“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” - Paulo Freire
The Fate of the University
Higher education is changing. University administrations are budget cutting, privatizing, power consolidating, and tuition hiking. In Ohio, we’re facing the prospect of charterization of our public colleges through the enterprise university plan, and a larger trend of corporatization of our public educational institutions.

The university is a point of struggle: the future will be decided here. If we want a free, fair, democratic society, then our universities must reflect that. Right now, universities mirror broader society, and reflect the inequality, injustice, and concentration of power that threatens our democracy If we don’t come together as students, and demand not just a voice, but an instrumental role in shaping the institutions we live in and pay for, then business will continue as usual, and 4-year public education will become 4-year corporate job-training. If the last 30 years have taught us anything, it’s that policy change requires people power. To make higher education more accessible and diverse, more inclusive and democratic; to make it affordable, and to lift the crushing burden of debt off of our shoulders: we need student power.

The Birth of the Ohio Student Association

In late January, students from around the great, flat state of Ohio gathered in Columbus for a weekend to form a statewide student organization. Despite an untimely snowstorm, that kept many students from northern schools in their cozy dorm rooms, about 100 Ohio college students participated in the historic weekend. Between meeting new friends, eating delicious pizza, and talking about politics, we actually got a whole lot done.

Our tangible accomplishments may have been structural details, committee formation, and agreeing on a statewide action plan for national day of action for education on March 1st, but our two-day collective transformation was truly astonishing.

On Saturday morning, we wiped the snow off our shoes, hung up our coats, and sat down, sipping our coffee quietly as the excitement began to build. We were passionate about a diverse set of issues affecting diverse populations, and at times, our excitement even became frustration and disagreement as we searched for the the intersections between the issues we cared about the most. And yet, Sunday when we left after a short rally, we were the Ohio Student Association: committed to social change, and building student power in our state.

Many Issues, One Fight

From presentations, and conversations; discussions and disagreements, it became clear to us as a group, that our issues were all ensnared in the web of power in our state. Our universities are not isolated; they’re affected from the outside by political power and corporate power, and from the inside by powerful administrators and trustees. We mapped out our state’s power structure, and initially, we felt a bit overwhelmed. But we realized that universities cannot exist without us, and as students, we have a ridiculous amount of untapped power -- we just have to unleash it. To unleash student power, we recognized that we needed to work together. So we did. Sometimes we disagreed; sometimes we raised our voices, but that’s the reality of cooperation and democracy. We live in a society that teaches us to find individual solutions to collective problems. It doesn’t work now, and it never will. Collective solutions require teamwork, cooperation and respect, and by the end of the weekend, that’s what we had for each other: respect. Respect for each other as problem-solvers and decision-makers.

But our universities don’t have that sort of respect for all of us. If they did, our decision-making structures would be more democratic, and we would have an instrumental role in shaping our institutions. We would have, in two words: student power. Our universities treat us like children, but we’re demanding to be treated like adults.

To Students:

The Ohio Student Association came about, because a group of passionate students decided that they were tired of searching for individual solutions for collective problems. It was difficult at times, but mostly it was just really exciting. Organize your campus. Build coalitions, and work together. Talk about what unites you rather than what divides you. Transform yourself and your university. If not us, who? If not now, when? Seize the time!