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U. of C. Students Protest Budget Cuts, Lack of Transparency With Sit-In

By Josh McGhee | June 4, 2015 7:13pm | Updated on June 4, 2015 8:09pm
 Over a dozen graduating students held a sit-in at Rosenwald Hall on the University of Chicago Campus.
Over a dozen graduating students held a sit-in at Rosenwald Hall on the University of Chicago Campus.
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

HYDE PARK — The battle between students and administration raged on Thursday with over a dozen students holding a sit-in at the University of Chicago's admission building.

Donning caps and gowns and using the hashtag #NoCutsChi, graduating students from various student groups, including the student body president, demanded transparency and demonstrated against university budget cuts at Rosenwald Hall, 1101 E. 58th St., Thursday afternoon.

"We're protesting a series of budget cuts coming next year. We're sitting here to tell the administration we're not going to stand for it," said Danielle Wilson, a member of the group, which started the action around 1:30 p.m.

The sit-in ended around 6:30 p.m. when university officials threatened that student protesters who remained would not be allowed to graduate due to pending disciplinary action, the demonstrators said.

"We were told we will not graduate if we continued to stay in the building. All we want is a meeting with an administrator who has a say in the budget," said Tovia Siegel, 21.

"We decided we want to graduate and continue to demand this. This isn't us giving up."

The students are protesting cuts to jobs and salaries of low-wage workers, especially graduate students, along with a host of transparency issues. They asked for a seat at the table to negotiate for the protection of student jobs and pay.

"These budget cuts are secret. We found out about them through various sources," Wilson said. "The administration works hard to keep these things secret. There's very little transparency. Very few people I know on campus have even seen President Zimmer. He's essentially a CEO of this private business they are building."

University of Chicago spokesman Jeremy Manier said that the budget cuts were discussed in an April 20 email from the university provost sent to faculty and staff, which was subsequently reported in Crain's Chicago Business.

The email said the school was "increasing the University’s budget and investments overall in academic areas, [but] we need to reduce spending for administrative operations."

He said he could not provide more specific information on who or what would be affected by the budget cuts, and he declined to comment on whether students would have input on the impending cuts.

The group also supported the demands of the Trauma Care Coalition, which had nine of its members arrested Wednesday after barricading themselves into an administration building. Firefighters tore down a wall to detain them.

While Wilson said they were unprepared for arrest Thursday, they said they support the coalition's tactics and were disappointed those protesters were arrested.

"It looks really bad for a university to arrest their students on their own campus," Wilson said.

University officials said the trauma center protesters were blocking access for the disabled and needed to be moved Wednesday. All nine protesters were put in handcuffs around 6:30 p.m. and taken away by police to Wentworth District headquarters.

All nine have been charged with three misdemeanors: mob action, resisting arrest and trespassing. 

This isn't the first time the Trauma Care Coalition held a rally that ended in arrests. In March, the group spilled into the streets of Michigan Avenue, leading to nine arrests also.

Around 5 p.m. Thursday, about 60 students began a rally outside Rosenwald Hall as the sit-in continued inside. 

At the rally, Tyler Kissinger, president of the school's student body, said the issue is simple: "The university hasn't invested where it's needed."

Kissinger claimed the school was not complying with Title IX, leaving sexual assault victims to wonder whether their confidentiality would be preserved or if disciplinary action would be taken against the assaulters.

"All of these issues have been years in the making and we're meeting a critical point," said Kissinger, a junior.

Kissinger also said there was a disparity in treatment between students and Woodlawn residents. He said some minority students feel compelled to wear a backpack at all times walking around campus so as not to risk being subjected to ID checks on the campus.

Manier declined to comment Thursday about Kissinger's claims.

As Kissinger and other student leaders read off their issues with the campus, those gathered at the rally responded with chants of, "That ain't right."

"The key to this rally is contextualizing all these issues — collecting all of these issues and putting them in perspective for this corporation of a private institution," Kissinger said.

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