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"Chop from the top!"

Students, Workers, Faculty Protest UNC Board of Trustees Meeting

by Kosta Harlan |
April 5, 2009
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Chapel Hill, NC - Chanting “They say cut back, we say fight back!” a group of 50 students, campus workers and faculty marched on the Board of Trustees meeting March 26. The main theme of the protest was “No budget cuts on the backs of students and workers.” After rallying on campus, the demonstrators marched over to the Carolina Inn, a luxurious hotel that was hosting the Board of Trustees meeting.

On March 19, University of North Carolina (UNC) Chancellor Thorp implemented permanent 5% budget cuts, a measure that “will have deep impacts on student services across campus, class sizes and availability, and will result in dozens of workers losing their jobs and hundreds more positions being left unfilled, which will put a huge strain on already overworked employees of the university,” according to a press release from the organizers of the demonstration. The protesters demand that any budget cuts should “chop from the top” and that there should be full transparency and accountability in any decisions made around the budget crisis.

Brenda Denzler, vice-chair of the UNC Employee Forum, told the Board of Trustees earlier in the week that they must “publicly, openly and honestly state what the university’s policy is on how it will achieve the next round of budget cuts and whether it will reject budgets that do not include personnel cuts.”

“It’s ridiculous that while the chancellor is getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars and average housekeepers are getting paid $25,000, the administrators think it best to save money by cutting low wage jobs,” said Rakhee Devasthali, an undergraduate and organizer with the coalition.

Salia Warren, an organizer with the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union (UE 150) at UNC, agreed that cuts should start from the top. “We demand that the cuts come from the top down, not the bottom up. The lowest paid administrator makes $95,000 a year - that’s four housekeeper’s jobs.”

“We’re launching a resistance and recovery campaign in all our union chapters across North Carolina,” said Warren, explaining the union’s approach to the economic crisis. “Workers during this period have to stand up and resist these budget cuts on their backs. Everything that’s happened so far is on the backs of the working class. We’ve got to say ‘we can’t take it anymore’. No one is bailing the workers out.”

Steve Milder, a graduate student in the History Department, explained how the budget cuts will have a dramatic impact on graduate students. "The budget cuts are making it unclear if as many graduate students will be able to keep their paid teaching positions next year," said Milder. "We depend on those stipends to pay for our living and study expenses. If our salaries are cut, a lot of us will be forced to drop out." Commenting on the process involved in cutting funding to graduate students, Milder added, "As graduate students, we feel shut out of the decision making process and are faced with a lot of uncertainty about our future."

The demonstration was organized by a coalition made up of members from the Counter Cartographers Collective, United with the Northside Community NOW, Feminist Students United, Student Action with Workers, Students for a Democratic Society, UE 150, State Employees Association of North Carolina District 25, UNITY conference, Fight Imperialism Stand Together, HK on J, Progressive Faculty Network, along with many unaffiliated students, faculty and workers.

The coalition plans to continue organizing against the education cuts and layoffs, with more actions and educational events in the coming weeks.