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Last night the Republican Governor of Tennessee, William E. Haslam, announced his intention to make community college free for all residents of his state. The plan, revealed in Haslam’s State of the State address and dubbed “The Tennessee Promise,” would be funded through an endowment supported by lottery proceeds. Haslam’s proposal, if implemented, would make Tennessee the first state in the country to guarantee free community college to its residents.
Actually, I should rephrase that. Tennessee would be the only state in the country to make such a guarantee, but it wouldn’t be the first. Free higher education is almost non-existent now, but it wasn’t always. If Tennessee makes community college free, it will be a welcome return to a practice that existed for much of the 20th century in a number of states.
There are some downsides to the plan. Because it would only cover community college, students who intended to pursue a four-year degree would only be able to take advantage of it if they began at a CC and transferred later. Studies have shown that students are more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree if they don’t have to switch colleges, and there are all sorts of less-tangible benefits to getting all of your college education in one place.
The fine print of the plan creates additional pressure for new students to choose community colleges over four-year schools, too. Under Haslam’s proposal, the state’s existing Hope Scholarship program would be cut from $4000 to $3000 a year for first- and second-year students, while Hope Scholarships for juniors and seniors would be raised to $5000 a year.
The model of community college as a component of the standard path to a four-year degree is one that I have qualms with as a matter of big-picture higher ed policy, and in that sense the Tennessee Promise isn’t quite everything it might be. But that’s a quibble, really. This is excellent news.
Free public higher education is a worthy goal, and it’s a policy proposal that’s beginning to get some traction in the public discourse. For a whole raft of reasons, I think free community college is an excellent place to start.
Community colleges serve a student body that is poorer, on average, than four-year colleges do, and at higher risk of leaving college without a degree. Money spent on easing access to CCs is money spent on the students who need the most support.
And as Kevin Slavin of Cooper Union wrote recently in a different context, “free” is not merely an extension of “cheap,” but an entirely different way of thinking. By taking funds that had been previously targeted toward reducing the cost of higher ed and diverting them to making an entire sector of public higher education free to all comers, Tennessee would instantly change the nature of the college funding debate not just in Nashville but across the country.
More as the story develops. I’m going to be following this one closely.
Featured Campus of the Day: Emory University
As American as … Compromise – Emory website (Trigger warning: this is super racist.)
Controversy Over Wagners Column - Emory Wheel
Faculty Censure Wagner, Consider Voting No Confidence - Emory Wheel
Important perspectives on education injustice:
Truth and Justice Report – Colorado Progressive Coalition
Universities Overtake Prisons in Gov. Walker’s Budget – JS Online (Maxwell Love of United Council of UW Students says “Before you start patting the Governor on the back: we lost $350 million and [UW students] get back $100 million…”)
Why Do Black and Latino Youth Struggle in School? – Colorlines
Sallie Mae Sells Interest - ZACKS
The Revolution Will Not be Televised: Deconstructing the News Briefing on Higher Ed Funding – Restructuring Public Higher Ed
Free Education – McGill Daily (MOOCs are a growing part of the education crisis in Quebec as well in the U.S.)
College Students Struggle to Complete Education – The Knight News
Another Dark Day for Indiana’s Public Schools – Journal Gazette
Whether we are occupying buildings or writing bills, we are students taking action!
Students, Faculty Call for Leadership Overhaul of Wilberforce – Springfield News
Speech to the University Regents – Student Union of Michigan
The New Deal for Students – USSA
Steps forward on the policy-change front:
No Salary Increase for UC - Changing Universities
Bookstore punts Adidas Gear From Shelves – The Santa Clara
Essays on student movement-building and radical organizing strategy:
Hidden in Plain Sight – Free University NYC (Commissioned by Tidal 4 – Occupy Theory. This piece is a collaboration between myself, Manissa McCleave Maharawal, Conor Tomas Reed and Zoltan Gluck–faculty and students at CUNY.)
What is a Strike? – IDS News
The Board of Regents of Connecticut’s state university system is meeting today to consider a $778 fee increase, and a group of students and activists are promising a system-wide walkout it the hike goes through.
