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Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.

Students Are the 'Soul' of Wisconsin's Protests

Wisconsin’s Democratic Senators have skipped work today in boycott of a bill that threatens to dismantle the state’s fifty-year-old collective bargaining process for public employee unions. The proposal, by new Republican Governor Scott Walker, has brought tens of thousands of students, government workers and citizens to swarm the capital building for the third consecutive day of protests.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Teaching Assistants’ Association TAA called for a “teach out” today, asking for all activity to cease on campus so that the university can stand as unified front against the draconian bill.

Last night, the state’s largest teachers union asked its 98,000 members to leave schools and attend rallies in Madison, which resulted in many of the area’s school districts cancelling classes for the second day.

Demonstrations have exploded across the state over the last few days, with the epicenter in Madison, the state’s capital. Students have played a central role in organizing, including a sleep-in at the state capitol building for the last two nights and walk-outs on campuses and high schools across the state.

“While students haven’t been the source of this protest, they have definitely been the soul of this protest,” TAA Co-president Alex Hanna told The Nation. “Students of all ages have shown up. They’ve stayed up late on little sleep—they are really working the night shift to keep this movement going.”

One of the groups documenting the protests, Defend Wisconsin, reports that the Capitol building is packed today, music is blaring and firefighters with bagpipes are playing “America the Beautiful.”

Instead of taking the day off, students gathered yesterday at schools throughout Madison and marched miles along the city’s main thoroughfares to join the some 30,000 protesters, the largest mass demonstration the city has seen in decades—perhaps since the great protests of the Vietnam War era, The Nation’s John Nichols reports.

Protestors chanted “What’s disgusting? Union Busting!” and teachers carried signs that read “Will the National Guard teach my class?” in response to Walkers threat to call out the National Guard.

“It isn’t as if these types of attacks on unions are new; what’s different is their scale, intensity and real possibility of success. After outspending unions in November’s election by an estimated 4-to-1 margin, corporations and their allies are exploiting the fiscal crises across the nation to drive a stake into the heart of what is left of organized labor—public workers’ unions,” Jane McAlevey wrote in The Nation.

Not only is Walker attacking unions but one of the local newspapers, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal,  revealed last night that he is attempting to pull the University of Wisconsin–Madison from the state system, a move that has the quiet backing of the university’s Chancellor Biddy Martin. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards warned this week the governor is also likely to announce $900 million cuts in general state school aid, a nearly 10 percent reduction for the two year period.

Noam Chomsky appeared on Democracy Now! this morning to discuss Wisconsin’s Resistance to Walker’s assault, where he said this has the potential of becoming the start of a pro-democracy movement in the United States.

Follow John Nichols, for ‘Live Reports From Ground Zero for Labor Rights’.

Wisconsin Students Protest Governor's Attack on Unions

Protests have engulfed the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where students are standing against a proposed bill that threatens teacher's unions. The outcries come as the state's new Republican Governor Scott Walker announced a plan to end collective bargaining for most of the state's 175,000 public employees.

More than 10,000 protesters, including students,  demonstrated outside the state Capitol building in Madison today, many of them carrying signs and chanting “recall Walker.” This comes one day after hundreds of students flooded downtown Madison chanting, “kill this bill” and handing out valentines that read, “Have a heart, don't tear the UW apart.” The governor did not make an appearance.

Even before the protests hit the state's capital, about a hundred high school students in Stoughton, Wisconsin, a city about 20 miles outside of Madison, walked out of class Monday morning to protest the governor's proposal. And today, nearly 800 Madison East High School students also walked out to join the demonstration.

"Let's show Gov. Walker that we care about learning, and the teachers are worth every cent that we pay to them,"  Theron Luhn, a high school junior who helped organize the protest in Stoughton Monday, told one of the local newspapers The Capital Times.

The Nation’s John Nichols called the governor’s move the “most radical assault yet by the current crop of Republican governors on the rights of workers," and said that this attack "has inspired outrage in a historically progressive and pro-labor state.”

UW sophomore and campus activist Max Love told one of the university's student newspapers The Badger Herald that the proposed bill, while striking the most direct blow to the state's unions, will undoubtedly negatively impact public education in Wisconsin.

“The quality of our institutions would suffer if this bill passes,” Love said. “This is a student cause, and we’re seeing a lot of people who really care about this issue.”

Walker has notified the National Guard to be on alert for actions taken by unsatisfied state, county and municipal employees.

