Defending diversity at UIC

February 22, 2010

CHICAGO--Dozens of University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) students demonstrated February 10 in front of University Hall to protest budget cuts and possible consolidation of our campus' five Centers for Diversity (CFD). The Centers include the African-American Cultural Center, Gender and Sexuality Center, Latino Cultural Center, Asian American Resource and Cultural Center, and the Women's Leadership and Resource Center.

The demonstrators picketed and chanted in the freezing cold and snow, then gathered for a rally to protest possible cuts, and to bring campus attention to what's happening.

Several speakers addressed the crowd, calling for unity among the groups that use the CFD, as well as decrying the misplaced priorities of the federal and state budgets, as well as the UIC administration. Students also mentioned the university's pathetic record on diversity, which is why the campus can't afford to lose these centers.

The protesters wrapped up by chanting "Save our centers!" and "The students united will never be defeated!" The rally was a success in getting people on campus talking about the role of the CFD, the budget crisis and student activism--and in pressuring the administration not to cut the CFD budgets.

THOUGH THE UIC administration hadn't made any official proposals to change anything about the CFD or decrease their funding, the protest was a response to announcements of across-the-board university budget cuts of 12 to 15 percent, as well as a divisive CFD "review" process initiated by Vice Provost Bette Bottoms last fall.

This process included convening of a committee to "assess [the CFD's] current status and possible future direction"--a plan that students with strong allegiance to the centers worried was another way of saying that they were under attack. Given the budget crisis facing the university, students worried that the CFD would be the first casualty of the funding shortfalls, and that changes would happen without their consent.

Over the course of the two-and-a-half months that the review committee investigated the CFD, the committee's process was anything but transparent. The most that the committee did to "solicit input" from students was to hold "town-hall" style meetings at each of the centers and send out a survey to the campus community to ask questions, including how respondents felt about the CFD remaining "autonomous but [being] physically brought together in one shared space."

The question was never answered: Why are the centers getting special scrutiny by the administration? Whenever the administration discusses the budget crisis, cuts to programs, services and jobs are usually the only solutions mentioned--so it's unsurprising that students feared this kind of special scrutiny could only mean that the worst was going to happen to the CFD.

Students know that the 2010 incoming class will face a likely increase of 9 to 18 percent in tuition, that all campus programs are losing funding, and that faculty are being offered the oh-so-generous option of choosing either temporary pay cuts or four furlough days as a way to save $17 million (the six-figure-salaried administrators will have to take 10 furlough days). They know that there is a hiring freeze at the university (including the Medical Center) and a halt on pay increases for campus workers. So why would students think that anything good could come out of this CFD review process?

During the review process, students concerned about the probability of cuts to the centers began to organize. They set up a Facebook group (Save UIC's Centers for Diversity) and began to organize the February 10 rally. They wanted to let the campus--and the review committee--know that they were not going to sit and wait for the review committee report to be released in order to make it known where they stood on the question of the "future" of the CFD.

The report was released the day before the rally. The committee doesn't recommend budget cuts to the CFD, and supports increased funding in order to meet the centers' goals. The outcry against the possible consolidation of the five centers into one space also had an impact--the CFD will remain in autonomous spaces in order to serve their communities better.

We can say that the centers have been defended, thanks in part to the student organizing. But that's not the end of the story of diversity at UIC.

UIC likes to brag that it is one of the most diverse universities in the country--but this is based on a report from the US News and World Report 11 years ago, when it ranked as the nation's sixth most diverse college. The same magazine now ranks UIC as number 13.

In 1999, African American enrollment at UIC was 6.5 percent, and undergraduate tuition at that time was $4,746. Today, African American enrollment is 8.4 percent, and tuition for one semester is higher than a year of tuition was in 1999!

But UIC is located in a city that is almost 40 percent African American--so clearly, the school doesn't represent the educational needs of the diverse city in which it operates, in spite of its so-called "urban mission."

We can be certain that UIC would become even less diverse if the CFD lose money through budget cuts and if tuition at this public university continues to rise. That's why defending the CFD was essential--but it's only part of the process of fighting for an urban university that meets the students' and community's needs. We must also demand no tuition increases and do everything possible to increase access to public education in Illinois.

These are the demands of a March 4 Day of Action to Defend Education at UIC. Students will rally at 2 p.m. in the Quad to defend public education in Illinois. Contact the Student Organizing Coalition to get involved by e-mailing [email protected] or going to the UIC Student Organizing Coalition page on Facebook.

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