Money for schools not stadiums

March 24, 2010

CINCINNATI--Students at the University of Cincinnati (UC) are organizing to oppose proposed tuition increases, with about a dozen members of "Bearcats for Education" turning out to protest a recent early-morning Board of Trustees meeting.

Like many universities around the U.S., UC officials have decided to pass the burden of the economic crisis on to students. Facing a $38 million deficit, administrators at UC announced on March 9 plans to raise tuition 7 percent for in-state students, with a vote on the budget scheduled for March 16 at 7:30 a.m.

The announcement came at a "town hall" meeting led by student body president Tim Lolli and senior finance administrator Bob Ambach. The meeting was portrayed as an effort to get student input rather than passthe budget with no discussion. However, the message from Ambach and the Board of Trustees was "we don't have a choice."

Ambach said at the town hall meeting that if tuition wasn't increased, there would be student job cuts, layoffs and furloughs, and open positions would not be filled. Missing from the discussion was any conversation about cutting the bloated salaries of administrators, coaches and campus management.

Since joining the Big East Conference in 2005, UC's athletic program has run a $4.1 million deficit, according to a recent study discussed in the February 21 Cincinnati Enquirer. UC has also accumulated $24 million in athletic operating debt, even with subsidies.

Despite a frozen education budget in the state thanks to Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, UC had no trouble hiring Bearcats head coach Butch Jones and giving him a pay package worth upwards of $1.75 million per year. Jones' contract also includes incentives such as a car, a golf club membership and a $700,000 interest-free loan that can be forgiven if he remains at UC for three seasons.

As if the tuition hikes were not enough, the UC Board of Trustees is discussing a plan to require all incoming freshmen in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences to purchase laptops. This coincides with the university's plan to close or limit access to computer labs and lay off IT workers, and flies in the face of its claim to be a "24-hour campus" that seeks to "meet the needs of students."

While this tuition increase pales in comparison to those felt in the California school system, the hike represents another terrible step for UC, where over time it's become harder for working-class students and students of color to attend. For example, the university has now fully implemented a plan to eliminate the Center for Access and Transition, an organization that provided academic assistance to incoming students.

The African American Studies Department has been slowly drained of funding. The African American Cultural Research Center, once a victory against institutional racism on campus, is now on prime real estate next to the new $11 million football training facility. To put this in perspective, Cincinnati's professional football team doesn't even have an indoor facility.

Students aren't taking this sitting down. The "Bearcats for Education" protest of the Board of Trustees meeting was organized in less than a week, and student turnout at the 6:30 a.m. event during finals week was impressive.

Armed with signs, literature and free coffee, students came with four demands for administrators: 1) Delay the vote so students could voice their opinions, 2) Ask the top 10 highest paid administrators to take a salary cut equal to the tuition increase, 3) Add three student representatives to the Board of Trustees, and 4) Retain the Center for Access and Transition.

All demands were modest, and all were ignored.

The UC Board of Trustees, an organization with absolutely no stake in the university or its surrounding community, voted unanimously to pass the budget that included a 7.1 percent tuition increase.

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