College campuses across the United States have seen increasing protests against small wages of university workers.At Washington University, an organization demanding higher wages occupied the admissions office for 19 days, during six of which the students were on hunger strike.
At Georgetown University, students went without eating for nine days while staying in tents in the main square of campus.
A similar group formed at TCU this fall, yet organizers say these tactics are not in the planning.
TCU has traditionally been a school with few demonstrations.
Associate Dean of Student Life Glory Robinson, who must approve all student protests on campus, said in the five years she’s held the position, there have been one or two protests a semester.
“The student body has never taken on an activist role,” she said, and added she would like to see an issue such as living wage become more prominent.
“Most of the protests we have are about world issues,” she said, the war in Iraq being one of them.
Jim Riddlesperger, chairman of the political science department, said there are many reasons why TCU students do not demonstrate. The socioeconomic status of most students is not one of the main reasons, he said.
“People of any socioeconomic status are capable of becoming involved in protests,” he said.
He names the Vietnam War era protests as the main example. There were demonstrations at universities such as Harvard and Columbia, where students have similar socioeconomic status as TCU students. Yet TCU saw far less protests on its campus, Riddlesperger said.
“TCU has never been a hotbed of political protests, nor is it likely to become so. Part of it may have to do with ideologies of students of TCU,” he said.
Andrew Fort, a professor of religion who has been at TCU since 1982, agrees.
He said TCU is traditionally non-activist because it is in Texas. He said TCU attracts more than an average number of conservative Republican students, who are less likely to demonstrate.
“Our institutions are so conservative, what do they have to complain about?” he said.
However, the University of Texas at Austin is often recognized for the number of students involved in activism.
Riddlesperger explains this as a difference in the size of the student population.
He said one of the reasons UT is considered more politically active than TCU is because UT’s student enrollment, which is more than 50,000, cannot be compared to TCU’s fewer than 9,000 students.
“If the same percentage of students at UT is politically active as at TCU, then they’ve got six to seven times more activists than we do,” he said.
Bayliss Camp, an assistant professor of sociology, who studies why demonstrations happen in certain areas more than in others, said another reason for TCU’s lack of activism is because it is a private institution.
Public universities are not accountable solely to their own administration, he said.
“(Students) can bring out a pressure to bear on the university because public universities answer to the state legislature,” he said.
If the public university officials do not listen, Camp said, students have the option to complain to higher authority. However, at private universities such as TCU, the state does not play a role in decision-making.
“If people are unhappy with the situation at TCU, they can go to chancellor Boschini, they can talk to people on the Board of Trustees, but after that … the avenues are closed,” Camp said.
Fort said he recalls several times when TCU’s students protested more than usual, yet the administration did not give in to their demands.
One of the bigger turnouts of student demonstrators Fort recalled was during the late 1980s. Students protested against TCU investing in companies who did not oppose South Africa’s apartheid regime.
“Apartheid was a big issue here,” he said.
Fort said the activism lasted for several years, and was not limited to just protesting. Some students set up cardboard boxes on campus and sat in them to demonstrate the conditions of poor blacks in South Africa as a result of the regime.
However, Fort said, TCU did not divest.
“The administrators met privately with certain students but they would not discuss this issue formally and refused to look at it deeply and systematically,” he said.
He said the issue was solved only when Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa and the apartheid regime fell apart on its own.
Fort recalled a specific demonstration students planned during the university convocation.
He said students stood outside during the ceremony holding up signs.
“There were only a few students but TCU had so much police there,” he said. “Having grown up in the Northeast, to see how small the demonstration was and the fear in the (university) reaction – was amusing.”
Robinson, who said she informs TCU’s administrators of planned demonstrations, thinks the administration would only welcome more student activism on campus.
“That’s why we’re here – we’re an educational institution,” she said. “I think it would be great to raise the awareness here.”
She said protests are allowed in most areas on campus as long as they do not interfere with other students’ activities, such as class. Consequences for unapproved demonstrations, she said, would be determined on a case-by-case basis.
However, according to TCU’s policy, hunger strikes might not be as welcome: Any physical harm is prohibited. Although the policy does not clarify whether there is a distinction between harm to oneself and harm to another person, Robinson said, students harming themselves would be in violation of that policy.
Stephanie Sherwood, president of TCU’s Living Wage Coalition, said she thinks the group is not ready for such moves.
“Those other schools worked toward their goals for several years,” she said. “We only became an official organization this fall.