The Diag: Through Wind and Rain, The Million Student March

Million-Student-March-Logo-2Through wind and rain, a conglomerate of a couple dozen students marched in circles around the Diag as a part of the Million Student March that took place on campuses nationwide.  As identified in a Facebook post for the event, the movement demands:

The passage of laws that ensure students can receive an education without the worries of absurd amounts of debt, that campuses around the nation give fairer wages (~$15/hour) to their student workers, and that the federal government works towards the forgiveness/cancellation of student debt.

More information on the movement can be found from this interview with Neil Cavuto and and national movement’s organizer.

This particular event was sponsored by Ann Arbor’s Students for Sanders and took place during the evening of Thursday, November 12th.

Whilst walking in circles and holding signs, protesters chanted such spirited remarks as:

“Hey, hey, ho, ho, tuition fees have got to go!”

“Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation!”

And my personal favorite, “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white!”

I asked some of the students who took part in the demonstration. What did they think was driving up tuition costs on campus? And what did they believe should be done to lower the burden on students?

Student Dave Wyman focused his answer primarily on the University of Michigan, “Unambiguously there is a pattern of spending at large colleges, public and private, where universities will draw in out-of-state students, students who pay high tuition, use that money [for] construction projects, spend it on things like [the] Munger dorms [in reference to the new graduate residence built on Thompson St.] …dorm renovations, new dining halls and so on.” One notorious such expenditure was $400,000 to move a tree last year to accommodate the expansion of Ross Business School.

Wyman said that as a result of these projects, “They draw in more wealthy students and there’s a feedback loop.”  As for the money that these out of state students provide, Wyman said, “It’s not going into the classroom, it’s certainly not going to university workers, and it’s not, in fact, going to professors.”

As for solutions, Wyman suggested, “We need our universities to reorient themselves towards education, towards students, and towards…low income and marginalized students.”  He continued, “We need also at the federal and state level a willingness to [provide] the funding to universities, to students, to make these changes and to incentivize prioritizing education.”  When asked where this funding would come from, Wyman suggested tax payer dollars, however, he also added that this did not necessarily mean higher taxes.  Wyman said, “It costs very little actually to make tuition free for every student in the US…Compared to the amount of money we are spending on military spending and other sources [of spending], [it is] chump change. So we can absolutely afford to make tuition free at every public college in the United States.”

Student Matt Sena had this to say regarding the rising costs of tuition, “I think to deny that a problem exists at this point is a little bit ridiculous.  I think the fact that many are burdened by debt or just simply unable to come to school is a fact at this point.”  He did, however, concede that his statements were limited by not having exact numbers on hand.

When asked for a solution, Sena identified Bernie Sanders’ plan for a “more equitable tax system.”

“It’s not like we can all of a sudden just tax the rich and then give that money to students and everything is fixed” Sena said, “But slowly pushing things in that direction is kind of the idea.” Sena recognized how people panic at the idea of taxing the rich, to which he said, “First of all, we’ve got to tax them [the rich] evenly. They get lower tax rates than me. That’s just wrong. So step one would be hopefully to make taxes at least even across the board, and then maybe…wealth gets a little more equitably distributed.”

Gina Goldfaden had this to add about possible solutions for the higher costs of university educations, “I think scholarships should be more available,” and that, “There should be more assistance with financial aid”. Goldfaden also suggested higher taxes could be a possible solution.

While I do not agree with the demands of those demonstrating today, I do admire students who will brave unpleasant weather conditions to publicly advocate for something they believe in. I too encourage those who see a demonstration occurring on campus to speak with someone who is advocating on its behalf.  Shouting crowds tend to bury deep inside the diverse viewpoints of those individuals who are amongst their ranks.  It is in a multipolarity of viewpoints that we can more equitably learn from one another.

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About Jason Weaver

Jason Weaver was a contributor to the Michigan Review.