Since early this semester I’ve heard talk about privatization — from some, how awful it is, and from others, how great it is. Like many people, I had no idea what it meant for a school to undergo privatization and what it would mean for my education. So I read more into it and found some examples closer to home than I’d expected. At Texas A&M University, the school’s costs are expected to be reduced significantly by privatizing jobs and university operations such as housing and food services.
After UT President William Powers Jr. introduced the idea of “possibly taking advantage of outsourcing or privatization opportunities,” in a January 29 speech, I heard about a march and rally on April 10 against those changes. I went to check it out for myself to hear another point of view there.
Prior to the march, I interviewed Lucian Villasenor, an ethnic studies senior and one of the organizers of the rally. We discussed the troubling parts of Powers’ speech, such as exploring the privatization of housing, food and parking, and the failure to convincingly answer the questions most frequently asked, by students — is my tuition going to increase? — and by University employees — is my job safe?
The march took place on a rainy Wednesday. It grew from a small quiet crowd at the Student Activities Center into a loud protest.
Marching down Speedway and on toward the Capitol, students and members of the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU) recited chants like, “They say privatize, we say fight back!” and, “Hey, Powers, you’re no good, treat your workers like you should!”
At the Capitol, those who took part in the march joined other members already stationed outside. Because TSEU is part of Communication Workers of America — a national organization — many from outside UT marched and rallied as well, in the hopes that their voices would be heard.
Some feared what privatization would mean for their job security. Michael Corwin, a member of TSEU and the UT Briscoe Center’s Technical Services coordinator, confessed that even though he thinks his job is “relatively safe,” the possibility of losing it scared him.
Many students attended the march because they fear tuition increases. Some questioned whether they could afford to continue attending the University. Other students marched and rallied because even though an increase in tuition would not affect them directly, it has the potential to affect other students facing financial troubles.
During the march I could feel the frustrations of those marching, and I saw firsthand how dedicated some students and workers were to their cause. To them, this privatization proposal is more than just a plan to reduce costs, it’s a plan that threatens their financial lives. At several points, even when it was just a small crowd at the SAC, the tension between UT security and staff and those marching was palpable. After the march and after sufficient research into privatization, I believe that privatization is not the right step for our school to take, and I hope that students become more informed about the changes that our University faces.
As a student, I want a plan that takes students and their education into account and minimizes the amount of jobs lost. Although I understand there is a financial struggle at the University, and the draw of the prospect of cost savings that A&M forecasts it will achieve with privatization, I simply want some sort of coordination so that I don’t feel as if things are being changed and done without considering job and tuition stability first.
Cano is an undergraduate studies freshman from Austin.