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The new protest era on campus

An era of bad feeling

By The Mercury

There was a period in the 1960s when protests on university campuses were so commonplace that they became almost fashionable. The most frequent of these involved the war in Vietnam – the connection with the university generally being cemented by the presence of ROTC training – or against the draft. Universities lacked even the thinnest connection to the draft, of course, but since the students were on campus so were the protests.

K-State saw some share of such protests, which frequently drew hundreds and maybe thousands of students to staged marches.

There hasn’t been an anti-war protest approaching the scope of those exercises ever since. But recent weeks have brought echoes of the 1960s back to K-State via a series of unrelated protest actions. There are two big differences: this time the protesters for the most part are not students but employees, and the complaints involve state rather than national policy.

The first exercise came closest to hearkening back to the 1960s ethos. It involved members of the university’s Black Student Union gathering to protest what they saw as the university’s failure to sufficiently encourage the recruitment and promotion of black faculty members. At particular issue was the status of one faculty member in danger of being denied tenure. Although the details have not been made public, the case appears to turn on whether the faculty member in question has exceeded the time frame normally allowed to meet the research-publication standards involved in earning tenure-track status. Angry students sometimes are pre-disposed to see such disputes as evidence of institutional failures, although that may or may not actually be the case. The matter requires further clarification.

That was followed by a protest by members of the university’s classified staff over the paucity of pay raises given them by the Legislature in recent years. In many cases, those raises have been non-existent, and in some cases they have actually receded. Then, just this past week, faculty members rebelled over the prospect of another year of small to non-existent increases for them. Especially irksome in their case was the observation that several administrators at KSU have received pay increases well into double digits in terms of percentage over the same time frame.

Assessing the merits of these claims hinges on the perspective one employs to do so. Is the assessor a faculty member, a classified employee, a university administrator or merely a taxpaying resident of a distant community.

Comparing the absence of raises for faculty members to significant raises for administrators certainly underscores the difference, but calling for a moratorium on administration increases does nothing inherently to help the faculty’s situation. As with classified employees, that situation is driven largely by the level of state support, which has waned.

The next recourse is to appeal to the state. The problem there is that lawmakers have been put in place by constituents largely supportive of platforms committed to restraining state spending, and those lawmakers, too, are plainly sympathetic to that approach. This is one of the drawbacks of state employment, even if that employment is as a full professor.

It’s not clear what avenues this leaves open to either the faculty or classified employees, although they remain free to vent. Perhaps they can win a more even distribution of available revenues by diverting some away from future administrative commitments, but that would be more of a moral victory than a tangible one. Their real task is to convince the people who elect the majority of lawmakers.

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