Ignore the student walkout

Wil Gradle

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In the midst of these extraordinary and unprecedented times, I feel compelled to express my sincere and profound feelings of admonishment for the class walkout planned for next week. In order to properly articulate why it is that I find the walkout to be a misguided undertaking, it is important to understand a few key facts surrounding the walkout.

 First, it is important to know that this event is in no way, shape or form organized, promoted or endorsed by the Student Government Association. It is not a movement that was started out of the altruistic pursuit of defending higher education. It is not a movement that is meant to further the cause of the #ImpasseImpact campaign.

 There is something inherently romantic behind the notion of students organically rising together, forging bonds of brother-/sisterhood to rebuke the man, the status quo and the destructive actions of a few in Springfield. Unfortunately, that is not what the class walkout is about. It’s a class assignment.

 Students were assigned by their professor to create a movement and thought that a class walkout would be the perfect movement to start, analyze and then write a 20-to-25-page paper about, and from that perspective, I don’t disagree with them. I’ve spent this year working with students, trying to find a way to move the needle in Springfield that used situation-appropriate symbols and gestures to get our point across. I certainly admire their willingness to further the cause and applaud their efforts to organize students. My issue with this event is the symbolism behind the walkout.

 First, we have demonstrated that marches and rallies are not the end-all-be-all solution that certain factions at Western Illinois University might lead you to believe. While marches may make us feel like we are in the trenches fighting for our education, in practice, they are ineffective means of moving the needle in Springfield.

 How do I know this? Look at Eastern Illinois University. They’ve rallied and rallied to their hearts’ content and were vilified for it in Springfield (by Republicans AND Democrats).For a more extreme example, look to the enormous rallies in 2011 in Wisconsin in which over 100,000 protestors rallied to no avail. The simple truth is that people hold rallies all the time for various causes and they bear minimal results.

 So, aside from utilizing a generally ineffective means of protest to get the point across, we must look at the symbol of where students will be marching: Sherman Hall. Symbolically, this building represents the leadership and administration of this university. They are NOT the ones that caused the budget impasse. They are NOT the ones that received a salary increase this year and are NOT the ones refusing to give up the scheduled salary increase for next year. They are NOT the ones refusing to take furlough days.

 The budget impasse was caused by Springfield, and not just by one person or party in Springfield, despite what some factions might lead you to believe. The leaders of Western’s branch of the University Professionals of Illinois (UPI) are the ones that have outright refused to share in the University’s sacrifice.

 This brings me to my next reservation about the walkout. The event advertises, “This act of solidarity supports laid-off and furloughed staff and faculty stemming from the Illinois budget crisis affecting public education.”

 It is important to note that in the pool of faculty and staff, there are three distinct and inharmonious groups: 1. Non-negotiated (non-union) staff that are being furloughed, 2. Faculty (represented by the UPI) that are receiving a pay increase, and 3. Faculty and staff that are being laid off (some unionized and some not). 

 As students, we cannot simultaneously stand in “solidarity” with three groups that are in three very different positions. Moreover, we cannot be standing in solidarity with them in opposition to the administration that technically pulls the trigger in terms of layoffs, but are not doing it in the face of a better alternative. To elaborate, I cannot be both standing in solidarity with a professor who is receiving a pay increase AND a civil service employee who was terminated because the faculty member wouldn’t give up their pay increase.

 It’s worth noting before airing any other grievances that I truly believe that our professors should be paid more. I truly believe that civil service employees should be paid more. I truly believe that support staff should be paid more. The question is, how do you pay people more when there is less with which to pay them?

 Finally, we must look at the special form of protest chosen: a walkout. How can we, in good conscience, demand the state government to pay for the education that we are walking out of? This question becomes especially relevant when you consider that the evening before the walkout is the Macomb legislative reception where members of our community will be lobbying for state funding. The imagery is fundamentally flawed and the intended message will not be conveyed.

 I implore you: Go to class and stay in class on April 19. Do not participate in a poorly-researched ploy that sends the wrong message to the wrong people. If you truly want to make a difference, continue to study hard, achieve more and demonstrate the value of a Western education to Springfield through your good works.