Commentary: Stop chipping away at students’ rights

Students: Whether or not you realize it, your freedoms are gradually being abridged, one by one. Like it or not, the administrators who run this university do not trust you.

Over the matter of a few incidents, your rights as a Northeastern student are already significantly less than when you came here as a freshman – even if you still are a freshman.

The latest changes regard student privacy, trust and appreciation from the administration. Now there will be cameras in the lobbies of every residence hall. You won’t be able to swipe in to any residential building in which you don’t live and, more importantly, there have been attempts to lessen the amount of guaranteed money important student leaders can be compensated for their efforts.

Other problems include a more constricting contract change for RAs last year, causing many to resign and untold others to abandon the idea of joining those ranks; inadequate student representation in the search for a new president; plus-5 percent tuition hikes; and punishing all students for the riotous acts of a few following the success of local sports teams.

I’m a student, but I’m also a rational person. I understand why many of these things have happened and will happen. But the underlying issue here is that the university no longer seems to care about the rights and opinions of its students. Our Student Government Association (SGA), which has carried the reputation of being among the most influential student governments in the country, seems to have little say lately in any of the important issues on campus that relate to rights. And that’s not to say it’s the current SGA members’ fault.

The SGA recently helped make sure groups couldn’t racially discriminate in forums and meetings on campus. Still, that’s probably the only student rights issue about which the administration has listened to SGA lately, and the problem was such a no-brainer that it doesn’t constitute much of a victory, anyway.

With regard to the cameras and stripping of liberal swipe access, SGA Vice President for Public Affairs Adriana Campos said in the last issue of The News (“New security policies include video cameras in on-campus housing,” March 1), “Since America was founded, groups of people have agreed to give up a little of their personal rights to serve and maintain the safety of a community. Students are giving up a little of their privacy, but the security measures serve a good purpose.” Last time I checked, Northeastern wasn’t at war. Bringing this quote up out of proper context may be unfair, but that SGA tells us this when we still had no explanation for the added security perplexes me. Students need to be provided with the chance to vote on such an issue after considering expected costs and if the effects will justify the costs. What’s more, it sets a bad precedent. What’s next? Microphones in every dorm room? The administration starts calling itself “The Party” as it ensures the rest of its Institutional Master Plan (not a made-up name) is enacted?

As for the leadership scholarship restructuring, University Vice President for Student Affairs Ed Klotzbier said the move was intended to “support 30 to 40 student leaders, rather than simply awarding tuition scholarships to seven student leaders” (“More student leaders deserve support,” March 1). Taking away money from some to give it to more is not the answer. The money to be spent on security cameras, maintenance and monitoring could be better used to pay into this scholarship fund. Better yet, why not cut some of Mr. Klotzbier and his fellow administration members’ salaries for the cause? Students are working hard in many of the same areas. Klotzbier concluded that “Northeastern has reached a point in which more of these strong leaders should be recognized for the time and effort they dedicate to enriching campus life.”

Why not just make more scholarships? Shouldn’t the mantra of “Higher Education, Richer Experience” for our students take precedence over stingily saving a few thousand dollars each year? And that’s beside the point of another severe exercise in hypocrisy found in the literature of the proposal for this change. The proposal says one reason for the shift was the full tuition provided to some student leaders on campus kept said students from going on co-op, thus “[cutting] right at the mission of our institution for a true practice oriented education.” I disagree, as the positions in question couldn’t be much closer to practice-oriented education, but regardless, the change isn’t going to fix that. The proposal calls for a $5,000 tuition waiver and states the student can only receive it while enrolled in classes. The SGA president and the editor-in-chief of The News are elected to one-year terms. This means the forfeiting of co-op for at least one semester. If the amount leaders can receive is going to be less, it should at least be in a proper stipend format: payment by check. Making it like this will allow for a light co-op or internship while serving, but this still isn’t enough compensation.

The full-scholarship stripping is also supposed to prevent the financial relief from being the reason students run for the positions that receive it. But the only thing it’s going to prevent is these students being able to handle these positions. Who wants to invest 50 hours per week as these leaders do – on top of classes – while trying to pay for everything else without time for an additional part-time job?

I have yet to hear a single student say it would be a good idea to reduce scholarships for our leaders and increase stipends paid out of the Student Activities Fee. This relief is needed to function as important student groups take up any free time for jobs. I’m just a copy editor now, and I invest about 25 hours a week myself. But the administration seems to think it knows what is best for students, as if we were kindergartners.

“We are fortunate to have student leaders who are enthusiastic in their desires to enrich campus life and inspire their peers to better the Northeastern experience,” Klotzbier said in his March 1 letter to the editor. “I see how committed they are – dedicating generous amounts of time to give students as a whole a strong voice – one that is heard clearly by the administration and the faculty.”

Maybe that voice is heard clearly, but it’s also being ignored.

– Tim Coughlin is a middler journalism major and a member of The News staff.

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