“DIVER$ITY UNIVER$ITY?”: Student Activists Swarm Football Game, Support Need-Blind

“We don’t care how much you earn! Everyone deserves to learn!”

When we first reported on definite changes to Wesleyan’s need-blind policy, I marveled at the lack of student protest or even discussion on campus compared to the events of 1992. “This is not the first time that the administration has proposed axing need-blind admissions to cope with a budgetary crisis,” I wrote. “This is merely the first time in recent Wesleyan history that students have permitted the decision to go forward.”

Five months later—after banner drops, urgent WSA proposals, late-night chalking, Wespeaks, a Wesleying forum, an occupation of a Board of Trustees meeting, more Wespeaks, more forums, national news coverage, petitions against SJB charges relating to the the Trustee occupation, and more Wespeaks—I’m ready to admit I was mistaken. Wesleyan activism is not dead after all.

Around 3 P.M. today, between the third and fourth quarter of the Homecoming football game against Amherst, a shouting band of roughly 45 or 50 student activists swarmed the sidelines nearest Foss chanting and carrying a red-and-black banner proclaiming “DIVER$ITY UNIVER$ITY?” Beginning outside Fayerweather and marching across towards Olin, the group chanted “We don’t care how much you earn! Everyone deserves to learn!” in support of need-blind admissions. Halfway across, the students cued the pep band and led the crowd in a rendition of the Wesleyan Fight Song. We’ve got video footage of the event here and here (disclaimer: these were captured on a shaky Flipcam while attempting to march along and snap photos of the group), as well as a photo gallery below. Here’s a shot of the group in action:

The activist surge followed on a handful of smaller actions throughout the day intended to raise awareness among parents and alumni about, well, need-awareness: a banner drop outside Usdan, another drop outside PAC (the sign read “DON’T DISCRIMINATE”; according to our liveblog, some misread it as “DON’T FORNICATE”), and a small cluster of students tabling in Usdan, handing out information in Usdan and pins offering variations on “Save need-blind.” Wesleying has also received reports of a legal chalk-in on Wyllys Avenue that was interrupted by President Roth himself. (As a public Middletown street, Wyllys is ungoverned by university chalking policy.) A first-person account of that incident should follow shortly.

Lastly, today’s football siege was captured on camera by a major external news organization that stuck around afterwards for video interviews with involved students. When their coverage goes live, we’ll let you know.

Whatever your views on need-blind, today’s actions have spurred the sort of conversations among students, parents, and alumni that never took place last spring. What better time than Homecoming Weekend?

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  • Hi. My name is

    Mmm, I was watching this and I was DYING!!!! When they went into the fight song? That was hilarious. Yeah, I see WesStudent’s point. I feel like alot more people care than actually care to protest, so it ends up being less of a strong impression. Like 100 or more would be great! Actually I don’t think it has that much to do with the number of students involved. I think that parental involvement could make a great difference as well.

  • Wes Student

    This protest would be a great thing if the students had alternative plans to pay for need blind financial aid. All they have done is try and make waves and get outraged. A little less then 50% of students at Wesleyan are on some sort of financial aid. There was only 50 people “protesting”. That does not seem like a strong majority of students that care, only a handful. If they want to gain momentum with the administration they need more student envolvment and a plan with how to pay for need blind financial aid.

    • Ben Doernberg ’13

      You might be interested in the work being done by the Student Budget Sustainability Task Force, which is going through the University’s financial documents to put together an alternative plan. This is a process that will take some time, but will result in proposed sets of cost savings and revenue increases that will not compromise the core values of the University to this degree.

      http://wsa.wesleyan.edu/2012/09/10/apply-for-student-budget-sustainability-task-force/

      President Roth also said at the Wesleying forum that the administration ran the numbers on a bunch of alternate ways to save the same amount of money as capping financial aid. As far as I know none of those analyses have been made public. http://wesleying.org/2012/09/26/exclusive-footage-wesleyings-need-blind-forum-with-president-roth/ (34 minutes in).

      I am personally hoping that President Roth and the Board will agree to delay moving to Need-Aware until the entire community (students, parents, alumni, faculty, and staff) has a chance to examine possible alternatives, both those studied by the administration and those generated by the Task Force.

      http://wsa.wesleyan.edu/2012/09/10/apply-for-student-budget-sustainability-task-force/

      • Ben Doernberg ’13

        In other words, Wesleyan should be approaching this decision like Grinnell:

        “Kington and the rest of the administration are going to great lengths to
        educate the faculty, staff, students, and alumni on the financial
        challenges the university faces. They are hosting a series of town-hall
        meetings, posting presentations online, and are even developing a
        computer station where users can play with the university’s budget
        models and projections. Exactly what course Grinnell takes will be
        hashed out over a series of meeting between administrators, students,
        alumni, faculty members and the university’s Board of Trustees over the
        next few months.”

        Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/10/01/grinnell-one-countrys-wealthiest-colleges-questions-sustainability-financial-aid#ixzz29vDI0e1L

    • Jesse Ross-Silverman ’13

      It’s always interesting to me how easily people accept the dominant narrative of the administration, meaning that we as students who support a need-blind policy have an onus to provide “alternative plans to pay for need blind financial aid” as if we already are incapable of “paying” for a need-blind policy. In May of 2010 (which is *after* millions of dollars of cuts to the budget in response to the hit the endowment took from the financial crisis/recession), President Roth wrote, “Wesleyan admits students on the basis of merit (regardless of their ability to pay) and creates an environment in which they can strive for excellence through hard work that is joyful and satisfying.” This was part of President Roth’s plan for Wesleyan’s long-term fiscal sustainability: http://2020.blogs.wesleyan.edu/#values-and-culture Now that the Board unilaterally decided to simply abandon this principle, suddenly we are in the position of defending it.

      I actually think there is a pretty good case to be made that (ceteris paribus) it is in the long-term fiscal interest of the University to be need-aware, because if there is another financial crisis the cuts we would have to make would be even more dire. But as dire as the University’s finances are, there is no real budget crisis in *this year*, meaning there’s no reason that this policy change needed to be implemented immediately without first considering the big (contrary to President Roth has claimed very, very few people were aware that need-blind was on the table last year, and the degree to which the University has explained why this change is necessary compared to the other possibilities has been perfunctory).

      There are in fact a lot of things that the University has considered. Notably, the Board decided to reduce the percentage draw on the endowment from 5.5 to 5% of the course of several years. If you want a way to “pay” for financial aid, start there: (according to the 2012-2013 budget, the reduction in endowment support from 5.4 to 5.3% this year reduced operating revenue by 1.1 million.

      They could also sell real estate, revise the loan policy, or raise limits on tuition increases. Or they could enforce further budget austerity by hiring adjuncts instead of new faculty, reduce co-curricular programs, or extend freezes on library acquisitions and staff salaries. I don’t claim any of these are necessarily the right thing to do but some people think there’s a lot of waste in the budget, and the burden is really on the administration to show if it isn’t.

      I think they may be justified in reducing endowment support for the long-term fiscal picture, but not if they actually wanted to maintain the current policy. They are trying to use the logic of austerity to ram the need-aware change through so that the budget is more flexible for the long-term, but the urgency just isn’t there; we’ve actually seen surpluses in recent years because we had unexpected energy savings (which will be used to pay off debt 10 years form now…). The lack of urgency or inevitability of this change is made obvious by President Roth’s refusal to consider a timeline for restoring the former need-blind policy or to make a concerted effort to appeal to alumni with the goal of restoring need-blind if some target is met: the administration thinks in order to achieve long term budget flexibility, this policy is politically the easiest to abandon, as it primarily affects people that are not yet members of our community. The aim of students in voicing these concerns is to demonstrate that students care deeply about equality of access and socioeconomic diversity, and these are principles that cannot be abandoned so easily.

      If you have ideas for what we should do or concerns about the University’s financial priorities, feel free to contact me or any other member of the Budget Sustainability Task Force: http://wesleying.org/2012/09/24/student-budget-sustainability-task-force/

      • http://twitter.com/RJAlvarez Robert Alvarez

        Perhaps my biggest pet peeve (among many worthy candidates) with how the administration is handling this affair is that the abandoning of need blind is being portrayed as a something we “must” do as opposed to something that certain members of the community would like us to do.

        I have heard it suggested by some that this could be a temporary change, and that in that light it could potentially be revisited if the next campaign goes well a few years down the line. It is said the proposed changes will save $5m once fully implemented. Yet, since they will be rolled out over time with each new entering class, you can estimate that in the first five years they would save something on the order of $17.5m. Over the same time period Wesleyan’s total cumulative budget will be well over $1 billion. The idea that there is no other way to save that amount of money over such a large expense base is simply not credible. If we abandon need blind, it will because our leaders chose to, not because they were forced to.