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April 10, 2007

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By HAZEL RYERSON, The Water Tower

This week, SLAP (the Student Labor Action Project) will mark the one year anniversary of the Livable Wage Tent City with a second Tent City on the Waterman Green, demanding that UVM pay a livable wage to all University employees and contracted workers.

The administration’s response to last year’s Tent City did not meet the demands of the student protestors, nor did it result in a University-wide livable wage.

In response to the 2006 Tent City, President Fogel created the Basic Needs Task Force, a committee of faculty, administrators, students, and union representatives, with the purpose of making a recommendation for the University in regard to livable wage.

After six months of work, the task force presented their final recommendations to Fogel.  The task force’s consensus report recommended $12.28 as an appropriate livable wage for a University employee.
Livable wage for the city of Burlington, as determined by the Joint Fiscal Office of Vermont (a nonpartisan state department) comes to $13.62 for a single person.

However, in December, Fogel made his official response to the Task Force’s recommendations and announced that the University would implement a new basic needs wage floor of $10.60 for all University employees, not including workers contracted by the University by companies like Sodexho.

This decision outraged leaders of the Livable Wage campaign and members of the task force who felt that Fogel disregarded the months of work put into the report.

This year’s Tent City comes at a crucial time, as UVM is revising the policy on the Freedom of Expression and Dissent, revisions that directly restrict our ability as students to agitate for change.

Sam Maron and Max Tracy, two of the organizers of this year’s tent city, and co-presidents of SLAP, are facing university restrictions on this year’s Tent City that are not in line with the bounds of the policy.  “If [the administration] will not follow their own policies, then the revolution needs no permit,” Maron said.

Under the current policy, there is a 30 day limit for all symbolic structures, including tents. Maron and Tracy requested a two-week permit from Student Life for Tent City and initially only received one night.  After negotiations with Patrick Brown, the director of Student life, SLAP was granted a second night.

It appears that the University is already following the unapproved new freedom of expression policy that limits students’ ability to protest overnight.

As of Sunday, SLAP was told that they could not erect the Tent City on the Waterman Green because of the possibility of damage to the grass.

The changes to UVM’s Freedom of Expression policy reflect a national trend limiting student power on campus.  Students at Ohio University this year protested the implementation of “free speech zones” on their campus as a way for the University to confine student protests.  Georgetown University’s well known and successful hunger strike for a livable wage in 2005 was also confined to a free speech zone on the campus.

“This is a free speech issue.” Maron said in regard to the University’s efforts to limit Tent City. This year’s Tent City will put student free speech rights on the table in addition to the primary issue of livable wage.

SLAP’s Demands:

1. Livable wages for all UVM workers
2. The freedom to organize
3. Responsible contracting policies


© Copyright 2007 The Water Tower News