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May 10, 2005
Finally, Some Civil Disobedience - U of MN General College Closure Protests
As I was leaving the University of Minnesota after a final on Monday night, I was confronted by the site of about 20 or so tents pitched out on the concrete of The Mall between the Physics building and Walter Library. Curious and always ready for a good story I walked right over, perusing signs on the way that read things such as "keep your ego off our education" and "save G.C." I had a decent idea of what was going on there.
The impromptu camping session formed as an extension to May 4th's student sit-in after a camping permit was secured granting 7 days—which is less than the indefinate encampment as claimed by the student action group We Be G.C.—of camping upon the public park space that makes up the U of MN's Mall area.
All the same, I've got to give a hand to these students if for nothing else for bringing back a spirit of constructive civil disobedience to college campuses. My father and I would often discuss the irony of how an entire generation of children raised by what could be argued as the greatest generation of college-aged protesters in the 20th century stood by and did comparatively little during the election controversy in Florida, at any point of the Iraq war, or choose to demonstrate disobedience for any of the other myriad of reasons to be mal-content these days. Heck, one would have thought the double-digit percentage increases in student tuition for the three past consecutive years would have been a good enough reason for a mass student sit in somewhere.
And so, our campers on The Mall make me proud. The group out on the green even told me a couple of protest members took mace to the face and allegedly even a couple of kicks to the groin from police during their arrest at the sit-in as they were being removed via the tunnels beneath the building to avoid media exposure.
The students claim that they did nothing but peaceably resist removal.
Police now guard Morrill Hall and check visitors at all entrances in an effort to prevent further hijinks.
Indeed, the police weren't the only ones angry with the protesters. A few students told me this morning that allegedly two other students showed up last night with sledgehammers in their hands and stood near their campsite ominously, but luckily unsure what to do next. When confronted by the campers, the students dropped their hammers and fled (picture of a camper with a captured hammer at right).
But what initiated these protests in the first place?
The claim by the administration is that General College is not being closed down but its services are being restructured into other colleges within the University. Although the exact details of the plan have not been made clear, the "restructuring" would offer a claimed cost-savings to the University and help position it to achieve the newly stated goal of becoming one of the top three research universities in the country.
One primary concern from the student body has been that the General College is the primary entryway into the University for students of color. At least 40% of the students of color at the University enter through the general college.
The administration has responded that the University will not eliminate students of color from the student body by shutting down the General college but will instead raise-the-bar at the University by offering generous scholarships to exceptionally bright students of color to attend the school.
After talking with the student protesters and researching the matter on-line I have learned that the primary argument against this as of yet uncemented plan is that it would effectively turn the University's back against disadvantaged students of color at the level of the local community, not to forget about immigrants and students who are parents for whom the College is already well equipped to handle. The University they feel should provide a foot in the door for local Twin Cities students that may have not had the same opportunities to succeed as students pulled from other, more polished backgrounds however independant of ethnicity.
Indeed I am inclined to agree with this viewpoint. The University is after all a Minneapolis and St. Paul land-grant University. In exchange for land and tax-money the University should best serve the people of the surrounding land who pay the taxes and not cater only to the educational elite of the world at large. Not to say that the University should not cater to these people, but it should have a fiduciary responsibility for its local citizenry.
So why not just send present General College students instead to community college?
The general college is a highly integrated part of the University. After meeting specific requirements, it is relatively easy to transfer to one of the many other colleges within the U. In addition, general college students mix with the student body at large and add an invaluable yet intangible set of viewpoints from a variety of backgrounds that might be lost if the student body becomes more homogenous.
There is a broader argument here as well. There is somewhat a general consensus amongst the citizenry of Minnesota that the University's Board of Regents as been less than transparent on at least a couple occasions with regards to their decision making. There should be a transparent discussion of plans for making decisions as large as this one so that the people of the State of Minnesota can have adaquate time to react so the will of the people can be taken into consideration making a final judgement.
For now, I happen to come down on the side of the protesting students on this matter. I want to know why we cannot have the best of both worlds. The University is one of the the largest in the country, a Big 10 school, but somehow there isn't enough money or space to attract both the best and brightest and serve the community, regarless that everybody pays their tuition to attend? I don't buy it.
What I would like to see is the actual plan post-closure of the General College and the true justification for closing the school as proposed by the Board of Regents and President Bruininks so I may decide the issue for myself. Unfortunately, right now there just isn't enough actual information and that fact alone is enough for people such as myself to be mad enough to camp out.
Good luck to the protesters on The Mall. I know your permit expires tonight!
- Duluth Superior: U of M proposes closing colleges
- St. Paul Pioneer Press: Rally set for General College
- Dean of General College writes, "In Defense of General College"
- Save G.C. Blog
- We Be G.C.
- General College supporters arrested in protest at U
- Talk Left: U of M Students Arrested in Morrill Hall Sit-In
- Sit-in, part 3-- students arrested
Posted by jordanh at May 10, 2005 11:40 PM |
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