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Originally published March 4, 2010 at 8:16 PM | Page modified March 4, 2010 at 11:07 PM

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UW student rally targets higher-ed funding

At the University of Washington Thursday afternoon, hundreds of students shouted, marched and even danced through the blooming cherry trees in the Quad to protest skyrocketing tuition, state budget cuts and large administrative salaries.

Seattle Times higher education reporter

At the University of Washington Thursday afternoon, hundreds of students shouted, marched and even danced through the cherry blooms in the Quad to protest skyrocketing tuition, state budget cuts and large administrative salaries.

The UW students were among tens of thousands across the country taking part in similar protests on what was being described as a national day of action to defend higher education.

Campus protests may have peaked in the 1960s during the Vietnam War and civil-rights era — but in recent months, student anger has again been rising, this time over financial cuts and the sense that students are getting shortchanged.

Students in the University of California system, in particular, have been outraged at tuition increases of 32 percent. At the UW, tuition shot up 14 percent last year and will rise another 14 percent this year.

At The Evergreen State College near Olympia, students held a "funeral" for public education that started with a procession on campus and continued with students delivering a homemade coffin to the Capitol building. About 50 students were kicked out of the Senate gallery when they began singing a mock version of "Amazing Grace," said Evergreen junior Candace Catskin.

In Seattle, UW students circled the Quad to form a picket line while carrying banners with slogans such as "Stop gentrifying the UW" and "Education is our right."

The UW Student Worker Coalition, which organized Thursday's protest, asked students to "strike" by not attending their afternoon classes. Some faculty and staff joined the protest, which later moved off campus and through the University District.

Holly Barker, an anthropology lecturer, said she let out her afternoon class early Thursday so that she could join the protest. At first reluctant to give her name for fear of reprisals, Barker later changed her mind, saying it is important to take a stand.

She said she's concerned the diversity in her classes will be diminished as higher education becomes less affordable and prices out low-income students and students of color.

UW spokesman Norm Arkans said an estimated 500 to 600 people attended the protest, the largest at the UW in years. He said the decisions on budget cuts and tuition increases are predominantly coming from lawmakers in Olympia.

Arkans said the university does not agree with the notion of striking classes.

"Our view is that it has a negative impact on education and is counterproductive," Arkans said.

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He added that the university encourages people to speak their minds and said there would be no reprisals for faculty or staff who participated in the protest. He said it would be up to individual lecturers to decide whether students who missed tests or assignments Thursday would be penalized.

Eunice How, a sophomore who was helping organize the protest, said students are upset at some decisions coming out of Olympia but also have complaints about how the UW is handling the budget problems.

She said the university has laid off low-paid workers such as janitors and increased class sizes, all the while protecting the salaries of top administrators. She said the Student Worker Coalition is calling for administrative salaries to be capped at $150,000 — less than half of what some deans currently make, and about one-sixth of UW President Mark Emmert's compensation package.

Watching Thursday's protest, but not participating, was T.J. Jewett, a junior. He said he'd felt the impact of budget cuts through diminished class offerings and is upset at large UW administrative salaries and perks. He said it's great to get the protest message out, although he doesn't agree with the tactic of cutting class.

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

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