Ryant tackles transparency issues on OU's Board of Trustees.
On April 19, 2013, four Ohio University students were arrested for disrupting a Board of Trustees meeting that proposed a 3.5 percent tuition increase. On Jan. 23, about 50 OU students blocked the Board of Trustees’ bus to prevent it from leaving the meeting, risking arrest once more to express their disdain with administrative decisions.
This Friday, the Board of Trustees will vote on Guaranteed Tuition, a model that would raise student tuition 5 percent, which has simultaneously provoked student rallies in opposition. Why are OU student activists emboldened enough to risk legal consequences in their quest to be heard?
A key component to this question’s complex answer is a lack of transparency at the core of administrative decisions.
On Sept. 4, 2013, OU released a promotional campaign titled “It’s yOU.” In a university news release, President Roderick McDavis stated that the campaign “feels like a reminder that Ohio is the place where ‘you’ matter.” Such statements are bureaucratic and nearly meaningless when we begin to understand administrative decisions that do not actively reflect student needs. At Ohio University, the wealthy and unaffected Board of Trustees decides how much money students will pay and how this money is used. The only guesswork that this new model removes is the hope that we will not be buried in student debt or have our wallets emptied.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2012-13 school year, 52 percent of Ohio University undergraduate students received loans totaling more than $82 million. The same site shows that the total amount of scholarships, grants and federal grants received by OU undergraduates was more than $81 million. This is heinous when we also consider the fact that OU has a 15 percent student loan default rate, according to the National Student Loan Data System. With the Board of Trustees voting to raise in-and out-of-state tuition the past four years, according to the center, the nails are being hammered even faster into the financial coffins of students. We are readily handed debt before truly accessible education.
Instead of being an institution that liberates us, Ohio University has become a financial and intellectual burden. The way that administrative decisions are made depends upon our complacency. They monopolize on our confusion when we try to get answers and are handed the 109-page 2014-15 Budget Book.
These numbers become even more ridiculous when we look at how the university chooses to spend its money. One visible example is OU’s choice to disproportionately fund athletics. Within the past year and a half, Ohio University built Walter Fieldhouse, a $12.5 million athletic facility that was partially funded by student fees. Even more ridiculous, as stated by a recent SLATE Magazine article from Richard Vedder and Joseph Hartge, are current university plans for a $5 million dollar academic center solely for student athletes that would “serve as a gated community of sorts where athletes but not ordinary students can study.”
In an email from Hartge, an OU student studying economics, he said, “Under a guaranteed tuition model, students have less choice in what they pay for their education. Granted, the current system offers limited choice, too. But with guaranteed tuition prices, a student in one cohort might pay more than a student in another cohort despite the fact that they are generally receiving the same thing in return. That rigidity likely will be inefficient."
Our university’s lack of transparency can be questioned in numerous realms, from whether student input was involved in placing the food truck on West Green this winter, to the Board of Trustees voting on whether to raise tuition this week. Once we begin to understand that the administration’s flaky decisions are the cause of an economic system that rewards universities valuing money over fulfilling basic needs, such as accessible education, we can begin to skillfully take action.
We must make our dissent known. We can start by partaking in rallies, like #RAISEHELLNOTTUITION or by being present at the Friday morning Board of Trustees meeting. We must demand transparency and a legitimate voice in decisions that affect us.
Ryant Taylor is a senior studying English, a coordinator for the Ohio University Student Union, LGBTQA commissioner for Student Senate, and an activist on campus. Email him at email@example.com.