But as Nichols said on his appearance today on Democracy Now!, "the interesting thing is that we have already heard from an awfully lot of teachers and public employees, who also serve in the National Guard and who are saying they have no idea why they would be called out to beat down or to beat back protests by their fellow workers, who are not being violent, who are simply doing what—you know, to use an analogy here—we saw on the streets of Cairo and other cities."


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Obama Budget Would Maintain Pell Grant… but Cut Two Programs

This post was originally published at the invaluable StudentActivist.net.
President Obama’s new budget proposes some $10 billion a year in Pell Grant cuts, but looks to achieve that goal without reducing the maximum grant or dropping any students from the program. They’re doing that by seeking Pell savings in two areas — summer grants and graduate loan interest.

Summer Pell Grants are a recent addition to the Pell program, under which students can apply for a second grant for summer school if their total courseload adds up to more than a full academic year’s worth. The summer Pells are new, as I said, and they’ve been popular — so popular that they’re costing quite a bit more than anticipated. Obama is proposing eliminating them.

The second cut is to graduate loan interest subsidies. Right now, while you’re in grad school, your federal student loans don’t accrue interest — they just sit there, at the amount you borrowed them, waiting for you to be done. Under Obama’s budget plan, that would end, and though you still wouldn’t be paying back the loans while you’re in school, the amount you borrowed would be growing due to interest accrued during your studies.

The administration says that by making these two changes, they can keep eligibility for the larger Pell program steady while maintaining the recent hike to the maximum grant while cutting as much as $100 billion from the program’s cost over the next ten years.


Faculty Support for UC Irvine Students

One hundred faculty members at the University of California-Irvine signed a letter to the Orange County district attorney to drop charges against 11 students. The students disrupted a speech by the Israeli ambassador to the United States last year and have already been punished by the university. The letter states that charging the students would set “a dangerous precedent for the use of the criminal law against nonviolent protests on campus.”

The decision to charge the students, the faculty letter says, “sets a dangerous precedent for the use of the criminal law against nonviolent protests on campus.” It goes on to argue, as a report in the Los Angeles Times explained, that  the charges are harmful and divisive to the school and risk “undoing the healing process” after widespread debate erupted following the protest and the decision to temporarily suspend the group.

“I think there was a great deal of dismay that the DA was reviving what we thought had been a closed chapter in the university’s history,” said UC Irvine history professor and Nation contributing editor Jon Wiener.

The district attorney has argued that the students organized to squelch the speaker in clear violation of the law. The students are set to be arraigned March 11 in Santa Ana.


College Health Plan Standards Will Improve With the Rest of Health Care

College health plans vary in their quality and cost. In the past, federal and state laws have inconsistently regulated college health plans and have failed to require a basic baseline of coverage, rendering many of them insufficient. Moreover, these plans frequently discriminate based on pre-existing conditions and impose benefit caps. Profit margins for college health plans can be as much as five times the industry average.

However, students won a big victory in the healthcare battle this week as the Department of Health and Human Services announced that college health plans must comply with the same central provisions as individual plans in the Affordable Care Act. The proposed regulation means that health plans provided through colleges and universities will be held to many of the same standards that healthcare reform will require of other insurers.

Estimates show that as many as 4.5 million young adults are enrolled in college health plans. The majority of students are covered under their parent’s plans, but part-time students and those whose parents don’t have insurance fall back on these plans. Some students are required to purchase these plans even though they are eligible for Medicaid or a parent’s plan.

The improved standards include free preventive care, elimination of limits on lifetime benefit caps, a phase-out of annual benefit caps, a required medical loss ratio of 80 percent and no discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. College health plans were initially excluded from these revisions in the health care over-haul, because they were considered “limited benefit plans.”

“As advocates for strong consumer protections for college students, we are very excited that students will finally begin to see better college health plans and much-needed protections from abuses of the insurance industry,” said Jen Mishory, deputy director of Young Invincibles


The Student Week Ahead

We recently launched a new weekly StudentNation series highlighting worthwhile student events, offering an incomplete but, we hope, illustrative survey of the scope and breadth of  student activism coast to coast. All of these events are open to the general public except when specifically noted otherwise.


