Occupy UT is renewing efforts to fight back against tuition hikes and increase student voice in campus issues this semester.
Members of Occupy UT hosted a student forum on education Monday after participating in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day March. The group joined P.R.I.D.E., an East Austin education activist group, and talked about the perils of privatizing education. Occupy UT member Lucian Villaseñor said the group’s main goal right now was to recruit more members and inform people about the need to build a cohesive student movement to address tuition increases, rising student debt and other injustices.
Although the group has not staged a physical occupation of the University, Villaseñor said it is a possibility.
Villaseñor said many of the members of Occupy UT — which includes students, faculty and staff — have been involved in activism for a long time but have never achieved significant gains because they address single issues. He said Occupy UT gives members the chance to form solidarity across the board and address many issues.
“I’ve been fighting the budget cuts since they cut the Ethnic Studies Center last year,” said Villaseñor, an ethnic studies senior. “First, we were pissed at the administration, then we were pissed at the Capitol.”
He said the group has not registered as an official student organization because doing so would limit their abilities to protest. Villaseñor also said University officials had talked to Occupy UT and told them they were allowed to have only four tents and could only camp out at certain hours. As it stands now, Occupy UT must partner with an official UT organization in order to put posters around campus.
On Jan. 5, the group released a declaration of grievances against the University and has made it available on their website.
In the declaration students accused the University of making decisions without student input, making education unaffordable by quadrupling tuition, allowing students to acquire a $500 million student loan debt and failing to deliver any serious rebuke to the Texas Legislature for a return to previous funding levels.
In an interview with The Daily Texan, Powers said the Occupy movements on Wall Street and in Austin have seemed to focus on national, state and local economies and not on tuition and higher education issues. Powers said he and members of the administration have been having a “robust conversation” with students on tuition through mediums like the Tuition Policy and Advisory Committee and the College Tuition Budget Advisory Committees for the past six months.
“We have been working with members of Occupy UT,” Powers said. “We are here to facilitate freedom of expression. We do have rules though not just for Occupy UT but for all organizations and we will work with them.”
Student Government President Natalie Butler said she shares Occupy UT’s frustrations with the Texas Legislature and believes there is a good reason to be angry. Butler also said there had been many opportunities for people to come up with concerns about tuition before TPAC issued its recommendation.
“People from Occupy UT came out after we had given a recommendation,” she said. “We gave a lot of opportunities to voice concerns but we didn’t see as much concern until after we had given a recommendation.”
Trevor Hoag, English assistant professor and Occupy UT member, said tuition increases in the last few years have discouraged students from getting involved.
“Americans don’t vote in national elections because they know that regardless of who wins, no one will attend to their needs and their lives won’t change,” Hoag said. “The same is true of student participation regarding tuition. Students don’t attend tuition forums because they know that no one will listen to them and that tuition will increase regardless.”