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UNC campus groups stand firm in the face of tuition hikes

Student protestors freshman Ellen Currin (left), senior Caitlyn Williams, and senior Spencer Kuzmier and UNC-CH student body president Mary Cooper sit in on the UNC-system Board of Governors meeting on Thursday at 11a.m. discussing the possibility of tuition increase. These protestors and many others held a march at 10:30 a.m. from the pit to the General Administration building.

The swell of student opposition to proposed tuition hikes has been lead by four main organizations, each with different views of which tuition plan is best for the University and the student body.

And though they can’t agree when it comes to dollars and percentages, in the end, their message is the same — students must have a greater say in tuition decisions.

“We want to set a precedent for student involvement,” said Joseph Terrell, director of internal relations for the Campus Y.

“Students have not been adequately included in the conversation — they’re not treated as stakeholders.”

The UNC-system Board of Governors will deliberate today and vote on tuition proposals Friday.

UNC-system President Thomas Ross has proposed a 13.5 percent tuition increase for UNC-CH, smaller than the 15.6 percent increase proposed by Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bruce Carney.

Kate Davis Jones, a member of the Education Justice Alliance, a coalition of organizations that formed in opposition to tuition hikes, echoed Terrell’s claims.

“It’s about building more of a student voice within the conversation,” she said.

“We want them to know that we’re listening and we’re not going to be passive as they pass these hikes,” Jones said.

Since the fall, the tuition debate has divided campus organizations along many fronts.

Student Body President Mary Cooper has said she supports Ross’ proposal to raise tuition and fees by 9.9 percent for in-state undergraduates next year.

The Campus Y has said it will support the lowest tuition increase possible.

Eric Bost, a member of Students for a Democratic Society, said his organization and the Education Justice Alliance both adopt a staunch stand against any tuition increases because they view the decision as a symptom of a greater problem.

At times this division has juxtaposed students who pay tuition against students with academic scholarships.

The two primary leaders in the Campus Y’s tuition movement — Terrell and sophomore Laura McCready — are Morehead-Cain Scholars, and therefore do not pay tuition.

But far from creating a further rift between the organizations, members of different groups say their involvement shows how important the tuition decision is.

“I think it’s great they’re involved,” Bost said. “This is about seeing this problem as a bigger picture. It’s about asking the hard questions — is there money out there that isn’t going to higher education?”

Lily Roberts, a Morehead-Cain Scholar and senior advisor to Cooper, said she continues to speak out against tuition increases because she wants to give back to the people that helped shape her experience at UNC.

“If I have the smallest chance to help taxpayers and their children, I think that would be the most important thing I can do coming out of my four years here,” she said.

Roberts added that she hopes Cooper’s administration leaves behind a legacy of challenging the status quo.

“Students are not just going to either buy something wholeheartedly, or yell no until they’re blue in the face,” she said.

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“It’s about saying, ‘Here are the values that are important to us and here’s how we see that happening.’”

“The legislature cut the budget because of the economic crisis and now the school has to respond,” he said.

No matter the outcome Friday, each of the organizations’ leaders said they will continue to push for greater student involvement in the decision-making process.

“I think all of us who are involved recognize that it is an uphill battle,” she said.

“But if we felt defeatist, we wouldn’t be fighting.”

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