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November 8, 2016

Student Activists Discuss Campaign Demands With Provost Diermeier

Last Friday, five student activists representing Fair Budget UChicago (FBU) and UChicago Student Action (UCSA) met with Provost Daniel Diermeier in a closed meeting at Levi Hall to discuss their campaign’s demands.

Their demands include a $15 per hour minimum wage on campus, increased staffing for Student Disability Services (SDS), increased accessibility for disabled people in campus buildings, and a reformed leave of absence policy. In response to recent complaints about late or missing financial aid awards this year, the students also advocated for financial aid reform.

At the meeting, we shared our experiences of struggling to fully engage in student life: whether due to issues with financial aid, low wages resulting in long work hours, an inaccessible campus, or underfunded disability services. Then we spoke to the Provost about both our longer term demands and our more immediate demands to improve financial aid,” wrote third-year and co-coordinator of FBU Anna Wood in an e-mail to The Maroon.

Fellow FBU co-coordinator and third-year Jessica Law wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon that approximately 15 to 20 percent of the meeting was devoted to financial aid while the majority of their meeting was focused on outlining their other long-term demands.

We were able to speak on all of our demands, though not at length due to only having an hour to meet with the Provost to talk about all of our concerns,” Law wrote.

Law and Wood both wrote that Diermeier told them he would look into their concerns, particularly the issues regarding SDS and financial aid, within the next two to three weeks. Wood and Law also noted that Diermeier committed to meet with the students again in December.

“I welcome the dialogue with students across campus. The meeting touched on a number of issues identified by the students. The discussion was productive and my office and Campus and Student Life have committed to continuing the conversation,” Diermeier wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon.

Law and Wood criticized Diermeier’s response to their demand for a $15 per hour minimum wage for all campus workers. Both co-coordinators claimed that in response to their argument, which was political in nature, Diermeier cited the Kalven Report and did not take a stance on the issue. The Kalven Report is a 1967 report on the University’s role in political and social action, which states that the University “cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness.”

Wood wrote in her e-mail that the group would be collecting stories from student and non-student workers about how their wages on campus currently affect them and presenting their stories to Diermeier at a later date. “If this doesn't move him to act, we will plan on taking further action, as it is unacceptable for the University to keep its workers in poverty,” Wood wrote.

According to Wood, FBU was formed in response to the idea that the University’s budget and priorities do not match up with the needs of the University community. After the group participated in UCSA’s sit-in at the Provost’s office last year, which received national coverage, several student leaders worked through the end of summer and early this quarter to coordinate meetings with Dean of Students in the University Michele Rasmussen as well as Provost Diermeier.

E-mails obtained by The Maroon show that Diermeier suggested that the group meet with Rasmussen first in order to address demands directly related to campus and student life. The five students met with Rasmussen during the second week of the quarter and eventually scheduled a meeting with Diermeier to further explain their campaign, demands, and next steps. Rasmussen was also present at the second meeting.

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