Students protest potential tuition increase at Board of Visitors meeting

This story was originally published in the April 4 issue of Fourth Estate.

Members of GMU Student Power ask for a tuition freeze at the Board of Visitors meeting in Merten Hall on Thursday. (Amy Rose/Fourth Estate)

Members of GMU Student Power ask for a tuition freeze at the Board of Visitors meeting in Merten Hall on Thursday. (Amy Rose/Fourth Estate)

At the Board of Visitors meeting this past Thursday, members of GMU Student Power held a silent protest demanding a tuition freeze.

While the Finance and Land Use committee ate lunch and discussed a variety of topics — including university housing, the Virginia state budget and ongoing facilities projects — approximately 15 members of the student organization filed into the room and stood alongside the back wall, facing the committee. Each student held a sign, some of which read “Student Power #fightthehike,” “Education is a right” and “High tuition ≠ accessible.”

“We were protesting the cost of tuition at George Mason University, and we were trying to be preemptive in protesting any type of potential tuition increase,” said senior Samantha Parsons, president of GMU Student Power.

Rector Tom Davis briefly left his seat to invite the students to stay after the committee meeting and discuss the issue in more detail. Upon returning, he acknowledged their presence to the entire room.

“We appreciate you being here,” he said. He described the protestors as “ahead of the curve,” since the board is not discussing next year’s tuition until their next meeting.

The students remained in the Merten Hall room for roughly one hour then left to discuss a potential tuition hike with Rector Davis, Senior Vice President of Administration and Finance JJ Davis, Vice President of University Life Rose Pascarell and Student Body President Khushboo Bhatia, who is also a BOV student representative.

“Students’ perspectives are critically important in this discussion,” Senior VP Davis said. She said it is vital to continue to “find opportunities where the university can explain the complexity of the tuition process and understand what students needs and wants are.”

Senior VP Davis said previous opportunities for this conversation include the Student Government-sponsored tuition town hall, hosted by Senior VP Davis and Pascarell in early March, and the collaboration between administration and GMU Student Power to create a Stay Mason fund, an emergency resource for students who are no longer able to afford Mason tuition.

Parsons agreed the Stay Mason fund was an important success, but said GMU Student Power’s original name for the fund, Access Mason, was more aligned with the organization’s goals.

“Not only does a tuition increase affect students that are already at Mason, but it really…[decreases] the opportunities for graduating high schoolers to come to Mason,” Parsons said. “…“[Our goal is] kind of twofold — making sure students already at Mason can stay and also making our education at Mason more accessible to students who deserve it.”

Parsons said the student protest was a rare event.

“Oftentimes students don’t even know who the Board of Visitors are [or] when their meetings take place, and in reality they make a ton of the really important decisions that affect all of us,” Parsons said.

Other things of note took place during the Finance and Land Use committee meeting as well as throughout the BOV meeting, which included six separate committee meetings and lasted from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

  • The three students recently arrested on charges of drug/alcohol possession and possession of bomb-making materials have been expelled from housing and from the university. The students are in their parents’ custody and are consulting with lawyers.
  • The Finance and Land Use committee discussed various plans to add more beds for on-campus residents. The committee recommended a plan to the board that would add approximately 1,000 beds.
  • Money allocated for the renovation of Robinson Hall was included in Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe’s proposed budget. Senior VP Davis said the university has been asking the state to support this project for a decade.
  • A tentative partnership is forming with Wiley Education Services to embark on an online education initiative. “Nothing has been inked yet,” Senior VP Davis said. Details are expected at the May BOV meeting.
  • Tom Calhoun, vice president of Facilities, updated the FLU committee on several projects. The grand opening of the Point of View Center in Mason Neck will take place this Wednesday. Due to budget problems, the Potomac Science Center is behind schedule, but the new building for the College of Health and Human Services is making good progress.
  • The George Mason University School of Law has been renamed the Antonin Scalia School of Law.

The next BOV meeting is scheduled for May 5 in Merten Hall, according to the BOV website.