Courtesy of Molly Shack
Students who strolled through the South Oval Wednesday and Thursday might have noticed pitched tents and circles of students and faculty engaged in discussions as part of Re-Imagine Ohio State.
Some students gathered to discuss what they are calling a top-down power structure at OSU controlled by a Board of Trustees that disregards students’ voices. Some university officials maintain that these voices have been and continue to be heard.
An estimated 500 people participated in the event by late afternoon of the first day, said Molly Shack, an organizer of Re-Imagine OSU and a fourth-year in Spanish and international studies.
She said the purpose of the 48-hour event was to begin discussions of how students, faculty and staff can empower themselves to have an increased role in university decisions.
“We have faculty bringing their classrooms to discuss Re-Imagine things, scheduled teach-ins with discussions that lead to themes of changing the power structure here and people who walk by are invited to join one of the discussions,” Shack said.
The Re-Imagine movement is intended to address parking privatization, the controversial proposed apparel deal with Silver Star Merchandising, the technique of hydraulic fracturing – known as fracking – in Ohio and a number of other issues.
But Shack attributed her involvement against the Board of Trustees’ decision to give out $25.6 million in bonuses to OSU employees in 2011, which is $5 million more than the money generated from a 3.5 percent tuition increase, The Lantern reported on April 24. Seven OSU employees received bonuses of $1 million, according to the same report.
“It’s insulting that I have to have two jobs just to scrape by and there are people getting million dollar bonuses,” Shack said.
President E. Gordon Gee made no apologies for the bonuses.
“I’m not sorry. I feel very strongly that everyone at this institution should be paid well and right and should be paid according to how well they perform,” Gee told The Lantern in an April 23 editorial meeting. “We ought to take great pride in the fact that we have people performing at a very high level.”
Alexis Critchley, a third-year in international studies, attended Re-Imagine OSU on Wednesday and said the tuition increase and amount spent on bonuses shows the board’s inability to represent students’ interests.
“They’re looking to make money, not what’s not going to raise our tuition,” Critchley said. “I can’t tell anymore if this is a university or a corporation.”
Jim Lynch, university spokesman, told The Lantern on April 24 that more than 10 percent of the money spent in bonuses came from the OSU athletic department, and four of the seven $1 million bonuses were given to OSU’s Wexner Medical Center faculty. Both of these expenditures did not rely on funding from tuition increases.
Thomas Lee, an OSU alumnus and organizer with the Ohio Student Association, an activist group consisting of students from universities across the state, said the amount awarded in bonuses was “egregious.” Even if students had been able to express their disapproval before the decision was made, it would not have made a difference, Lee said.
Lee said there are too many pre-decided issues that the university plans to move forward with, regardless of dissenting views.
“Gee’s strategy with any issue is to put you on a committee that has no power, which is exactly what happened with the hate crimes and Stand Your Ground,” Lee said. “But Gee’s not the problem. He’s just the figurehead. The board tells him what to do.”
Lee said he questions the effectiveness of negotiating with board members who should not have the authority to make decisions for students.
“We’re not at a place where we can talk to them. We don’t have to justify our stake to them,” Lee said. “They need to justify to us why they are in charge.”
Lynch said that students’ voices are represented and that students have power to influence decisions made by the board due to the two student board members – one undergraduate and one graduate student – who serve on it.
“We’re blessed at OSU because there are student trustees on the Board of Trustees. Students do have a voice on issues that are important,” Lynch said. “They play a vital role in university governance.”
Student trustees do not have voting rights, but that could change due to a bill in the Ohio General Assembly that would give full voting rights to the two student trustees serving on the boards for each of the 14 public universities in Ohio, according to the Inter-University Council of Ohio.
Gee has expressed his full support for the proposed legislation.
“We have the utmost confidence in our student trustees, who demonstrate exceptional leadership and serve a critical function in communicating and advocating for the needs of students,” Gee said in a letter to Ohio Rep. Michael Duffey, R-Worthington, who is co-sponsor of the bill.
In addition, the Board of Trustees collectively issued a statement of its support, stating that “student trustees have consistently served the people of Ohio exceptionally well through their hard work, thorough preparation and full engagement in the business of the board.”