In the last two years, state funding to public higher education has been slashed by more than 15 percent. Today’s planned hikes would amount to an aggregate fee hike of 11.8 percent in the same period — bringing in-state costs to nearly $9,000 a year. As recently as 2004, tuition and fees at Connecticut’s four regional universities — Central, Eastern, Southern and Western — stood at just over $5,000.
But not all students will see tuition increases if today’s proposal is approved. Facing declines in lucrative out-of-state enrollments, the Regents plan to cut out-of-state tuition for the second year in a row.
Public universities nationwide have been raising out-of-state tuition and increasing out-of-state enrollment to close budget gaps — at the University of California, out-of-state students now pay more than they would at Harvard. But only four percent of students enrolled at Connecticut’s regional state universities are out-of-staters.
In advance of today’s vote, a group called Students of Connecticut Universities for Democracy called for a system-wide walkout in the event that the increases pass. The Regents are meeting now, and supporters of the walkout are livetweeting at the hashtag #hikemeanswalk.
Check it out.
Wednesday Update | The Board of Regents delayed the vote on the proposed tuition increase until their next meeting. Their current proposal calls for a 5.5% increase for in-state students, coupled with a 2.6% cut for out-of-staters. The regents’ finance committee will consider the plan at a March 5 meeting, with the full board scheduled to take up their proposal on March 21.
The University of Puerto Rico announced that it will roll back a huge fee increase that sparked years of massive student protests throughout the island, as Puerto Rico’s new governor pledged to increase funding to the university.
This is big.
Students shut down ten of eleven UPR campuses for two months in the spring of 2010 in an effort to stop the fee hike, but university administrators later reneged on a pledge to withdraw it. Dozens of students were arrested and beaten in January 2011 as the fee went into effect, as police occupied UPR’s Rio Piedras campus for the first time in more than three decades.
The 2011 protests led to the resignation of UPR’s president, but failed to stop the hike, and the student movement went into decline after a widely publicized assault on the Rio Piedras chancellor. The UPR budget cuts, fee, and protests damaged the reputation of governor Luis Fortuño, however, and in November Fortuño was defeated for re-election by Alejandro García Padilla, a UPR graduate whose brother served as president of the university prior to Fortuño’s 2009 election.
During the campaign García Padilla pledged to roll back the $800 fee, which had raised the cost of attending UPR by as much as fifty percent. As García Padilla took office early this month UPR student leaders called on him to keep his promise, and on Saturday the university’s board of directors announced that he had promised them the funding to do just that.
A new report on a 2011 CUNY protest that saw more than a dozen arrests leaves core questions unanswered while misrepresenting evidence of police violence.
On November 21, 2011, City University of New York students and faculty assembled with others at Baruch College for a public meeting of the CUNY board of trustees. The gathering, which took place six days after police rousted the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park, was large and boisterous, and turned confrontational after police and CUNY security blocked most of those in attendance from the room in which the meeting was taking place. Fifteen demonstrators were arrested in the clash that followed, amid reports of rough behavior from baton-wielding cops.
In the weeks after the confrontation CUNY commissioned an independent report on the incident, and that report, prepared by the Kroll consulting firm, has just been released. But the 65-page report fails to confront the exclusion of most protesters from the trustee meeting, a central issue for the demonstrators and a crucial question for CUNY to address going forward. Additionally, it misrepresents the state of the public record on the question of whether police used inappropriate force during the course of the demonstration.
The Kroll report documents that CUNY administrators expected, and prepared for, a large turnout for the public hearing on November 21, which was staged to allow comment on proposed tuition hikes. Administrators and security officials held a series of planning meetings and police trainings in the run-up to the hearing, at which some 79 security officers were made available to manage crowd control. Despite this planning, and the fact that the purpose of the hearing was to facilitate public comment on CUNY policies, the meeting was held in a room which the Kroll report describes as having a capacity of just 120 people, while an “overflow” room with a one-way video hookup was provided in an entirely different part of the building from the hearing itself.
