Recently, the Department of Transportation here at the University of Maryland announced major reduction in services due to budget shortfalls. Individual students took to social media to voice their displeasure over the change. Most notably, students lamented that the buses will not run to the nearby DC metro station on the weekends. Furthermore, the Diamondback Editorial Board called for the university to make changes to prevent the service cuts and highlighted the seemingly inevitability of these cuts given the amount of construction on this campus.
The Janus Journal, as our loyal readers know, is concerned with history, not bus schedules at a university. However, this blog post is not about the history of public transit - although I think it’s a wonderful topic - this blog post is about universities and students.
Let’s return to the response to the announcement. The Diamondback reports that there is general unhappiness in the community and that people feel strongly that someone made a wrong decision. On Twitter, Maryland students attacked the service cuts and expressed individual displeasure. Eight days after the announcement by the Department, the newly-elected Student Body President issued a statement calling for relief and offered two technocratic solutions to the problem.
As I watched these events unfold I was frustrated at the cuts, but more frustrated at the response. Especially, the unorganized nature of the response. So I turned to history. Specifically, I remember the student activism of the 1960s. It’s important not to draw any false equivalences here; undoubtedly Jim Crow and segregation are far worse than reduced bus services, even as the absence of strong public transportation has important class implications. Even still, the most famous student-activist document, the Port Huron Statement, devoted large amounts of text to the necessity of reforming campuses across the country.
Take the following excerpt for example:
If student movements for change are still rarities on the campus scene, what is commonplace there? The real campus, the familiar campus, is a place of private people, engaged in their notorious "inner emigration." It is a place of commitment to business-as-usual, getting ahead, playing it cool. It is a place of mass affirmation of the Twist, but mass reluctance toward the controversial public stance. Rules are accepted as "inevitable," bureaucracy as "just circumstances," irrelevance as "scholarship," selflessness as "martyrdom," politics as "just another way to make people, and an unprofitable one, too."
Of course, UMD is not an inactive place. In 2016, a coalition of student groups called ProtectUMD published 64 demands for campus reform. In the aftermath of the Nazi-inspired killing of a black man, Richard Collins III, students called for a campus-wide commitment to marginalized communities and found the administration's response lacking. And new campus organizations, such as Every Campus a Refuge UMD, are always emerging.
While each of the above links are laudable in their own way, they aren’t exactly organized in the way that SDS would eventually become. Recall that the student activists in the '60s fought against dress codes and behavior restrictions while fighting for Civil Rights. In other words, the Student Movement of that era could have fought for a weekend metro bus and protection for marginalized communities without contradiction. This organization gave the Student Movement power. It was not just that some students were angry at their university, rather that these angry students spoke with one, unified, organized voice. Rather than ignore the grumblings of disparate voices, the administrations of the 1960s capitulated to the roar of a movement.
The most famous of these cases is probably the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley. After a student was arrested for political speech, students flooded the campus to prevent the arrest and protest university policy. These protesters effectively shut down campus until the administration would negotiate. Three months later, students shut down the administration building because of a lack of cooperation from the administration. At the second shutdown, student leader Mario Savio delivered his famous “Machine Speech,” which I encourage you to watch.
So what does this mean for UMD? It means that these disparate voices and technocratic SGA statements are not enough for campus reform. If students really feel disenfranchised by the administration they should take to McKeldin Mall and the quad and STAMP and the President’s House and be loud in their displeasure. If necessary, the students here should organize a strike. If the SGA truly seeks to represent the student body, it should harness the burgeoning anger and yearning for change and organize us in a way that makes us powerful. At Port Huron, students bemoaned that “rules are accepted as ‘inevitable,’ bureaucracy as ‘just circumstances.’” At Maryland, let us transcend such old rules and make this campus our campus.