from The Capital Times

March 8, 2005

UW students go on hunger strike to protest tuition hikes

By Aaron Nathans

University of Wisconsin students launched a three-day hunger strike this morning, trying to draw attention to spiraling tuition costs that they say threaten to price low-income residents out of an education.

The protesters are calling for Gov. Jim Doyle and the Legislature to roll back tuition to 2003 levels, before they raised it 37.5 percent. In Doyle's most recent proposed budget, tuition could increase as much as an additional 14 percent over the next two years.

Although Doyle is proposing increased financial aid, the students said loans will be a burden, saddling new graduates with debt as they try to make a living and get on their feet. It doesn't look like much of an incentive to poor Wisconsin families to buy their children a higher education, they said.

"It's a question of priorities," said Ashok Kumar of Associated Students of Madison. "It seems big business lobbyists are getting their way with the Legislature."

Kumar called the new tuition increases "legalized neo-segregation."

One of the protesters, Suri Kempe, said the tuition increases would mean people would be able to attend the University of Wisconsin "based on wealth, not merit. This is not acceptable."

She said the policy of raising tuition "only feeds a racist system," suggesting that the increases would primarily affect families of color.

According to a UW study last year, the median family income for UW System students in 2003 was $55,000. In 1992, that figure was $39,000. UW adjusted the figures for inflation.

The protesters wore T-shirts that read "Hunger Strike Against Tuition" and held signs such as "Rollback!" and "Contact Your Legislator." They suggested that the state raise taxes on corporations instead of increasing tuition.

They will keep a vigil in the State Capitol rotunda during the hours it is open.

Josh Healey of the MultiCultural Student Coalition said some of the 22 students, teaching assistants and academic staffers who are participating in the three-day Madison hunger strike will take powdered vitamins and water, but "no calories." Another 20 students from UW-Eau Claire have also vowed to fast on their campus.

Others may join in for shorter periods, Healey said.

The protesters will end their strike in the same spot Thursday with a 10 a.m. rally.

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