University Protests: Learning to Target

University students everywhere are facing the fallout from the global recession.  In the United States, where public universities are supported (more and less) by state governments, higher education funding is on the table as states try to address their own ongoing budget crises.

Student activists are fighting back, and fighting back against different targets.  The target sets the bounds of the interests involved in a political movement.  In California, as noted in the previous post, student activists have been protesting the Regents’ decision to raise tuition.

In Louisiana, student activists–supported by many faculty–have gone after Governor Bobby Jindal.  Jindal, a rising star in the Republican Party, has been vigorous in promoting tax and budget cuts in Louisiana, hoping to set an example for the rest of the United States.  He has refused to consider any tax hikes as the economy faltered, increasing more demands for spending and diminishing state revenues.  Health care and higher education have endured particularly harsh cuts.

Business Week reports:

The governor adamantly opposes tax increases, but a battle is brewing for the 2011 regular legislative session as some lawmakers have said they’ll push for at least temporary tax increases to stop large budget cuts to colleges.

In recent speeches and editorials, Jindal talked of a need to stop whining and “do more with less,” saying colleges could deliver better results for students and higher education leaders should change their policies to be more efficient. He’s said tuition and fee hikes on students have offset a large portion of the budget cuts so far.

Neither students nor administrators buy the efficiency arguments.  Advocates for higher education who have seen budgets cut by hundreds of millions of dollars over the past two years say that reductions in spending–and tuition hikes–can’t be made without seriously damaging the universities.  They blame Jindal.

Targets create coalitions, broad or narrow.  The focus on the Louisiana governor has put students, faculty, and (more quietly) administrators on the same side of the political battle, winning support from the Democratic Party and the trade unions.  The focus on the Regents in California has made such broad coalitions more difficult.  Students resistant to large tuition hikes have urged the University to operate more efficiently, while administrators and faculty see the strains created by the budget cuts of the last few years.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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