Top 10 activist campuses

This year, our winners took on the big, bad budget knife.

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For our second annual ranking of activist college campuses, we asked some groups who know a thing or two about good work, including the likes of Amnesty International and Habitat for Humanity. They helped us develop a list of 10, and we took it from there. Here’s how we ranked them:

1. SUNY/CUNY (New York) As police sprayed tear gas on 10,000 students protesting cuts outside New York’s City Hall, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani suggested they put away their placards and “find a job for the day.” Students from the State University of New York and the City University of New York pressured legislators to reduce their initial budget cuts. But that probably won’t silence students, who are still stuck with a $750-a-year tuition hike, the state’s largest ever.

2. University of Wisconsin (Madison, Wis.) When grates began appearing around outdoor heating ducts last winter, students saw it for what it was: a cold-shoulder treatment to the homeless. Administrators said the homeless–who sleep next to the ducts for warmth–create a menacing environment. Students claimed the university just wanted to hide the homeless problem from potential students and parents. Two months later, after protests, the grates were removed.

3. University of California, Los Angeles Students unsuccessfully fought Prop. 187 (which cuts health care and education for illegal immigrants) with voter-registration drives (UC students registered about 15,000 people). When 187 passed, students pressured the university to listen to them–and ignore the law. The UCLA chancellor agreed, pending legal battles.

4. Michigan State University (East Lansing, Mich.) When Gov. John Engler said he would end the Indian tuition-waiver program, breaking a 60-year-old treaty that promised generations of Indians a free education in exchange for land, MSU students chanted “Promises Made, Promises Kept,” at rallies and organized a campaign. In response, legislators reauthorized the program, which supported 2,700 students statewide last year. (But Engler promises to cut the waiver in 1996.)

5. University of Hawaii Students systemwide fought successfully to save a course subject taught virtually nowhere else–the Hawaiian language. “We’re not asking for more money,” said language student and lecturer Laiana Wong. “We’re saying don’t take any away.” They didn’t.

6. Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.) After a professor posted fliers advertising “treatment programs” for homosexuals, activists staged a sit-in near his office. While they let the fliers hang, students organized public dialogues about free speech.

7. Rutgers University (New Jersey) Students demanded the ouster of President Francis L. Lawrence after he remarked that African-Americans lack the “genetic hereditary background” to score well on college entrance exams. Protests–including a takeover of a nationally televised Rutgers basketball game–drew national attention. While Rutgers’ board backed the president (who made repeated public apologies), it also adopted a student-faculty task force’s plan to ease racial tensions.

8. Antioch College (Yellow Springs, Ohio) Activists at this 600-student school picketed John Kasich, GOP chair of the House Budget Committee, for student-aid cuts. After an ugly protest at Kasich’s state office (police were heavy-handed with tear gas), professors provided class time on nonviolent protest.

9. University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, N.C.) Youngsters at five area Head Start schools get one-on-one lessons from UNC volunteers. Students at Chapel Hill (home to the national Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education) also tutor homeless families, autistic children, and adults learning English as a second language.

10. University of Colorado (Boulder, Colo.) After launching demands for a more ethnically diverse curriculum in dramatic fashion–a hunger strike–students gained a major in comparative ethnic studies for the first time, and a student-faculty task force wrote a plan to increase diversity among teaching staff.

Honorable Mentions: At the University of Florida, students protested a Gainesville redevelopment plan that would have doubled rents. Bradford College students in Bradford, Mass., blocked administrators’ attempts to keep transgender activist Leslie Feinberg from delivering a commencement address. And in Canada, University of Ottawa students pelted a government official with eggs and macaroni (eggs and macaroni?) when steep cuts in higher education were announced.

Sources: U.S. Student Association, Student Environmental Action Coalition, National Student News Service, University Conversion Project, Amnesty International, NOW, Peace Corps, Habitat for Humanity, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National Council of La Raza, United Negro College Fund, Midwest Asian American Student Union, National Puerto Rican Coalition.


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