harassed by police outside the Carolina Inn, they were allowed inside. With them, they brought 400 petition signatures that were gathered in the last week. The petition text reads:
"As a University of the people, we demand that UNC-Chapel Hill makes access to and affordability of an education their first priority.
We demand no tuition hikes for undergraduates or graduate students. The burden of the budget cuts should not be shouldered by students, workers, and faculty, any and all cuts should be taken from the top, from the University administration.
We demand a moratorium on tuition hikes for five years.
We demand an open, transparent, and democratic process for addressing the budget crisis in which those who comprise the majority of the University students, workers, and faculty have the loudest voice.
We demand an immediate end to budget cuts to departments that serve or represent oppressed peoples."
Rakhee Devasthali presented these demands to the Board of Trustees and told them that the democratic thing to do would be to hold a referendum and ask the campus community to vote on the proposed tuition hikes.
"You aren't representing us," Devasthali told the Board of Trustees. "Student government isn't representing us. And we have a petition of hundreds of students and they're not being represented by these groups either. This is not a democratic process."