Tuition to rise 9 percent despite unanswered questions

Oakland University’s board of trustees reconvened Wednesday, July 29 at 2 p.m., to pick apart Vice President of Finance and Administration John Beaghan’s suggested 11 percent undergraduate tuition increase that had been presented to the board at Friday’s board meeting.

In just over an hour, the board passed a seemingly arbitrary 9 percent increase in undergraduate tuition. Only the last 10 minutes or so of the meeting were spent debating the 9 percent increase, which was motioned by the “reluctant” board member Michael Kramer.

“If we drop this (suggested 11 percent) to 7 or 8 percent, I want to see what you’re giving up and what aren’t you going to do,” said board member Dennis Pawley near the conclusion of Friday’s meeting. While Pawley and Henry Baskin argued and voted opposite each other, Pawley for an increase and Baskin for holding off a year on some projects, Baskin echoed Pawley’s request by asking to see the student fees separated from tuition.

One slide was presented by Beaghan Wednesday in response (page 63 of the budget):

“Furlough/staff reductions (~ eleven positions) $880,000

Plant renewal (deferred maintenance) $300,000

Discontinue credit card acceptance for tuition/room & board $654,000

(Resulting bad debt and collections expense -$125,000)

Operating support (library collections, wireless upgrades, etc.) $75,000″

However, with the revised tuition increase to 9 percent, the board said that these will not be the cuts that ultimately will be made and that there is a chance that more than the 11 positions noted may be cut. They did not specify at the meeting what specific cuts may be made. The board also has the authority to determine what other cuts might be necessary to operate under a budget that includes the 9 percent increase.

The decision was approved with two members in opposition, Baskin and Monica Emerson. But many of those whose votes don’t count, like the students who filled the at-capacity Elliott Hall Auditorium, were also in opposition. Several students and members of Oakland University Student Congress spoke in front of the board before they held their own discussion.

Aside from the compliments several of the board members gave to the students who voiced their concerns and an acknowledgment that there were surely more students who could not attend the meeting, the concerns raised apparently did not bring much pause because the board made a quick decision.

 “I myself was a little curious,” said Kevin Costakes, OUSC legislator, about comments made at the last meeting. “All these years I thought I was receiving a quality education … Do you or do you not believe OU is a quality school?”

He was likely referring to Pawley’s anecdote that if he had two resumes on his desk, the Oakland graduate would not have the highest prestige. This comment was explained by Pawley to be an example of the perception people have of OU’s graduates, not an accurate reflection of actual quality of its graduates. Pawley also said that he himself has hired far more Oakland grads than others.

Student body president Kristin Dayag asked when research had been done to explore other “reasonable measures” that Emerson had previously said would be a circumstance for raising tuition. “When was this type of research done? If it was, why weren’t we shown this information and the methods that were used?” Dayag asked. Perhaps the four budget reduction alternatives presented (page 63) Wednesday were the research.

Another common question which was never specifically addressed though Dayag asked was,”Where’s our money going toward? Where exactly will this 11 (or 9) percent tuition increase be used?”

Student DJ Bond asked about the message being sent to students when faculty are expected to take a zero percent pay increase after President Gary Russi’s salary was recently increased by 40 percent.

Student Amanda Shiner brought up a comparison of the cost of an education at OU to a 2009 Chevy Impala SS made at last week’s meeting, both approximately $30,000.

She held up a photograph and said, “This is my car, it cost $1,200.”

“I feel this analogy demonstrates the people planning this budget may be dangerously out of touch with the people it affects the most, the people trying to pay for an education … Comparing it to purchasing a nice new car minimizes the very real struggle to afford college and overlooks the fact that an expensive car is optional, giving ourselves the opportunity to succeed in the future is not.”

Emerson said she doesn’t want to be misrepresented as being out of touch with the struggles to pay for an education.

“It took me 10 years to pay for my student loans, I don’t want any of you to think we are completely disconnected …. The fact of the matter is, is education costs us in this country. The quality of education costs us.”

The meeting closed abruptly, within minutes of the vote to raise undergraduate tuition effective fall semester 2009, and resolved that the board may reconsider a midterm semester increase in resident undergraduate tuition rates dependent upon realizing the key budget assumptions. The budget also included a 3 percent graduate tuition increase and a salary freeze.

Video: Oakland University students react to the 9 percent tuition increase to start fall 2009.