Approximately 40 students, faculty and staff of the College of William and Mary gathered March 4 at the Crim Dell Meadow to protest education cuts by the state of Virginia and to call for better wages for College employees.
Throughout the afternoon, members of the Tidewater Labor Support Committee, Virginia Organizing Project and other groups attempted to raise student awareness of the effects of budget cuts through speeches, literature and chants.
“All across the nation, students and workers and faculty are seeing that their state budgets are getting cut and that the state budgets aren’t prioritizing higher education,” Kathleen Brower ’11, a member of the TLSC, said. “Administrations are having to make really tough decisions because their budgets are decreasing, and the way that they’re dealing with that is by laying off workers, cutting different programs [and] raising tuition.”
According to Brower, other universities throughout the state also held protests Friday.
“Students at [Virginia Commonwealth University] and at George Mason [University] are having similar actions, where they’re standing with students and faculty and staff and saying that we’re not going to take this anymore,” she said.
Several universities across the country also organized united days of protest against state budget cuts.
“In California, they’re shutting down, and at New School [in New York City], it’s a total walk out,” TLSC member David Theuner ’10 said.
Protestors said that one of the main sources of frustration was the apparent expendability of higher education in the state budget.
“I think it’s pretty clear that the budget is in a state of crisis,” TLSC member Cherie Seise ’10 said. “We definitely need to prioritize education and vital state programs that they seem to think it’s okay to chop, rather than raising revenue.”
Demonstrators also criticized the College’s lack of efforts to include students in budgetary discussions.
“I really feel like students, faculty and staff have been excluded from the budget process,” TLSC member Michael Bingham ’10 said. “It’s difficult to ascertain exactly what those priorities are because the budget process is just so opaque. It’s difficult to just have a copy of the budget and look at it because that information hasn’t been released to us.”
TLSC member Caitlin Goldblatt ’11 said that the state appears to have abandoned its role in funding higher education in Virginia.
“We would like to see the state really held accountable for the problems it forces the College through,” she said. “Think about what the College means to Williamsburg at large. Half of the population could potentially not be here with the state putting the College in the position that it’s in.”
In addition to the protests, students said that they had begun letter-writing campaigns to members of the Virginia state legislature and planned to call their representatives.
“We’re going to start calling [Virginia Gov.] Bob McDonnell,” Bingham said. “We’re going to start calling our legislators. Because this isn’t just about the campus here and the administration, it’s also about the Virginia state legislature, it’s about the governor’s office, and it’s about trying to get the money to start going back into education at a state level.”
Protestors also suggested ideas to help solve the state’s budget shortfall.
“We’re trying to come up with creative solutions that the state could try to adopt, like this awesome bake sale,” Seise said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to show the state that Virginians want creative solutions to the budget crisis.”
The group held a bake sale during the protest.
According to Seise, Friday’s efforts could have an effect on higher education funding.
“We’re actually giving [raised money] to the state of Virginia,” she said. “It’ll be presented in a check that says, ‘This is how much money we can raise in a day by doing a bake sale. How much can you raise by actually looking at how to get more revenue?’”
Several faculty and staff members came to the protest to show their support for both the students and higher wages at the College.
“We have people who’ve been here 20 years, 25 years, and they’re barely getting $11 an hour,” College employee Devon Futrell said. “The state says after 20 years, you can get $15.77, and they don’t even have it. When are they going to get it?”
According to Futrell, many College employees were appreciative of the students’ efforts.
“If they can come out here and support us, I think that everybody should be out here behind them,” she said. “Students are the backbone of the College. I learned that a long time ago. I think it’s wonderful for them to come out and put their stuff on the line for us. And I think that we should do the same thing.”
Futrell said that students, faculty and staff would continue to fight for higher education funding, even as the College has begun to cut job positions. Courtney Dowell, a substance abuse educator, became the first College employee to be laid off due to budget cuts.
“We should be out here supporting the students because they’re supporting us,” Futrell said. “Whether we get anything out of this or not, I’m behind the students 100 percent.”