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This occasional roundup of student movement stories is put together by Isabelle Nastasia, a CUNY undergrad, New York Students Rising organizer, and friend of this site. 

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

Emory President Holds Up Three-Fifth Compromise as Noble and Honorable  – Salon

Emory President Praises Three-Fifths Compromise as a “Pragmatic Solution” – Gawker

Faculty Censure Wagner, Consider Voting No Confidence – Emory Wheel

Important perspectives on education injustice:

Conservatives Declare War on College – Salon

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

Student Loans Unable to Refinanced – TIME

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

Deferred Cooper Union Applicants Feel Like Collateral in Board’s Beef with Art School – Village Voice

Another Dark Day for Indiana’s Public Schools – Journal Gazette

Whether we are occupying buildings or writing bills,  we are students taking action!

CCSF Students Occupy Conlan Hall – Golden Gates Express (ABC Local covered this as well.)

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:

Denver Takes Bold Step Towards Eliminating its School-to-Prison Pipeline – Colorlines

DMW releasing Drivers Licenses to Many Immigrants – WRAL (Colorlines tells us why they are still problematic for many DREAMers, here)

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:

Charging Through the Archway of History: Immigrants and African Americans Unite to Transform of Labor and the Power of Community – Portside

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.)

Developing Militant the Lefts Minstrel Show and How College Educated Revolutionaries of All Colors Keep the Working Class Shucking and Jiving – Fire Next Time

What is a Strike?  –  IDS News

In the summer of 1942 a small group of German students began to speak out against the Nazi regime. Because any criticism of the government was illegal, they distributed their writings anonymously and in secret. Calling themselves the White Rose, they tucked leaflets into phone books, mailed them to randomly chosen recipients, and left them to be found in public places, particularly on high school and college campuses. They produced six pamphlets in all, printing several thousand copies of each.

On February 18, 1943, siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl took a suitcase full of their latest leaflet to the University of Munich, where they were both enrolled — unlike those which had gone before, this leaflet was written specifically for a student audience. Two excerpts:

“Get out of the lecture rooms of the SS corporals and sergeants and the party bootlickers! We want genuine learning and real freedom of opinion. No threat can terrorise us, not even the shutting down of the institutions of higher learning.

“The name of Germany is dishonoured for all time if German youth does not finally rise, take revenge, and atone, smash its tormentors, and set up a new Europe of the spirit. Students! The German people look to us. As in 1813 the people expected us to shake off the Napoleonic yoke, so in 1943 they look to us to break the National Socialist terror through the power of the spirit.”

Acting quickly during classes, Hans and Sophie left stacks of pamphlets in corridors for their fellow students to find. As one class session was nearing an end they realized they had a few copies left, and climbed to the top of the building they were in. Leaning over the balcony of a floor-to-ceiling atrium, Sophie threw the remaining copies out into the air, leaving them to float to the lobby below.

For the first time in Hans and Sophie’s eight month campaign they had been observed. A college custodian saw them, and reported them to the Gestapo. They were arrested that afternoon, and tried four days later. At the conclusion of their trial, which lasted just a few hours, they were allowed to visit briefly with their parents and then beheaded.

Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friend and comrade Christophe Probst were executed seventy years ago today.

In all, seven members of the White Rose were executed by the Nazis, and more than a dozen others were imprisoned for their activities. Seven members of a Hamburg student resistance group who were inspired by the White Rose died in Nazi jails.

Note: Two years ago I wrote some thoughts on the lessons the White Rose offers for youth organizers today. They can be found here.

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.

A few weeks back I wrote up some thoughts on one of the classic essays in American student activist history — Ray Glass’s “Are Student Governments Obsolete?” In that piece I argued that there was a strange paradox lurking in Glass’s repudiation of the student government model in favor of voluntary student unions, since Glass himself had helped to found one of the most important and effective statewide student associations the nation has ever seen — an organization funded through mandatory dues with student governments as its membership base.

In the course of exploring this contradiction I took issue with some of Glass’s criticisms of mandatory dues structures in the labor movement, quoting one historian’s suggestion that if “the price of civilization is taxes, the price of unionism is solidarity. And, yes, that does involve coercing people to contribute to the union.”

Patrick St. John at For Student Power has written a really worthwhile response to that, in which he pushes back — quite convincingly — against my assessment of the role of mandatory dues in the labor context. “When an organization’s bureaucracy has become calcified and disconnected from its members over the years, thanks to guaranteed revenue,” Patrick writes, the organization can “collapse under its own weight” at the first moment of challenge.

He continues:

“Like most unions, student governments are handed a large pot of money at the beginning of the year without necessarily having done anything to actually earn it — regardless of whether the last election had 90% turnout or 2% … understanding the conservative and bureaucratic tendencies that automatic dues can engender is crucial to avoiding the pitfalls that so many fighting organizations inadvertently run headlong into.”

This is important stuff, and well worth saying. Anyone who’s ever spent any time at all around student government is familiar with the phenomenon Patrick describes, and the insularity, disconnectedness, and lack of accountability that typifies student government is surely one of the American student movement’s greatest challenges. But even so, as Ray Glass himself demonstrated, such student governments can be mobilized to do great things, and I think it’s worth spending some time contemplating why that is — and under what circumstances it happens.

