Graduate students at the University of Hawaii at Manoa are camping out in tents on campus this week to protest rumored budget cuts. They said that they’ve already received verbal assurances to some of their demands -- namely, that no teaching assistant positions will be dropped next semester. But the rallies, marches and sit-in will continue until they have a statement in writing from the administration, organizers said.
The protests, organized in part by a group called Fix UH Manoa, started after graduate students learned that up to 15 teaching assistant positions could be cut from the biology department for the upcoming spring semester. Graduate students said in letters to administrators that the cuts were ordered so late in the fall semester that graduate students wouldn’t have time to make alternative financial arrangements, jeopardizing their ability to continue their studies. The cuts also would harm undergraduate students, they said, since graduate students manage a heavy class burden and those courses would have to be canceled.
The cuts were never announced officially, but Jonathan Whitney, a sixth-year Ph.D. candidate in biology, said they were discussed in emails and meetings with upper-level administration. Nobody was certain exactly how many positions would be cut, he said.
Reed Dasenbrock, vice chancellor for academic affairs, said hours after the protests started Monday that there would not be any teaching assistant positions or core courses cut in the spring. But the student group wants to ensure that administrators aren’t pacifying them now, only to make more dramatic cuts in the fall, Whitney said. “It’s a piece of positive reinforcement, but there’s still a big mess and a lot of work to be done,” he said.
Among other demands, students want a more transparent system of spending, so they know where budget cuts are happening and why, and want the teaching assistant positions that have already been eliminated this year to be reinstated.
In a statement Wednesday, Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman said he regretted "any undue anxiety caused by premature announcements about possible cuts at the school and college level." He reiterated that no positions would be cut next semester.
Colleges have been spending more than they were allocated in the budget, and as a result, Bley-Vroman mandated all departments to stay within their annual allocations. Next month, a budget committee that includes representatives from the Graduate Student Organization will finish a proposal for a new way to allocate money for the 2015-16 budget that will be presented to the public, according to the statement.
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