Pending cuts to the state’s budget for higher education, students, faculty and staff at the University of Colorado at Boulder gathered in the UMC fountain area Wednesday in memoriam of their funding for their higher education.
At high noon, a time picked in reference to higher education, students dressed in black attire congregated around a coffin and a cellist playing funeral music, and they bowed their heads in a moment of silence for their education.
Hailee Koehler, a 22-year-old senior political science major and the director of legislative affairs within UCSU, opened up the rally with a personal confession of her own student debt.
“I am currently in $50,000 of debt,” Koehler said. “We are gathered here today to mourn the death of something that is incredibly close to us all, our higher education. Last year, according to the National Center for Education statistics and a report card issued by Education Weekly, Colorado fell below all other states in this nation and became last for state funding to higher education.”
Because of these budget cuts, over 50 percent of state funding for public institutions of higher education in Colorado has been lost, Koehler said.
Brittany Havey, a 22-year-old senior media studies major and co-director for legislative affairs within UCSU, said that the on-campus rally was coordinated with numerous other Colorado colleges and universities in response to Colorado’s being 50th in the nation for per-pupil spending for higher education.
“The theme we chose at CU Boulder is a mock funeral for being dead at last,” Havey said.
The only long-term solution to the cuts that make Colorado dead last in per-pupil funding, Koehler said, is to get rid of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR.
“In 2000, when the Tax Payer Bill of Rights passed, Higher Education, Medicaid, and K-12 education were given a death sentence,” Koehler said. “For those of you who don’t know, TABOR mandates caps on tax increases in the state of Colorado leaving the hands of legislators tied when it comes to funding essential necessities of the state. Every time taxes NEED to increase, the people have to vote. Boulder County is one of the only counties in Colorado that actually does vote to pay for the services we need to survive as a state.”
Although Referendum C has rendered TABOR null since 2005, its legislation expires in a year, and because federal stimulus dollars have been used to backfill the cuts up till now, 2011 expects to be a year with funding levels below those from 2003.
The state is also expecting a $1.6 billion shortfall in the budget, Koehler said.
“Short term solutions are hard to come by because of Colorado’s incredibly tight unique and ridiculous fiscal constraints,” Koehler said. “What we have to remember is that students need to maintain a united front to demonstrate to the state that we are not okay with what is going on. We also have to commit to voting against TABOR when the time comes.”
Geof Cahoon, the lead organizer for ColoradoWINS, spoke about the actions students and community members can take to effect positive change.
“Here is an action: March 3. Auraria campus is your starting point. At noon there will be a march to the state capital and we need thousands of students. Take the day off, be there at noon. Be there at Auraria, at noon. That’s an action you can take,” Cahoon said.
Cahoon also spoke about a petition being circulated by students, faculty and members of ColoradoWINS at the University of Colorado and other campuses.
As a call for quality, affordable higher education, the petition asks Gov. Bill Ritter, the Colorado General Assembly, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, President Benson and the Board of Regents to support alternative revenue options in an active pursuit of making Colorado at least 25th in support for higher education.
“Can we join together and accomplish the future of our kids with one single act of speaking to our legislators and letting them know how we feel?” Cahoon said. “This marks a low point, but this marks a beginning the victory in affordable higher education.”
Alexis Smith, a 23-year-old senior news-editorial major and the Diversity Director for UCSU, reiterated the effects budget cuts would have not just on the student population as a whole, but specifically on the diverse and multicultural community.
“I think that if we really want to take a stand and want CU to move towards values of inclusion, values of excellence, values of diversity, we can’t just talk the talk, we have to walk the walk,” Smith said. “And that has to be a partnership. CU has to do it, but there also has to be state legislators also have to do by making a financial commitment to this university.”
What’s essential to this message is the appreciation of inclusion, diversity, the work student groups do, allied partnerships, coalition building and the celebration of multiculturalism, Smith said.
“We can’t do that if students don’t have access to this university, because they don’t have the funds to come here,” Smith said. “So part of this stand that we are taking today is to make sure that every single student who is able to come to this university because they worked hard and got the grades to do it, is able to come here regardless of their financial background. We cannot with good consciousness create barriers to a flagship university and say that we uphold values of excellence.”
Along with calls to action were student testimonials of the effort and money they contribute towards receiving a quality education.
Negou Seid, a 19-year-old sophomore communication major, began his speech with his love for CU and the dedication he has towards being a student here.
“I love [the university] enough to work two jobs, forty hours a week, take all my classes, and participate in a lot of activities” Seid said. “But if we keep having these tuitions rises, these fees raised, you’re taking a lot of quality students out of school.”
Alex Schnell, a 22-year-old senior majoring in political science and economics and the election commissioner for UCSU, said that his experience from talking to students is that they don’t feel the budget cuts will affect them.
“What I’ve heard from a lot of students when I’ve talked to them is that they have no interest in going on March 3 because this rally doesn’t affect them, these budget cuts don’t affect them, and it does,” Schnell said. “It affects the entire state, it affects the quality of jobs in the state, it affects our unemployment, it affects our health, it affects everything in the state, and students need to understand that.”
One of the death tolls for higher education could come in the form of the Higher Education Flexibility Bill, which allows deans and regents to set tuition to what they feel is acceptable, Schnell said.
“What they think is acceptable is completely unacceptable to those who are middle class, lower class, and often in the minorities,” Schnell said.
Spencer Watson, a 21-year-old senior majoring in molecular biology and English literature, spoke of the success that comes from opportunities for education.
“When you invest in education, you invest in the future. When you invest in education you invest in the success of the people who get that education,” Watson said. “The fact that this state, the current economic climate, would allow us to cut education is horrifying. I am disgusted at this state. I am disgusted that we would consider preventing students who need education from getting education.”
Despite the testimonies, what is most important to the rally, Koehler said, was to raise awareness of the plight higher education is facing.
“There aren’t a lot of short term solutions that we can actually work on with the state right now except for the overturning of TABOR,” Koehler said. “So we really just wanted to bring awareness around this issue and get people aware about the event on [March 3], cause that’s going to be huge.”
The march to the capital on March 3 is open to students from across the state.
“We’re going to have students from across the entire state at the capital. So really just getting people to know about what’s going on and getting people to realize their education is in jeopardy,” Koehler said.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sheila V Kumar at Sheila.firstname.lastname@example.org.