Our Enlightened Conscience: Uniting For Fiscal Sanity

Is Penn State finally witnessing the “development of an enlightened conscience” amongst its student opinion-makers? It certainly appears so. While student anti-administration protests certainly are nothing new, such protests have not generally been led by the student elite in the HUB-Robeson Center or the James Building.

In my time as an undergraduate at Penn State, The Daily Collegian was willing to call the administration to task on academic issues, discrimination, and its lack of transparency. Notably, though, this same level of scrutiny was not applied to the rising cost of tuition. However, for the first time in the five years that I’ve actively monitored the pages of the student newspaperr, I now see a willingness to openly question President Spanier on the relationship between state appropriations and the rising cost of tuition.

Certainly, some in the now defunct Undergraduate Student Government (USG) pushed this issue to the forefront, particularly by advocating the reinstatement of the Tuition Challenge Grant. The student elite at the time fought back, adhering to Old Main’s party line. USG President Justin Zartman suggested that the Tuition Challenge Grant “shortchang[ed]” students. Despite a potential recall due to his inaction on the subject, Ian Rosenberger’s administration lacked interest and focus on the subject. Attempts to lobby for the Tuition Challenge Grant were soundly defeated by a coalition of senators which included future USG President Galen Foulke and Chief of Staff Erin Ferris.

Needless to say, no USG President was more hostile to the ideas of tuition control than Galen Foulke. He opposed lobbying for the Tuition Challenge Grant, opposed extending the “Commonwealth campus” tuition freeze to the 42,000 students at University Park and refused to even show up for the “Rally ‘round Old Main” (the USG Senate’s analog to the annual Rally at the Rotunda, where Penn Staters gather in Harrisburg to petition for more taxpayer funds).

Foulke dismissed the need for budget cuts and aligned himself with the administration. He was then appointed as a member of the Board of Trustees, to my knowledge voting at every opportunity to raise tuition and fees, without once publicly expressing so much as reluctance. That is, when he bothered to show up.

Despite the manifest failure of this Oliver Twist method of lobbying (“Please Governor, may I have some more?), The Daily Collegian had consistently endorsed such annual supplication. It endorsed the annual Harrisburg Rally, but not the Rally at Old Main. It constantly decried the negative effects of the rising cost of tuition without looking at administrative cost savings measures — or lack thereof.

Moreover, the arrogance coming from Old Main, particularly from Vice President Bill Mahon, demonstrates how bulletproof the administration feels on this issue. For example, in February 2005, I had the temerity to suggest that “the administration may need to tighten their belts and cut spending to help combat the rising cost of tuition.” Mr. Mahon responded, “I don’t think Andy Banducci has any idea how the university budget operates.” Instead of even sympathizing with a student’s very valid tuition concerns, Mr. Mahon brazenly suggested he needed “a refresher math course”.

Finally, the tide is turning. The Daily Collegian editorial board has finally stood up to the Old Main bullies, and cast their lot with the fiscal responsibility crowd.

This recent shift, combined with the future election of a stronger UPUA President and Assembly, represents the best hope that I have seen for a real paradigm shift in tuition politics. A united student body government and student media might finally be able to stop fighting amongst themselves and instead alert the entire Commonwealth (and of course their Representatives) about the misuse of taxpayer dollars, the deliberately opaque budget, and the incredible burden placed by such rising tuition on Pennsylvania’s working-class families.

After all, if loudly proclaiming objective reality to Pennsylvania newspapers, taxpayers, and tuition-paying parents — a wildly sympathetic audience — can’t yield results, then it’s time to hang up our pens.