WHAT: Critical Encounters Café Society: Fear into Fire
WHEN: Tuesday, February 15,  4:00 pm to 6:00 pm
WHERE: Arcade, Columbia College Chicago, 600 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago

Critical Encounters is hosting Cafe Society events at campus exhibits throughout the year. Cafe Society meetings are opportunities for students, faculty and community members to talk about the larger implications of the images we confront and create. This Cafe Society meeting centers on the Fear Into Fire exhibit in the Glass Curtain Gallery. Refreshments will be served and you can keep your Critical Encounters travel mug!


WHAT: "Uganda Untold" First Meeting of the Semester
WHEN: Tuesday, February 15, 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm
WHERE: University of Delaware, Newark, Gore Hall, Room 104

Uganda Untold is a student run organization that helps to raise money and awareness for those affected by the on-going violence in Uganda. Two of our major continuing initiatives are Invisible Children and Project Have Hope.


WHAT: Tea @ Three - Sustainabili-TEA
WHEN:  Thursday, February 17, 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm
WHERE: Kansas Union, Lobby, level 4, The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas

Tea @ Three happens every Thursday from 3 to 4 pm in the Kansas Union Lobby, level 4. Come relax and socialize between classes with free tea and cookies! Swing by for a very special Tea @ Three featuring the Center for Sustainability and KU Dining! Get information about the Center for Sustainability and see the greener side of KU Dining while enjoying fair trade tea and snacks.


WHAT: Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground with Peter Klein: FRONTLINE/World Film Series
WHEN:  Tuesday, February 15, 7:00 pm
WHERE: International House, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA

A global investigation into the dirty secret of the industrial age--the dumping and dangerous recycling of hundreds of millions of pounds of electronic waste across the developing world. Peter Klein, FRONTLINE correspondent for this documentary, will discuss the film following the screening.


WHAT: Career Education Programs and Federal Financial Aid
WHEN:  Thursday, February 17, 10:00 pm to 11:00 pm
WHERE: Cannon House Office Building, Room 441, 283 1st St SE, Washington, DC

This event will focus on the Department of Education’s proposed gainful employment regulations, aimed at protecting students and taxpayers from abuses, especially by some programs in the for-profit education sector. Featured speaker: Congresswoman Gwen Moore.

Obstacles in Regulating For-Profit Colleges

Yahoo's Lookout blog has an excellent report by Liz Goodwin detailing the political firestorm that the Department of Education is facing as it attempts to crack down on for-profit colleges that  saddle graduates with billions of dollars in federal loans and little hope of finding a job lucrative enough to ever pay them back.

As Goodwin explains, "A bevy of regulations that would prevent for-profit colleges from misrepresenting their graduate employment rates and from paying admissions officers based on how many new students they sign up are set to go into effect this July."

Read the story here.

Hurting Poor Students in Michigan

An alarming report out of Michigan was picked up by the Huffington Post today:

"Starting in April, most college students will no longer be able to use food stamps in Michigan, reports the Michigan Messenger.

The decision comes after weeks of controversy surrounding the alleged use of food assistance programs by students without financial need. Chair of the Michigan Department of Human Services subcommittee which oversees budget Dave Agema has made the issue a priority, calling student usage of the services 'an epidemic.'

In a statement, DHS Director Maura Corrigan said that some students will still be eligible for the program. "We're ready to extend a helping hand to any citizen who is truly in need - including college students who care for young children and are taking the right steps toward becoming self-sufficient," she said. 'But those who don't meet federal guidelines won't be able to take advantage of what is meant to be a temporary safety net program.'

A University of Wisconsin-Madison Student Evacuated from Egypt Shares Her Story

This post was originally published by The Daily Cardinal.

UW-Madison junior Katrina Gray was studying abroad in Alexandria when mass protests against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak broke out. She witnessed her friends and neighbors join the nationwide democratic struggle. This is her story:

On January 24 my Egyptian friends and I sat in a café smoking hookah and drinking tea; a normal day. The topic of the next day's protests came up. We talked about Mubarak, 30 years of marshall law and the quality of life, but overall my peers assured me that the protests of Police Day would be short-lived. They were wrong.

The days following would be beyond anything I could have imagined. In the mornings the streets were quiet and pensive, like the calm before the storm, and in the evenings the people took to the streets, regardless of religion, age or class.

The atmosphere was positive and the first few days of protest were entirely peaceful. After the police­—who were feared and hated—all but disappeared overnight and the Army came in their place, the community morale sky-rocketed: Citizens took over traffic control, garbage collection and neighborhood watch groups—everyone was working together.