Protesters’ frustration with their exclusion from the meeting was the primary source of conflict that day. The Kroll report makes that clear. The report, however, never so much as raises the possibility that a different choice of venue might have led to a better outcome, or engages with the question of whether CUNY might have done more to facilitate public access to the hearing. This omission is particularly striking given the fact that the report’s witnesses note that the room was filled to capacity nearly an hour before the hearing’s scheduled start time, leaving more than a hundred members of the public — a large majority of them, by all accounts, students — unable to participate. (Barbara Bowen, the president of the CUNY faculty union, has described the hearing room as having a posted capacity of 300, which would have provided ample space for all those present at Baruch that day. It’s not at all clear where the Kroll report’s figure of 120 came from.)
The most generous interpretation of CUNY’s meeting planning is that the university prioritized crowd control over the university community’s ability to provide input into the institution’s tuition and governance policies. A more cynical observer might reasonably conclude that the trustees’ intentional restriction of access was itself a root cause of the conflict that followed. That these questions remain unexplored is a glaring defect in the Kroll report.
A second, and more dramatic, flaw in the report is what can only be described as a fundamental misrepresentation of the available evidence of police misconduct. Alleging that its investigators “found no evidence to suggest that any of the protesters were injured during the struggle,” the report claims that the CUNY department of public safety “received no complaints indicating that anyone had been injured, even superficially,” and that Kroll did not “find any evidence to the contrary,” either in its interviews with participants or “in its review of public records, social media, and video evidence.” (Emphasis mine.)
The first contradiction to this sweeping declaration comes in the very next sentence, in which a reporter from the Hunter College student newspaper who interviewed a number of protesters is said to have described several of them as “banged up and bruised.” My own research, moreover — which took the form of a twenty-minute Google search — turned up the following:
- A New York Times story on the demonstration described protest organizer and participant Carlos Pazmino, a City College student, as having witnessed CUNY public safety officers “hitting … students with the batons.” The Times quoted Pazmino as saying that he had seen “two people knocked down by cops … and one guy’s head was bleeding.”
- In a Daily News story, Hunter alum Michelle O’Brien was quoted as saying “the officers were attacking us,” while Baruch undergraduate Brittany Robinson said police “started pushing us and beating us” without provocation.
- A Daily Kos liveblog declared that a journalist who covered the hearing had been injured when police threw her into a revolving door, and that witnesses had described another participant as having been “taken away bleeding from the head or face.”
- A story in the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that one witness had told their reporter that “several students had been struck” with batons. The Chronicle reporter himself said he had seen “a young woman’s head on the floor, under an officer’s knee.”
- In comments on an NYU Local piece, Hunter College student newspaper staffer Tiffany Huan said that she had been “beaten” and “sexually harassed.”
- In an article on the CUNY faculty union website, Huan said she was grabbed by her hair and thrown to the ground, leaving her “in so much pain … I could barely stand up.”
- In an article in the Baruch student newspaper, demonstrator Kevin Tighe said that “a lot of people got beat up really badly,” while demonstrator Denise Romero alleged that there were injuries among the protesters.
- In a blogpost, Brooklyn College student Zachary Poliski said that officers struck demonstrators with batons, and that one student’s head was bloodied.
- A commenter on a YouTube video who described him or herself as an eyewitness said that “students were beaten” by police.
By my count that’s seven witnesses, five of them named, who claimed to have seen police beating protesters. Three witnesses, two named, said they saw a demonstrator bloodied, and at least four witnesses alleged other injuries. And again, that’s what I found in twenty minutes. But in a yearlong investigation, Kroll says, they found no evidence — none — “that anyone had been injured, even superficially,” in the demonstration.
Only one of the eight named eyewitnesses I cite above is mentioned in the Kroll report, and that witness, Tiffany Huan, is named only in the context of a dismissal of her charges of sexual harassment. Her claim that police violence left her “in so much pain [she] could barely stand up” is not addressed.
I’ve written to Kroll to request comment on these issues, and I’ll let you know what — if anything — I hear back.