Graduate Tuition - An Abuse of Executive Power

By David Barker
November 1991; page 5; Volume 3, No. 2.
Polemicist

Although UT CEO "Dollar" Bill Cunningham claims the process for hiking graduate student tuition is decentralized and that responsibility for the increases rests with the college deans, sources claim that Cunningham is using budget pressures to force deans to implement tuition increases.

Cunningham's assurances to graduate student leaders that students will be adequately involved in the increase decisions are drained of meaning by his refusal to define the terms of that involvement and his statement that graduate students cannot expect to see the proposals as they reach his desk.

Graduate students, angered by the CEO's hollow promises, are taking the issue into their own hands. A rally on the South Mall on October 24 drew about 300 protestors. The rally was co-sponsored by the Graduate Professional Association, the Council of Graduate Students, and Students Against War.

GPA is spearheading plans for an even larger coalition of groups to carry out investigations into the impact of tuition increases and the way in which past increases have been spent, and to plan future actions in the wake of the rally. A GPA committee is currently planning an action dubbed the Texas Tea Party - to embody the principle of "no tuition without representation" - to be held on the South Mall November 6 and 7. Graduate students will have the opportunity to make public their roles in the University by displaying research contributions in the form of published articles, by holding graduate seminars or discussion groups in the open, and by teaching classes in their roles as teaching assistants and assistant instructors.

Without mass involvement, the increases will almost certainly be implemented. Several colleges are planning to double tuition as was done in the colleges that increased graduate tuition last year. Moreover, in several of those colleges, and in preliminary proposals being discussed this year, graduate tuition will be tied to the undergraduate rate such that every increase of the undergraduate rate will be matched automatically by a doubled increase in graduate tuition.

While this process may appear to put graduate tuition rates back in the hands of the legislature in an indirect way, the legislature will in fact not be free to affect the impact their increases on the base rate will have on ever escalating graduate rates. This mechanism leads to an ever-widening gap between undergraduate and graduate tuition which the legislature has no control over and which graduate students, because the changes are institutionalized, will have almost no opportunity to fight them.

At the core of graduate students' concerns a process ignores their own needs and the quality of their programs. Undergraduate tuition rates are set by an accountable body. The boards of regents of a university, in particular at UT-Austin, bear no such accountability. But the boards must be prodded to exercise the franchise given them over graduate tuition in a responsible way. The only guarantee of that responsible action is open, democratic dialogue with the affected students and that cannot exist within the corporate paradigm that Cunningham imposes on this University.

There is no room for resignation in this campaign. The actions of this University president call forth the need for a strong and willful statement of our opposition to capricious and unjust tuition hikes at this University.