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Student tuition protests will move to the NC legislature

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After losing the tuition battle against the UNC-system Board of Governors, students are preparing for the next stage in the fight against tuition increases: the N.C. General Assembly.

System President Thomas Ross’ plan for a system-wide tuition increase of 8.8 percent passed through the board Friday. And it is now heading toward the state legislature for a vote in May.

But students from a variety of groups on campus have vowed to lobby the state legislature to reconsider the proposal.

“There’s a lot of outrage among everyone in North Carolina,” said UNC graduate student Steve Milder, who protested the tuition increase. “We want to capitalize on that and make sure to keep pushing the issue.”

Some legislators have voiced their support of Ross’ tuition increase plan.

Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake, said the tuition proposal is reasonable, and he plans to support it.

But Stevens said he is prepared for some protests during the legislative session.

N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, also supports the proposal.

“We’ve tried to limit the impact of budget cuts,” said Jordan Shaw, a spokesman for Tillis. “But tough choices have to be made.”

Walton Robinson, a spokesman for the N.C. Democratic Party, said the debate over tuition falls along partisan lines.

Democrats are against increases while the Republican priority is not education, he said.

“In order to turn our economy around, we should not make it harder for kids to go to college and become part of the workforce,” he said.

Some students said they aren’t optimistic the General Assembly will vote against the increases.

Ben Carroll, a UNC alumnus and protester, said the bigger problem is the legislature trying to balance the budget on the backs of workers and students.

Shaw said an increased trust in government would make people less reluctant to pay higher tuition.

“The fundamental issue is how dollars are spent,” Shaw said. “If we find that all the money invested is spent on campus, then tuition increases will be much easier to sell to students.”

Opposition to the proposal is widespread, as there were about 200 protestors from across the state at the board meeting last week.

UNC’s Students for a Democratic Society, the N.C. Defend Education Coalition and the Campus Y have been leaders in fighting tuition increases.

And the groups’ grievances are not limited to tuition increases.

Lack of funding for education, corruption of the two-party system and the deregulation of Wall Street are some of the issues that protesters’ are fighting against.

UNC student Eric Bost, who protested at the board meeting Friday, said some might criticize the protesters for fighting against too many issues, but he said everything is connected.

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“You can’t talk about student debt without talking about the bank crisis,” Bost said.

For that reason, Carroll said many of the people who fought against tuition increases will also protest in September at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

Ross Bulla, a Charlotte security consultant, said up to 10,000 people are predicted to protest the convention.

UNC protesters plan to work with advocacy groups at the convention, such as the Coalition to Protest.

“Charlotte is the ‘Wall Street of the South,’” Carroll said. “This is a real opportunity for us to raise all these struggles and build unity.”

Contact the State & National Editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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