Students can affect contract dispute outcome

Guest columnist

The July 13 Summer Kent Stater editorial “Students may lose most in possible strike” hit the matter square on the head when they asserted Kent State students have a serious stake in the bargaining dispute between the administration and faculty. The editorial went on to call for student interests to be considered during this process. However, students should be wary of having their interests simply “kept in mind” by the disputants or “let in” to the negotiations as the Stater calls for. Instead, as students, we must speak for ourselves — otherwise it is likely that our interests will only be evoked by the administration to pressure the faculty into accepting an unfair agreement.

When we become aware of our interests, we enhance our position and thus our collective power. Our interests include attending classes, graduating in a timely manner and accomplishing these goals at an affordable price while receiving the highest quality service. While we should be self-interested, so to speak, we would be wise to avoid the lure of selfishness. Therefore, our self-interest must have attached to it an acute awareness of the balance of power in this dispute as well as how the invocation of our interests by one party over the other can tip the scale of balance in their favor. In other words, if one side can claim, “We care about the students, we want what is best for them,” how does this ability to speak for us enhance that party’s position, especially in the so-called “court of public opinion?” And further, is it fair if it is done absent our consent?

Already the administration is doing just that. They have stated that increasing health care benefits for the faculty will be a major factor behind the rise in tuition costs once again (“Tuition affected by new contract negotiations,” Summer Kent Stater, June 22). This is simply not true. There are a number of factors that influence the rising costs of tuition for students at Kent State as well as for the other state schools in Ohio. Faltering state support and a deadbeat federal government have kept tuition on the rise steadily for years now. The administration is using one of our interests (low tuition) without our consent in order to strengthen their position. This half-truth fits neatly into the fallacy that student interests are incompatible with those of the faculty.

It is likely that, as talk of a possible strike gains steam in the coming weeks, the administration will invoke our interests without our consent (as we lack a voice) in order to prevent the faculty from taking action they feel is necessary to redress the power imbalance. It is also discouraging to read that our executive director for Undergraduate Student Senate has tacitly given support to the administration’s position by beseeching the faculty to not strike (“USS leader voices concerns,” Summer Kent Stater, July 20).

Contrary to popular belief, students can act from a position of power instead of one of dependency and powerlessness. But first, we, as students, need to take ownership of our interests in order to enhance our position and then speak intentionally and collectively with a voice of our own. In doing so, we may find that we have more in common with the faculty than those who have already begun to speak for us — the administration — have led us to believe.

Tim Mayer is a senior applied conflict management major and a guest columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].