LANSING – Students from the 15 public universities in Michigan and union workers from throughout the state marched down Michigan Avenue and gathered on the steps of the Capitol building March 24 to protest the proposed budget cuts to higher education.
With signs that read “Where's the Funding?” and “Why does the 'Nerd' hate education?” students rallied against Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed 15 percent cut, or $42 million, to higher education in Michigan.
One of the major concerns surrounding the proposed budget cuts include education only being available to the privileged. WSU Student Senate member Keely Czartorski spoke during the rally and said that higher education for students needs to be a higher priority if the goal is to re-invent Michigan.
“My fears are that education isn't going to be equally accessible. We are only going to have education available to those who can afford it,” Czartorski said. “So, we need a system that can ensure that whoever works the hardest gets those seats in colleges, whoever works the hardest gets to have the chance to get a future.”
Rep. Maureen Stapleton (D-Detroit) said that if Michigan is truly a state that training and education will catapult us into better times, the cuts to higher education are the worst that could be done at this critical time.
Students are also worried about the quality of education. Western Michigan University student Skylar Makowski said that with continued cuts to history and art programs, students are trained to be exclusively workers, not thinkers.
Many protestors were unhappy with Snyder, himself.
“That's what I don't understand, the governor ran on the platform of change, and yet, nothing has changed,” Student Senate Parliamentarian Kate Beson said.
Students were joined by workers and union members.
Union of Non-Tenured Faculty member Penny Gardner said that cutting resources to universities is “absolutely spending our future.” She said that Michigan's government isn't listening to it's citizens.
“They only listen to the businesses or the corporations,” Gardner said. “And they forget the populous. And it's so good to see the populous and the citizens coming out.”
Matty O'Dea, a member of Industrial Workers of the World and the Socialist Party USA, marched in the rally, but said that the organizers didn't want them to march because they had a banner that read 'Students and Workers United.'
“So, we did anyways,” O'Dea said. “We took our banner, we ran into the street and everybody followed.”
But Czartorski said that everyone was welcome to join the march.
“We wanted to show that there are a lot of people in support of higher education,” she said.
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, who spoke at the rally, said he supported peaceful protest and civil disobedience, but asked the students not to get arrested.
Cardi DeMonaco, president of the Student Association of Michigan – the organization that put together the rally – said that he hopes that the government doesn't go through with the higher eduction budget cut.
“Snyder's got some unique thing going on where if schools don't raise tuition more that 7.1 percent they're only … going to cut 15 percent instead of 18.1,” he said. “I foresee 7.1 percent tuition increases everywhere.”
Students are already struggling to pay for college, WSU student of social work Kaite Formanek said.
“It's not even that we're taking out loans, we're hoping we can take out loans so we can keep paying for our education. The tuition keeps going up and up, I mean, it's not easy,” Formanek said. “We go to Wayne State University – a great urban institute – but an urban institute that needs funding.”
After the rally; students convened outside the chambers of the House of Representatives within the Capitol Building. According to Michigan House of Representatives website, all House sessions are open to the public, but students were not allowed in the chambers.
“I don't understand why they aren't letting us in, I guess we're too loud. But democracy can get loud,” Formanek said.
Stapleton said that when asked why the students were being denied access to the chambers, they were told it was because of the noise.
“That house, that chamber, belongs to the people, and we should not deny access to anyone who is a resident of this country, who is a visitor to this country, who is a resident of this great state. It's just not acceptable,” Stapleton said.
Rep. Joan Bauer (D-Lansing) said that it's one thing to go into the chambers and be kicked out because of noise. But students weren't allowed in the chambers at all.
“I am appalled, and you should be appalled, too,” Bauer said.