Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Peaceable Protest

Thursday, March 26, 2009 12:00 PM CDT
Wartburg students stage surprise protest tuition, facilities
By MARY STEGMEIR, Courier Staff Writer
WAVERLY --- The hundreds of miniature neon orange flags planted outside Wartburg College's Luther Hall speak for themselves.

"Lower Tuition," reads one. Its neighbor intones: "Better locker rooms." A third, penned in big block letters screams: "CRAPPY RES HALLS."

The pennants are the only evidence remaining of a protest carried out in Wednesday's pre-dawn hours. More than 1,000 students gathered outside school's administrative offices at 6:30 a.m. with a laundry list of concerns, ranging from the price tag of their education to the sluggish nature of the school's computer network.

"We're students at this institution, but they have to remember that we're also paying customers," said Abhay Nadipuram, student body vice president. "Yes, we know this is a school, but it's also our home for weeks and months at a time."

Student Senate leaders delivered a petition outlining their concerns to Interim President William Hamm. They also declared Wednesday a student-initiated "Outfly," a Wartburg tradition in which classroom learning is called off for a day, allowing students to enjoy campus activities and take part in service projects.

Although Hamm said classes would not be cancelled Wednesday, he later praised the student's demonstration of school spirit and vowed to review the matter.

"Some of the issues we've been working on with students; others are new to me," he said in a statement. "Many of the issues are complex and not unique to Wartburg College. Administrators nationwide are grappling with the need to limit tuition increases, while upgrading facilities; cutting costs, while maintaining the integrity of academic programs."

Last week, 1,377 of Wartburg's 1,799 students signed a petition asking the administration to address tuition inflation, increase energy efficiency on campus, make repairs to aging residence halls, boost technology funding, improve services for international students, open the "W's" member locker room to students, change professor evaluation policies, and review faculty duties and compensation.

"Seniors have said they've been talking about some of these issues since they've been freshman," said Mandie Jones, a first-year student senator. "This was a way to make our voices heard."

Jones is most concerned about the rising price of attending the Lutheran liberal arts school. Next year, tuition and fees will cost $27,450. Students who live on campus will tack on an additional $7,615 in room and board, bringing the total to $35,065. In 2003-04, the school's tuition and fees equaled $18,550, while housing and meal plans cost an additional $5,080. For on-campus learners, which make up more than 80 percent of the student body, the final ticket price was $23,630.

Taking those numbers into account, by the time residence hall students start making payments this fall, the overall cost of a Wartburg education will have increased 48.4 percent in six years. In the same time period at the University of Northern Iowa, comparable services went from $9,834 to $13,596, a 38.3 percent increase.

"It's an expensive school and some people don't think they are getting their money's worth," Jones said of Wartburg. "And some people are leaving because they can't afford it."

Wednesday's demonstration was peaceful. Students recited the school cheer and song before dispersing. Many of the marchers skipped their classes in recognition of the student-declared "outfly." Some used the day to tack up new bulletin boards and touch up the trim in the basement of Waverly's flood-damaged St. John Lutheran Church.

Student leaders had been planning the protest for more than two months, but many participants first learned the details this morning. Senators were phoned around 5:20 a.m. and asked to storm the dorms for supporters.

Sophomore Lacey Stonehocker was awakened by a knock at her door well before sunrise. She and others gathered on the campus mall to make a point, she said.

"I know some people were there for the wrong reasons, but there were a lot of people who were there for the right reasons," said the music major. "We just really wanted to be noticed. You don't crawl out of bed that early in the morning for no reason."


Contact Mary Stegmeir at (319) 291-1482 or mary.stegmeir@wcfcourier.com.

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