Occupy UT members confront tuition controversy

Shreya Banerjee

The booming voices of Occupy UT members filled the room as they chanted in opposition to proposed tuition increases and closed meetings while three UT Police Department officers stood guard.

The Tuition Policy Advisory Committee had its third public forum Wednesday evening to discuss its recommendation for a tuition increase. The proposal came after the Texas Legislature decreased UT’s biennial budget by $92 million. TPAC has met fewer than 10 times this fall to deliberate on the tuition-setting process and ultimately agreed to recommend a tuition increase of 2.6 percent for Texas resident undergraduates for the next years, raising the average cost to $127 per semester for 2012-13 and $131 for 2013-14. The committee also proposed a 3.6-percent increase for nonresident undergraduates and all graduate students.

After the presentation by TPAC, the Occupy members stood up and recited a speech to the board to express their disagreement. The chant, which was read out by the members simultaneously, reflected their frustration with UT’s tuition-setting process. A few occupiers questioned President William Powers Jr. on his decision to support the tuition increase, but Powers declined to give a direct response to their question.

The main issues Occupy members brought up included a lack of student involvement in the decisions to raise tuition and the need for the budget to be re-evaluated rather than tuition increased.

Student body President Natalie Butler and Carisa Nietsche, Senate of the College Councils president, both said multiple student organizations had been involved in the decision to raise tuition.

“The students had their voice, and they were actively a part in this discussion,” Nietsche said. “They went to town halls, and they understood the implications.”

During the question-and-answer portion of the forum, Occupy members approached the microphone to question TPAC members about the need to increase tuition.

“Deregulation pits students against workers,” said Teri Adams, a women and gender studies senior. “I wasn’t planning ahead to make a lot of money, and you have people like me who want to follow their passions.”

Social work senior Sara Yamada said she didn’t understand why UT spends funds on new buildings as opposed to using those funds for education.

“Are we trying to invest in people’s minds or are we trying to invest in entertainment?” Yamada said.

Printed on Thursday, December 1, 2011 as: Occupy UT protesters attend public budget forum, express concerns about involvement