Why I Didn’t Rally
These rallies started a couple of months ago, you know.
Actually, judging by the reported attendance at Monday’s demonstration –well into the hundreds–compared with the smattering who came out for those marches, you probably didn’t know.
But back in February, coming right on the heels of THON, Travis Salters tried to kick things off. That sparsely attended March Against Rising Tuition led students from the Shields Building to that nexus of student activism–Old Main.
Yes, in February. Before Governor Tom Corbett revealed his proposed budget, before he slashed appropriations to the state schools, before it became clear that either tuition at Penn State was going to go way up, or the quality of education was going to go way down.
That’s probably why that March was such a miserable failure, because the status quo was something we’d come to accept. We grumbled and bitched that Penn State had one of the highest in-state tuition costs in the country–and that it’s expensive for the out-of state students as well–but we knew that it was a reality we’d have to live with. We’d piss and moan every year, when the newest tuition raise was announced, but we didn’t do much about it, because it was inevitable.
For the most part, we understood that Graham Spanier wasn’t the one responsible. Showing up outside his office, chanting slogans, and shouting him down wasn’t something many of us found to be an acceptable solution. It wasn’t his fault that state appropriations had stayed flat while costs had increased. He already knew we’d prefer to pay less, but that it was outside his jurisdiction.
And there were always the other ways to find personal cost-cutting measures. You can call me a pessimist, or a defeatist, but I always preferred realist.
That same understanding hasn’t carried over in the wake of Corbett’s attack on higher education–and yes, his budget proposal is just that. It’s an absolute schande that he would place the best interests of corporations over those of students. His position on the Marcellus Shale, one against introducing extraction taxes, is severely misguided at best, and built on corruption at worst. It’s no secret that oil and gas companies were amongst the largest donors to Corbett’s gubernatorial campaign, and, of course, there’s a quid pro quo to be expected.
I remember when I read the news that he would slash funding by more than 50% to state universities–and I almost fell out of my chair. To put it succinctly, this sucks.
So isn’t it Governor Corbett who should be receiving the brunt of our animosity? It’s not only the physical manifestation of the rally that struck me as off-putting–once again, we were in the position to be shouting down Spanier’s door (and proving that our education wasn’t really the first priority by encouraging students to walk out of class for the rally)–but the idea that the administration isn’t on our side that has put a sour taste in my mouth. The rally was well-organized, and well-supported, but it was not only too overtly political, but it also missed the point. Even though Damon Sims spoke, the event endorsed the opinion that Salters repeatedly put forward during his campaign for the UPUA presidency, and in that regard it’s probably best that T.J. Bard won, because he recognized what few are willing to admit–that Graham Spanier has been the greatest ally of the students in the fight against Corbett.
Are we supposed to think that he’s opposed these appropriations cuts so passionately because he wants the money to put up a few more new buildings? Look, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Spanier, but in his reaction to Corbett, he’s been absolutely phenomenal. He’s been adamant that students won’t be forced to bear the burden alone–and he’s followed through. In the past couple months, he’s worked with the Core Council to find redundancies and cut costs, and he’s negotiated a salary freeze among University faculty. He’s been outspoken and vigorous in publicly opposing Corbett at every opportunity. Given the circumstances, I’m not sure what more we could ask from him.
I’m not saying that students can’t make a difference in this fight, but I’m once again suggesting that this is going about it entirely the wrong way. I’ve doubted the ability of PASS–the Pennsylvania Association of State-Related Students, created by UPUA President Christian Ragland this year–to make a tangible difference, but compared to on-campus efforts, it at least takes a good first step, in taking the issue to the people who can actually make a difference.
Capital Day is today in Harrisburg, and though I doubt Tom Corbett will have a Seussian transformation like the Grinch did (I have trouble believing that his heart will grow three sizes, and he’ll restore full appropriations), I fully support the idea of lobbying the people most directly in charge–just like the professionals hired by Penn State do for a living. I fully support the idea of writing your state legislators, and state Senators, and telling them how you feel. And you bet that I’ll support voting against the re-election campaigns of every single one of those state legislators who vote for this proposed budget.
Because they–not Spanier, not members of the Penn State administration–are the ones with the power to lower our tuition, and to ensure that Corbett’s proposed budget will be voted down. It almost certainly won’t be, but fighting a patently losing battle hasn’t seemed to deter student activists before.
Normally, I don’t mind being the bad guy. I revel in iconoclasm. But the sheer scope of the changes facing Penn State frighten me. For the first time, I’m glad to be a junior–that I’ll only be here for one more year. To you freshmen and sophomores, you high school seniors so excited to get on campus, the school you graduate from will only passingly resemble the one you matriculated into.
I won’t be able to drive down 322 tomorrow to Harrisburg, and join the horde who will be making their voices heard, and their opinions known. But unlike today, when I walked across the Old Main lawn and rolled my eyes at the gathered crowd, I’ll be pulling hard for those who make the trip.
Good luck, fellas, and godspeed. Just please don’t take Graham Spanier’s name in vain.