Earlier this month, campus police at Santa Monica College pepper-sprayed more than two dozen students who were trying to enter a Trustees meeting to protest a tuition hike. Chui L. Tsang, the college’s president, defended the police officers’ conduct, insisting that police used appropriate restraint and did not arrest anyone. (Rivera, 2012).
Last fall, campus police at UC Davis pepper-sprayed students who were peacefully participating in an Occupy Wall Street demonstration. A video of this incident, posted on You Tube, shows a helmeted police officer calmly pepper spraying students who are passively huddled on a campus sidewalk.
What’s going on here? Don’t colleges realize that students are the customers? Don’t they understand how bad they look when people view these incidents on You Tube? How many UC Davis students and Santa Monica College students who witnessed their classmates being pepper sprayed are going to donate money to their alma maters after they graduate?
Campus police should not pepper spray anyone—student or nonstudent—who is not behaving violently or physically threatening other people. The students at UC Davis and Santa Monica College were not behaving violently (although some of the Santa Monica College students were a bit rowdy), and they should not have been pepper sprayed.
Instead of pepper spraying their students, colleges and universities should listen to student protests about the rising cost of tuition and burgeoning student-loan debt; and they should demonstrate that they are taking action to address their students’ concerns.
What should they be doing?
- First, colleges and universities should stop raising tuition while they continue paying extravagant salaries to college presidents and senior executives. They should freeze or reduce the salaries of their highest paid employees—at least until the national economy recovers-- instead of tacking the cost of these excessive compensation packages onto students’ tuition bills.
- Second, college and university trustees should cap tuition and fees until the economy improves, and they should work harder at making their institutions more efficient.
- In addition, higher education should demonstrate their empathy for overburdened student-loan debtors by urging Congress to amend the Bankruptcy Code to give overburdened student-loan debtors reasonable access to the bankruptcy courts. They should also support legislation that would stop the federal government from garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly people who defaulted on their student loans.
The cost of higher education is out of control, total student-loan indebtedness approaches one trillion dollars, and student-loan default rates are alarmingly high. Colleges and universities need to show students that they are helping to solve these problems. Pepper spraying student protesters is the wrong thing to do.
Rivera, C. (2012, April 4). College president defends pepper spray against 'unlawful' crowd. Los Angeles Times. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/04/students-unlawful-pepper-spray-santa-monica-college-president.html