Giving It the Old College Outcry

Ever since students at the University of Wisconsin protested the
presence of napalm manufacturer Dow Chemical on their campus in
1967, college students have been fighting the corporate world’s
creep into the academy. During the 2000-01 school year, activists
on many campuses sought to put their university’s academic mission
ahead of corporate partnerships. The flawed presidential election,
campus race relations, and poverty wages for university employees
also raised student ire. Following is Mother Jones magazine’s 2001
ranking of the best of student activism. (It was completed before
the terrorist attacks of September 11. John Nichols in The Nation
magazine, however, points to Wesleyan College as leading U.S.
campuses in challenging our military assault on the Afghan
people.)

1. Yale University
Student protesters forced Yale and its business partner
Bristol-Meyers Squibb (BMS) to relax the patent on Zerit, an AIDS
drug developed by Yale scientists that brought BMS $618 million in
profits in 2000. The students collaborated with Doctors Without
Borders in an attempt to shame the university into making the drug
cheaply available in Africa. It worked: Yale and BMS agreed to
allow production of a generic version of the drug,
royalty-free.

2. Pitzer College
When the seven-college Claremont consortium in California announced
that it wanted to build a new biotech campus–promising industry
backers broad influence over the curriculum–students at Pitzer took
to the streets. They spent the summer of 2000
collecting thousands of signatures to force a public referendum on
the plan. University officials shelved the proposal temporarily,
but protests continued throughout the school year. At a March 2001
sit-in, students chained themselves to garbage cans filled with
concrete; 10 were arrested and removed–with the aid of
forklifts.

3. Pennsylvania State University
Race relations at Penn State, where African Americans make up only
4 percent of the student body, were stretched to the breaking point
by a series of anonymous death threats aimed at black students.
Hundreds of protesters took over the student union to demand that
the administration address the climate of racial intolerance. The
sit-in ended 10 days later when the school’s president promised to
establish an Africana Studies Research Center and create $350,000
in new minority scholarships.

4. Harvard University
The 46 students who staged a three-week occupation of the
president’s office succeeded in putting a national spotlight on the
low wages the nation’s wealthiest university pays its custodial and
food-service workers. The protest–which stirred debate about the
living-wage movement in media as diverse as Fox News, Business
Week, and The Nation–ended when Harvard promised to raise the wages
of food-service workers, although other employees will continue to
make considerably less.

5. Howard University
After fellow student Prince Jones Jr. was shot five times and
killed by an undercover officer in Prince George’s County,
Maryland, in a case of mistaken identity, more than 200 Howard
students marched on the U.S. Department of Justice. Their outcry
caught the attention of then-Vice President Al Gore–who interrupted
a campaign speech at Howard to speak out on the killing–and
prompted a federal investigation of the use of lethal force by the
Prince George’s police department.

6. University of Michigan
Michigan’s entrance into the Worker Rights Consortium, which
polices the labor practices of university apparel licensees,
initially prompted Nike to pull out of licensing negotiations with
the school, but in January 2001, Nike agreed to reforms and signed
a seven-year pact. Just weeks later, however, a consortium audit
found that Nike was continuing to do business with a Mexican
factory that had fired striking workers. Thanks to student
pressure, Nike agreed to push the factory owners to improve working
conditions and reinstate the workers.

7. Florida A&M University
Students at this predominantly African American school in
Tallahassee were outraged at the disproportionate number of black
voters disenfranchised in the 2000 presidential election. On
November 10, one day into the recount, some 800 Aggies occupied
three floors of the state capitol, demanding, and later winning, a
meeting with Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris.

8. Oberlin College
In November 2000, 110 Oberlin students journeyed 818 miles from
their Ohio campus to Fort Benning, Georgia, to demand that the army
close the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
The institute, formerly known as the School of the Americas, has a
dark history, having trained many Latin American military officers
later tied to human-rights atrocities.

9. University of California-Los Angeles
In March, a thousand UCLA students rallied to demand that the UC
system reinstate affirmative action, storming the Royce Hall
auditorium and forced the cancellation of a televised debate among
L.A. mayoral candidates, several of whom stayed to join the
protest.

10. University of Wisconsin
The Badgers stand out for their commitment to Ecopledge, an
organization that attempts to persuade corporations to be more
environmentally conscious. The 9,000 UW Ecopledge signers–more than
a fifth of the student body–have vowed not to work for, or purchase
from, the likes of Boise Cascade, Disney, or DaimlerChrysler until
the companies improve their environmental records.
From Mother Jones (Sept./Oct. 2001).
Subscriptions: $20/yr. (6 issues) from Box 334, Mt. Morris, IL
61054.

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