As a baby boomer liberal I have often despaired over the fact that for the past 40 years the USA has become much more conservative.
This march to the right has coincided with a long period of “student apathy.” Since the Vietnam war ended in 1973, most college students have focused on: (A) having a good time; and (B) preparing for their careers. Except for a tiny handful at the most liberal campuses, “student political activists” almost disappeared.
I recently retired as a professor at one of the smaller campuses in the University of Maine System. For the last 23 years I have watched in disgust as the Maine state legislature gradually shifted the cost of education to students and their families by always “increasing” the university’s funding at less than the rate of inflation. The state paid 80% of the cost of college in the 1970s; it now pays less than 40%. Most full-time U Maine students must work while in school, many as much as 40 hours a week, to help pay the cost of their education. For their money, students get fewer choices. On my campus alone, I have seen a dozen majors eliminated over the years, mostly in the liberal arts, which were deemed “less critical” by administrators and trustees.
For decades, students have accepted these conditions (higher costs, more work off campus, and fewer liberal arts options) with silence.
But no more.
Recently, there has been what can only be called a “student uprising” at the second largest campus in the University of Maine System, the University of Southern Maine (USM), located in Portland. I have provided a link below to just one of the stories covering this, but there have been DAILY similar news articles and opinion pieces in both of Maine’s major newspapers, for weeks. Just do a Google News search using “University of Southern Maine,” and you’ll see what I mean.
Portland Press Herald: USM deserves steadfast leadership
What happened at USM was that the campus president decided to cut a dozen faculty positions and eliminate several majors, mostly in the liberal arts. Students immediately occupied the administration building, and stayed there for weeks. They did not interfere with workers, but sat along the walls in the hallways, so the campus police left them alone. (Maine has a small population and everyone knows everyone else, or at least knows someone who knows you, so cops here would not dream of “cracking the skulls” of students who were peacefully demonstrating.)
And the old model of “radical student groups” of the 60s was not driving this. This demonstration, like the “Occupy” movement, or the various “Arab Spring” movements, did not have any centralized organizational structure; instead social media like Facebook and Twitter were used to spontaneously create and sustain a movement that was a true “network,” with no center and no formal leaders.
The result? An abrupt reversal by an embarrassed administration. All the faculty jobs were saved, and most of the majors restored.
This startling result surprised most of U Maine’s faculty and staff, and made me aware of what seems to be an increase in student activism, nationally. For example…
If anyone can correct the messes that conservatives have made (and are still making) of our democracy, our economy, and the natural environment, college students seem to be the logical vanguard. They are in the process of getting better-educated, as young people they tend to be more idealistic, and they will have to deal with the long-term consequences of what’s going on.
So I ask Trailmixers…
- Do you see any evidence of increased college student activism in your locale?
- If so, what can the rest of us non-students do to help them?
- Does anyone know how to use Facebook and Twitter? (I sure don’t.)
— Nash 2.5 is a Trail Mix Contributor