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Manoa Graduate Students Spur Campus-Wide Protest
By News Release @ 2:17 AM :: 3752 Views :: Higher Education, Labor

Mānoa Graduate Students Spur Campus-Wide Protest

News Release from Fix UH Manoa November 14, 2014

Honolulu, HI: Graduate students have planned a sit-in at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Campus Center to protest sudden and drastic budget cuts. Students will gather outside of the East-West Center at 8:30 am on Monday, November 17th, followed by a march around campus to the Campus Center courtyard from 9:30 am – 10:30 am, culminating in a rally and press conference to begin at 10:45 am.

The group of students self-organized in response to cuts to the Biology Department’s Teaching Assistantships (TAships) that were leaked last Thursday. The policy stated in emails to faculty, which later was claimed to be a “draft”, targeted some 50 students from the major research initiatives including Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology, Kewalo Marine Lab, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, and the School of Ocean and Earth Science Technology (SOEST). Other students have joined the cause as similar cuts are occurring in campus-wide, including the departments of Botany, Women’s Studies, Math and Musicology.

The speed and severity of the cuts will leave many students without funding, forcing them to find a way to pay around $20,000 in tuition in addition to the cost of living in one of the most expensive cities in the US. International students are particularly hard-hit, as their visas state that they are only to work at the University. For most of the students, a loss of TA ship and the tuition waiver it brings means taking a leave of absence or dropping out altogether.

The real problem, say the students, is an outdated budget allocation model that provides money based on previous years’ budget allowances. Departments in the College of Arts and Sciences have been increasing enrollment as directed by the upper administration, yet have received no additional money to pay the faculty, instructors and TAs needed to teach their growing student body.

Conflicting information and a lack of transparency has also exacerbated the issues. Chancellor Bley-Vroman has stated multiple times that the university is “in the black,” yet the ‘Budget Roadshow’ presented by Vice Chancellor for Administration, Finance & Operations Kathy Cutshaw shows an almost $31 million deficit. A budget task force was created to address the structural problems that includes the four Vice Chancellors, however, they have yet to deliver a plan of action, and the Chancellor recently extended the December deadline for results until April.

In collaboration with the University’s newest RIO, Fix UH Mānoa, as well as the Graduate Student Organization and I Mua Mānoa, a group of concerned graduate students have organized a formal protest. Almost 100 students signed grievance letters that were sent on Wednesday morning to the Bill Ditto, the Dean of the College of Natural Sciences, Brian Taylor, the Dean of SOEST, and Robert Bley-Vroman, the interim Chancellor. The letters outlined key steps that the group felt were “just and necessary for the future of the University”, setting a hard deadline for Friday, November 14. These meetings occurred on Thursday and Friday, but actions fell short of the demands.

Instead, the meetings steeled the students’ resolve. Dean Ditto said that even if he is allowed to prevent cuts in the spring, if the budget doesn’t change between now and Fall 2015, he’ll be forced to make $2.5 million in cuts, which would result in the slashing of all non-faculty instructors and 40% of the TAs in the College of Natural Sciences. But this is not just about the graduate students’ livelihoods, say the group. Thousands of undergraduates will be negatively impacted by the planned cuts, as class sections will be cut, courses will be stripped of their writing intensive designations, and class sizes will increase, all making it harder for students to “do it in four”. Ultimately, such changes will damage the university’s reputation, leading to decreased enrollment and even less money to balance an already broken budget.

The students are moving forward with two main demands:

1. That all TA ships for the spring semester be restored campus-wide, even if that means operating in the red, to ensure that no classes or sections are cut.

2. That by the end of the semester, a new budget allocation model is proposed and made available for public comment.

Until these demands are met, the students will engage in civil disobedience by occupying the Campus Center courtyard on campus with a 24/7 sit-in. The protest begins Monday at 8:30 AM, when supporters will be meeting at the corner of East West Rd and Dole St for a rally. Everyone is encouraged to wear red. At 9:30 am, the rally will march through campus to the Campus Center, where the students will begin the sit-in. A rally and press conference will begin at 10:45 AM.

Other than attending the press conference, journalists and interested members of the community are welcome to contact the organizers for more information about the sit-in and ways to help.

November 7, 2014: Group: University of Hawaii fiscal woes hurting students, faculty

HNN: UH teaching assistant positions may be cut

SA: Lecturer and graduate positions could be cut, possibly leading to larger class sizes and fewer course offerings

Fix UH Mānoa: http://fixuhmanoa.org

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