It makes sense to criticize student governments’ lack of accountability, as Glass and St. John do, but in some weird ways that lack of accountability may be worth standing up for. A student government isn’t just its elected leadership — not just the president and officers and assembly that get so much deserved and undeserved flak. It’s also the other projects that those folks facilitate — on my undergraduate campus, SUNY Binghamton, the student activity fee, administered by our student association, funded not only all our student clubs, but also the student newspaper, and the radio station, and a campus bus service, and all sorts of other stuff as well. (For a while we controlled the budget for campus athletics, too, but that’s a story for a different day.)

The mandatory activity fee is a large pot of money, but even in poorly-run student governments a tremendous amount of that money typically winds up going to vitally important student organizations that wouldn’t find much funding any other way. At Binghamton today (according to a 2010 budget I just Googled), the student-run bus system gets more than $400,000 a year, a student-run ambulance service gets $100,000, and programming gets nearly $200,000.

And that’s before you get to the three quarters of a million dollars a year that goes to Binghamton’s hundreds of student clubs. More than twenty thousand each to the Black Student Union, Asian Student Union, Latin American Student Union, and Jewish Student Union. Seventy-five hundred to the Rainbow Pride Union. Thousands apiece to Students for Students International and the Women’s Center and the Children’s Dance Theater and the Thurgood Marshall black pre-law organization. And a few hundred each to dozens more, from the Society of Women Engineers to the College Libertarians.

That’s a huge amount of under-the-radar grassroots student activity, and most of it would disappear if even half of Binghamton’s students declined to pay a voluntary student fee. (Student government election turnout at Binghamton today averages about 15%, which means that non-voters supply the student association with nearly $1.9 million of its annual $2.2 million budget.)

Yes, it would be possible to keep rates of participation in a voluntary fee up, and yes the organizing work required would likely bring a higher profile and greater engagement to the work of the student government. But it would also consume a tremendous amount of time and energy, time and energy that was devoted to restoring most of the funding that nearly every American student government — the finest and most engaged as well as the least competent — now wields as a matter of course.

When I served on Binghamton’s student association budget committee as a 20-year-old undergraduate, I was one of a dozen elected students who spent two weeks meeting with representatives of nearly two hundred clubs to recommend how to divide up more than a million dollars in student money. When we got done, we presented our proposal to the student assembly, who spent some ten hours hearing from dozens of those groups again, going over the budget line by line, hammering out a plan to provide students with the support they needed to do all of the hundreds of different things — from tutoring struggling undergrads to providing safe spaces for underrepresented student communities to playing intramural touch football — that they wanted to do in the coming year. (What they wanted to do. Not what some student affairs administrator wanted them to do, what they wanted to do, and what their fellow students wanted to support them in doing.)

That’s student community. That’s student engagement. That’s student organizing. That’s student power. And it’s made possible by student government, an institution that many activists — back then and today — spurn as pointless, ineffectual, and hollow.

Those criticisms aren’t completely misplaced, of course — much of the work that student governments do is pointless, ineffectual, and hollow. But if you believe, as I wrote in my Ray Glass essay,

that every American campus should have a student union “which so overwhelmingly speaks for students that it becomes recognized by the university as the exclusive collective bargaining agent for students on all matters affecting the students of that university as students,” then the events of the last four decades suggest that you have to entertain the idea that building a robust, democratic mechanism for implementing mandatory dues schemes is a valid, even essential, organizing goal. And if that’s your goal, you have to at least contemplate the possibility that student government organizing may be the path most likely to get you there.

In my next post I’ll talk a bit more about why I believe in that route, and what shape I picture such organizing taking.

An environmental activist expelled from Georgia’s Valdosta State University (VSU) has won a $50,000 award in a lawsuit against the university president who kicked him out of school in 2007. In a dramatic rebuke to President Ronald Zaccari, the federal jury that heard the case found Zaccari personally liable for violating Hayden Barnes’ due process rights.

The case emerged from a dispute over a planned parking structure that Barnes considered a waste of money and an environmental blight on the campus. At least three times Zaccari reached out to Barnes to complain about his organizing against the garage — which included flyering about other uses to which the money could be put and calling members of the VSU board of regents to urge them to reject the proposal —  and when Barnes posted a collage on Facebook that called it the “Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage,” Zaccari claimed it was a threat to his safety and expelled him without a hearing.

Zaccari’s conclusion that Barnes posed a threat of violence was contradicted by campus mental health officials and Barnes’ own therapist, and his decision to expel Barnes without due process violated university policy. The University of Georgia System’s board of regents reversed the expulsion the following year, and Zaccari took an early retirement from the university as the scandal around his actions grew.

When college administrators violate students’ rights they are generally protected from personal liability by a legal principle known as qualified immunity. Under qualified immunity, a government employee who acts wrongfully may only be sued as an individual if his or her behavior violates “clearly established law” of which a reasonable person would have been aware.

In this case, however, a federal jury found Friday that Zaccari’s actions were so egregious that he could be held personally responsible for them, and that his position as a government employee did not shield him from individual liability. Zaccari was told to pay Barnes damages of $50,000 plus attorneys’ fees, which will be assessed at a later date.

A separate lawsuit against the VSU board of regents is currently pending.

Barnes was represented in his lawsuit by FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Though I’ve clashed with FIRE on some issues in the past, they got this one exactly right and won a very important victory.

College and university administrators need to know that if they wantonly violate students’ rights they run the risk not only of damaging the institutions they serve but also of facing personal legal consequences.

As a result of Friday’s decision, such administrators have new reason to tread carefully.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

To contact Angus, click here. For more about him, check out
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