On January 28, I woke up in what felt like Soviet Russia, or maybe North Korea: Overnight the government had cut off Internet and phone service, and tanks were parked on main streets every few miles. The news on TV was as if it were just an average day. I could feel the invisible hand of dictatorship closing in. But people came out that day in greater numbers, chanting "the people want to drop the system" or "enough, drop Mubarak."

Later that night destruction and arson began. The tear gas wasn't so bad (although, I didn't get the brunt of it), and there are more than enough junker-cars in Alexandria to burn. What was most unsettling was seeing the wounded: many experiencing head trauma, likely from rocks being thrown at police vehicles and bouncing back.

The night of January 29 is when things got dicey. After the protests, small groups of armed men patrolled the streets looking for looters and criminals. I thought of my friends, soon to be engineers, standing in bunches with old broomsticks or kitchen knives doing their duty to protect the neighborhood, and without phone or Internet access I was unable to check on them.

What's important to know about this revolution is that it is entirely by the people; they are doing this for themselves, for their children. It is not a product of international influence, it is not secretly being run by the Muslim Brotherhood of the Waft party or any political party.

One day I found myself trapped in the middle of a protest of several thousand people vandalizing an abandoned police vehicle and growing more tumultuous. A neighbor saw that I was distraught and came to my aid, leading me safely through the crowd and up a winding pair of stairs to a safe vantage point. That's what will stick with me: the innumerable acts of kindness from my peers and neighbors.

As Muslim Populations Double, Can Americans Conquer Islamophobia?

Early Thursday morning on January 24th, a CNN broadcast segment reported the grim breaking news that climate change will continue to exact irreversible changes world over. Following this bleak update, the morning news transitioned to another apocalyptic story: In the next 20 years, the US Muslim population will more than double—from 2.6 million in 2010 to 6.2 million in 2030.

Store food, brace yourself and try to gracefully accept this predicted upcoming global vicissitude, because this population increase will come as a global phenomena—with the world’s Muslim population increasing by about 35 percent, from 1.6 billion to 2.2 billion—according to the latest Pew report, “The Future of the Global Muslim Population”.

This substantial increase will be an asymmetrical combination of factors; an increase in the numbers of Muslims of childbearing age, a relatively high birth rate and immigration. The role of conversion remains uncertain, but is not suspected to play a large role.

Allow me to make a dry distinction from the field of formal statistics: a Type I error is committed when we observe something that is not really there and a Type II error is made when we fail to observe something that is there. The predicted population mix will certainly have far-reaching implications—and failing to observe, or simply overlooking these implications, would be a mistake.

Education, the workforce, the arts, your neighborhood and everything in between will be altered. And given the current climate of Islamophobia that is permeating and shaping so much of Western socio-political rhetoric, the report’s results will have a critical impact on foreign policy.

But let’s stay away from the percentages of the report and the comparative reproductive success of different religious groups. Scrape away the sci-fi trappings and this report can be read as a treatise on morality.

Our generation, Generation Y, will play a pivotal, dual role in the unraveling of this saga. First, the large number of Muslims of childbearing age in the US today will serve as the biological vehicles directly contributing to the increase in numbers. Secondly, all youth in the US today will, in the next 20 years, be subject to the ramifications of this projected twofold increase of Muslims in the US.

Since the current climate of Islamophobia can be hostile, this report unintentionally creates a proverbial word war over the water cooler by raising important questions. What will it be like in the next 20 years for the Muslim diaspora living on American soil? In what ways will this doubling of numbers manifest itself within the American social, political and economic fabric? And just how will non-Muslims respond to the increase in numbers in the upcoming years?

Despite the obvious difficulty in predicting a future response, one thing remains true— any treatise on morality requires compassion, respect and the pursuit of knowledge.

The good people at the Pew Research Center released their report with hopes for intelligent discussion. In a time when a fear of the ‘Other’ oft prevails, the need for solid, reliable, empirical estimates is pressing.

Yet, beneath the noise of politics, misunderstandings, the arrogance of belief, a culture is being built across America, where the future is more evenly distributed and far more optimistic.

I’m hopeful that as the numbers of Muslims in America increase, so do desires for mutual understanding and respect.

In one fell swoop we cannot knit up the strands of a season of irrationality into one synergized knot. Not even close. Instead, escaping the trappings of a binary mind and breaking free from the circular hell of a polarized us vs. them mentality will demand our time and an unadulterated, no holds barred dialogue.

Lucky for us, we have twenty years.

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