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National protest day planned against “attacks” on higher ed

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Faculty members and students plan to hold events across numerous campuses Wednesday, April 17, to kick-start a movement against what they consider concerted attacks on quality higher education for all. They’re opposing academic freedom restrictions, defending protest rights, supporting diversity, equity and inclusion, calling for free public education, and advocating for more secure faculty jobs, among other things.

More than 75 American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapters, higher education unions, student groups and anti–student debt organizers have come together since December to organize the national Day of Action for Higher Education, said Amy Offner, president of the University of Pennsylvania’s AAUP chapter. “The list of participating campuses is still growing,” she said at an online news conference Thursday. “I think it’s going to go beyond 75, actually, by a considerable amount.”

Events planned so far include a raffle of banned books organized by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln AAUP chapter and a march to administrators’ offices organized by the Rutgers AAUP-AFT (American Federation of Teachers) union to protest cuts there, Offner said. A live-streamed national teach-in will also take place at 5 p.m. Eastern time.

The organizers have posted a lengthy statement online, titled “The Future We Stand For,” calling out the multiple “attacks” they see. “State legislatures from Florida to Indiana have taken aim at public universities as part of a broader assault on U.S. democracy,” it says. “At private universities, unelected trustees, billionaires and administrators increasingly exercise unilateral power to dictate policies and academic priorities.”

Offner said that the group has “come together to push back against a coordinated national assault on the public and democratic mission of higher education.” There are ongoing attacks “designed to silence dissent and control what can be studied and discussed,” she said, mentioning repression of teaching and research on African-American studies, gender and sexuality, and Israel and Palestine.

Jason Wozniak, a higher ed researcher and organizer for the Debt Collective, a debtors’ union, spoke at the presser about both student debt and institutions’ own debt issues. “University administrators are pressured by credit rating agencies and others to say ‘You have bond covenants you have to honor, no matter what. You need to cut faculty. You need to cut programs in order to save money, in order to pay the creditor,’” he said.

Bryan Sacks, president of the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union, said that “we need nothing short of a wall-to-wall [union] organizing effort that’s bent on restructuring university governance.”

Offner said the demonstrations were set for April 17 long before the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee announced that Columbia University’s president and Columbia’s Board of Trustees co-chairs would testify before it on that same day. Like the Dec. 5 hearing featuring the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania presidents, the latter two of which have since resigned, the Columbia hearing will focus on campus antisemitism. AAUP president Irene Mulvey said the December hearing “looked more like a performative McCarthy era witch hunt than a serious effort to improve campus tolerance and safety.”



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