Students and professors in Tennessee, particularly at Middle Tennessee State University, heeded that call, joining the “National Day of Action” and staging protests similar to those of other students across the country. Some schools organized marches and rallies, while others — such as UC Berkeley — went further and planned mass walkouts.
By contrast, the Oct. 7 rally at MTSU was docile, featuring live music and speeches given by both students and professors alike. But it was equally forceful in its message to resist the rising price of higher education.
“The official line will be, and always will be, ‘You’re getting a better education, more efficiently, and with less money,’” said Michael Principe, a 23-year professor of philosophy at MTSU. “That’s a lie. Your classes are bigger; you’re paying more for them.”
MTSU is not exclusive in being affected by the ripples in the economy, nor are students insulated from their consequences. With more and more public universities incurring a deficit due to diminished state revenues, many students now have larger classes as a result of universities having less money to afford professors.
“Your education is getting worse, you’re paying more for it, and you should be mad as hell about it,” Principe said.
At MTSU, the decrease in Tennessee’s state revenues has triggered a $19 million shortfall in the university's budget, which caused much discord last year when MTSU President Sidney McPhee first announced the consequences of the deficit. At other schools, such as UC Berkeley, the deficits are even higher, commensurate with the greater revenue decrease of the respective state.
“This is a day that is happening across the country … because what’s going on at MTSU is happening across the country.” Principe said. “At every school, the education is getting worse.”
The education is worse, Principe explained, because many of the people that the university does hire to replace professors are adjuncts who are overworked, underpaid, and not as specialized as a tenured professor. Consequently, the education that students receive is less than what can be offered by full-time, tenured professors with field specialization.
“The number of tenure-track faculty members at MTSU is decreasing every school year,” Principe said. “You are being taught by part-time people; you’re being taught by people on temporary assignment who cannot invest themselves in your education.”
While some speakers, such as Principe, focused mainly on the budget crisis affecting MTSU and other universities, others focused on the greater trend that has been evolving in American higher education.
“I have watched the story of American education decline for the last 26 years that I have been working here,” said Ron Bombardi, chair of MTSU's philosophy department. “Since the last 10 years, I have seen a huge decline in the support for public education."
SDS, a student activist movement founded in the mid-60’s, exists in a more recent incarnation that was founded in 2006. The National Day of Action was planned as a way for California students and professors to protest “against tuition hikes, racism, and the privatization of the UC school systems,” according to its website.