Letter to the Editor: Only united direct action can save Truman from budget cuts

This Letter to the Editor was written by senior Will Chaney.

Saying that our University is spiraling toward financial disaster is not an exaggeration or edgelord opinion. It is the reality we face.

As The Index has reported, sometime this summer the State Legislature plans to pass a budget that will continue its long-term defunding of higher education, decreasing our state funding by 7.7 percent or about $3.5 million. This would mean our state funding will be 40 percent less than it was in 2001, according to the TSU Operating Budgets for FY 2018, the BLS consumer price index and the governor’s 2018 budget proposal. The consequences of these cuts have been well documented and I don’t have space to get into them here, but they affect every single department, program and individual on campus, including you, the reader, who is currently consuming one such program. Even after graduation, Truman’s reputation and whatever becomes of it will remain on all graduates’ resumes for the rest of their lives.

The old tactics are not working. The State Legislature is very aware of what they are doing to us and have refused to treat us as rational equals at a level bargaining table. We’ve sent delegations of students, administrators and faculty to Jefferson City to communicate the destruction these cuts entail, and even if they actually listened, other priorities are winning their votes. One of these priorities is giving corporations tax cuts — between 2015 and 2016, the Legislature created loopholes and law changes that decreased Missouri’s state revenue by $150 million, according to NPR on 25 April 2017.

This leaves us with two very difficult options. Option one is to trudge on with the old tactics and suffer more cuts while looking for ways to “weather the storm.” University President Thomas suggested many of option one’s ideas at her February 13 address — hiring consultants to improve our marketing and attract more students, hiring consultants to help us more efficiently cut our scholarship budget, eliminating faculty and staff positions, begging alumni and others for money, more online classes, and raising tuition and fees in the name of “flexibility.” Others have suggested making “better cuts” to preserve the best parts of Truman, such as the many concerned readers who recently submitted letters to the editor defending The Index.

The problem with option one is that it does not address the root of the problem — the State Legislature has made cuts necessary across the entire University. Option one encourages us to turn our guns on each other. What is more important — printing The Index, the library’s ability to acquire new books, replacing broken computers, giving raises that keep up with inflation or funding mental health services? This question does not have a non-self destructive answer, and we must refuse to ask it.

There is also option two, which is to unite as the Truman community and demand from the State Legislature the resources we need to sustain an outstanding public liberal arts college. Option two is engaging in united direct action — “united” in the sense that it must come from students, faculty, staff and administration, and “direct” in the sense that we move from thinking and talking to doing. Option two means we stop expecting other people to fix this problem for us and personally get involved, including you the reader. Option two, as Gil Scott Heron says, “Puts you in the drivers’ seat.”

What does united direction action look like? It can be a mass letter writing campaign, or thousands of phone calls to our state representatives, or a demonstration on campus or in Jefferson City. It can be a petition with a specific list of demands. It can be a strike, where we don’t go to classes for one day, two days, or until our demands are met and our educational institution is respected. It can be all or some of these things together. What is most important is that the direct action is generally agreed upon by the Truman community and has its support. This is why it is so important that you get involved, because without involvement your fellow members of the Truman community will not hear your perspective.  

It is painful to write this, but I think it must be said — nearly all members of the Truman community have been unacceptably apathetic about our budget crisis. We have retreated into our homework, our offices, our parties, our individual social media accounts, our on-and off-campus jobs and our departments instead of leaving those places and coming together to talk about our common situation and plan action. We have accepted the narrative the ruling class wants us to believe — that’s just the way things are and there’s nothing to do about the state’s onslaught against our budget. I have heard this opinion from students, professors and even our University president. But this is not founded in reality and only serves the ideological interests of those who benefit from taking the money that belongs to Truman.

There are five reasons why I believe united direct action now can bring real change. One, the governor is currently facing felony charges and his administration is fragile. Two, the media has recently been giving coverage to united direct actions and to the education cuts. Three, Truman State is one of the most prestigious universities in Missouri and our alumni hold powerful positions in government, media, businesses, and so on. As evidenced by the flood of letters to the editor, they are paying attention to and care deeply about Truman, and many would likely support actions that would save it from financial decimation. Four, uniting with other Missouri universities is now a possibility and many are already taking action. Students for a Democratic Society has been in communication with students at Missouri State [University], Webster University and Mizzou [University of Missouri], who are forming a Student Power Network and Stop the Cuts Coalition. Five, even in just the past ten years, millions of students all over the world have engaged in united direct action and successfully had their demands met — including one 90 miles south of us.

United direct action starts with educating ourselves about the crisis and talking to our friends and colleagues about the situation, especially those who still believe there is nothing we can do. An open Facebook group has been created for organizing action, the “TSU Community Forum on the Budget Cuts.” Several organizations on campus are planning actions, so stay alert and attend as many of them as you can. As a united campus we can send a clear message and demand change from the State Legislature.