Speech to the University Regents, Feb. 21

Hello my name is Ian Matchett, I’m a senior at the University of Michigan, and I’m here representing the newly formed Student Union of Michigan.

First off, we’d like to say that we stand in solidarity with the other student groups that have spoken here. Our struggles are connected and we hope to work with you to make this a more just and equitable campus.

The Student Union of Michigan, SUM, was started this past fall with the intent of organizing the student body in order to strengthen our voice on campus. The past few decades have seen a dramatic shift in public higher education. Once dedicated to educating the people of our state, we have watched as the university began to increasingly resemble a private institution in its behavior, as tuition has skyrocketed, and diversity has plummeted.

I know that you have not been ignorant to this shift, in some ways you and your predecessor’s policies have contributed to it,and in others you have attempted to mitigate some of its negative effects. I am simply trying to show you how we, the students, see it. What it’s like to watch your friends struggling to get good grades taking 18 credits, working 20 hours a week, and still having to take out loans.

-to talk to high school kids who’s futures are limited by the size of their parents paychecks.

-or to graduates still looking for a “real” job after months and years in the workforce.

-and to know that currently we fundamentally have no say in what is happening to us.

SUM is but one of many student power organizations that have emerged across the country in an effort to give us a meaningful voice on our campuses.
Our platform is built upon 3 main points: tuition, accessibility and democracy. We believe that tuition must be brought under control. The increasing debt burden on students is unsustainable, and threatens both our futures and the university’s long term viability. We recognize the difficulty of bringing tuition down, but maintain that the university must prioritize ensuring an affordable education for all its applicants.

This connects to our second point, accessibility.  Currently only 9% of the university’s student body is Black or Latino. We salute the efforts of CTE to help fight this trend, but tuition equality may not be enough if tuition continues to climb. Similarly today only  20% of the student body comes from families making $50,000/year or less.

Such a trend not only injures those unable to attend the U, but also the quality of the education provided here. Diversity of perspectives and experiences is a key aspect of any learning environment, allowing students to look beyond themselves and connect with people from across the state and the world. 
We feel that current policy is causing the university to exacerbate racial and class divisions within our society. And this is unacceptable.

At the Core of  these goals, is the idea of democracy.
 We believe that as students of this university, and members of this community- we have a right to a voice in the running of this institution. 
It is our lives that are affected by university policy,
 our futures that are threatened by debt, and increasingly it is our money that is funding this university. 
We deserve a seat at the table.
 We understand that this is not something that will be changed tomorrow, but we recognize it as the common root of our struggles.

I know that many people would argue that students do have democracy in the form of Central Student Government. And i agree that CSG does a good job of fostering student community and at times raising student concerns with the administration. However, we must not confuse voting with democracy. 
To vote is simply to choose a representative, a democracy requires that such representatives wield actual power. A truly democratic student body would need to be autonomous from the administration, with actual decision making power in the running of the university. 
We hope that CSG will one day fulfill that role, but currently there is no such body on campus.

Let me finally say, that we know the issues we have laid out are not just U of M problems, but national ones. And they will require broad solutions. However solutions are also possible locally, and so we have come to ask you, the regents, to help us build a better university. You can start with small steps. For instance, you may notice that my of my fellow students are wearing summer clothes today. We are dressed as we would be if we were here when you decide our tuition bills for the next year. 
Currently this decision is taken in June, largely excluding students.
yet simply by moving it to the middle of the school year you could ensure greater student participation in the decision making process. Several of you have also voiced a commitment to making the U more affordable. We call upon you to honor your statements and campaign promises, 
and begin the work of first freezing and then lowering tuition.

For too long students have been largely powerless on this campus, and because of this we have borne the brunt of recent austerity measures. We are here to change that.

We thank you for your time and attention, President Coleman.

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