Letter to the editor: We Are Told to Be Grateful

OUSC+Speaker+of+the+Legislature+Jeremy+Johnson.

Jeremy Johnson

OUSC Speaker of the Legislature Jeremy Johnson.

Jeremy Johnson, Contributor

Throughout the last year and several months, the relationship between the Oakland University administration and the OU community has been fundamentally dismantled. At almost every turn, our administration has sought to profit off of students, faculty, and staff while we suffered physically, mentally, and financially. Rather than being a bastion of education and aspiring leaders, OU has become a living contradiction.

“Be Grateful”

Recently, a video of Ora Pescovitz, the President of OU, giving a tour of Sunset Terrace was broadcast to all OU community members. As the cost of tuition rises, employee compensation is slashed, workers are forced back into the workplace, student services are dissolved, transportation options are nonexistent, and environmental sustainability has taken a backseat, the OU community is treated not with a commitment to fund services that will benefit all; instead, we are given a tour of the President’s lavish home and we are told to be grateful

While it is apparent that the administrators that profit off of the OU community have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, it is difficult to express gratitude to a university that has proven it does not care for its own people. I would be grateful if OU invested in programs that reduced the cost of college. I would be grateful if OU took steps to ease the financial burden disproportionately felt by students of color. I would be grateful if coercion was eliminated from the workplace and employees were not punished for expressing their concerns. I would be grateful if those in power addressed the grievances of those that they serve rather than treating them as children. I would be grateful if our administration did not take endlessly from us and act as if their hands are tied and that there is nothing that can be done. 

This is the contradiction: students are struggling financially, faculty were forced to strike just to be paid what they are owed, and the staff are continuously abused and forgotten about while the President of the university and her entire administration live comfortably. President Pescovitz acknowledges the financial struggle many within the OU community are facing without recognizing the direct role that the administration has played in causing and perpetuating our suffering. Increases to tuition, wage cuts, job cuts, elimination of services all of it is controlled by the administration, the ball is always in their court even if they want to pretend that it isn’t. Our administration deliberately makes OU worse while telling us to be grateful.

Oftentimes you will hear administrators voice how “proud” they are of our perseverance throughout the pandemic; however, our persistence has not been because of the administration, it has been in spite of them. We are thanked for our sacrifices not with tangible, material improvements to OU, but with empty words that will be forgotten as quickly as they were uttered.

Be Angry

Out of all of the activist groups on campus, whether it be labor unions or student organizations, none have ever demanded anything radical. They have demanded to be treated as humans, that marginalized communities not be forgotten about, that employees be paid only a few dollars more an hour for all the work that they do, that students have less of a financial burden placed on them to receive their education, that their physical and mental health be a priority during a pandemic rather than afterthought. No matter what the demand is, the answer is always the same. They are infantilized, treated as if they are asking for too much, and told that what they need simply cannot be done. They are told to be grateful.

How can we be expected to show gratitude to a university that has eliminated essential services while charging more in tuition? How can we be grateful for an administration that is absent from and out of touch with campus life? Why is their “gratitude” for us never paired with substantive change that will make the OU experience better? How can I ever recommend Oakland University to a prospective student knowing that the administration does not care for its own people? Choosing profit over the needs of the community cannot be tolerated any longer. More must be done.

Be Loud

And more can be done. Several days ago, the Oakland University Student Congress (OUSC) passed C.R. 22-21, a resolution calling for the administration to dedicate $250,000 to programs that will reduce the cost of course materials for students and faculty. Programs that reduce costs at OU have been attempted before but have been ignored or underfunded by our administration. Without institutional support, these programs struggle to improve OU in a systematic way — large scale implementation is crucial, so administration must front the cost. To convince our administration that this is necessary, we have started a petition that can be read, signed, and shared here: change.org/OUTrashTheTextbooks  

This is only the beginning, but it is an important first step towards the OU administration giving us a reason to be grateful. It is time our university began providing for us as we have always provided for it. The only time real progress has occurred at OU is when we have come together and demanded change in unison. We owe it to ourselves, to each other, and to everyone that comes after us to make this university a better place. 

The contradiction between administration’s actions and our lived reality has never been more evident. Ask yourself: what could your university do to make you grateful?

Signed,

Jeremy Johnson

Speaker of the Legislature, Oakland University Student Congress

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