UNO students protest budget cuts: UNO police chief hospitalized after scuffle

This article was published in The Hullabaloo on September 3, 2010.

Two University of New Orleans students were arrested and the UNO chief of police was sent to the hospital Wednesday after a morning of student protests ended in a scuffle.

Charges against the two detained students include resisting arrest and assault and battery of a police officer. UNO Police Chief Tom Harrington said the students punched him as he tried to prevent them from storming the university chancellor’s office on the second floor of the administration building.

“The situation was becoming unsafe and disruptive, and so [Harrington] told them they had to turn around and leave,” UNO Public Relations Director Adam Norris said. He also said the chief had “sustained some injuries to his knee and ankle, but… no bones were broken.”

 

Students were protesting the effects of massive state budget cuts beginning at approximately 6 a.m., when eight UNO students used tables to barricade themselves in Milneberg Hall, the building in which the Dean of Students’ office is located.

Police managed to enter the building two-and-a half hours later through an open window. After forcing the protesters onto the floor with their guns drawn, they allowed the students to speak with the university provost about their concerns.

Protestor and UNO senior Dylan Barr helped organize the demonstration. He said that protests will continue until their message reaches politicians in Baton Rouge. “Their interest is in getting elected and balancing the budget in the short term, even if it increases social problems in the long term,” Barr said.

An estimated 150 – 200 students walked out of class at 10 a.m to join the protest on UNO’s main quad, a cause some of them said their professors supported.

The university has had to slash $14.5 million from their overall budget since 2009, Norris said. “These are not inconsequential cuts,” Norris said. “We’re trying to do it in a way that least affects programs we do best.”

For the next fiscal year, the Louisiana State University System proposed increasing UNO losses by up to 35 percent of their budget, Norris said.

So far, students have seen larger class sizes, fewer available professors and entire departments merge or disappear.

“We all have to wear many hats now,” said Juana Ibáñez, a professor in the recently merged department of geography and anthropology. “Our department hasn’t been allowed to hire new faculty since before Katrina, even though four people have left.”

UNO will either eliminate or downsize several departments, including women’s studies, physics, legal studies, music, business, foreign language and art history.

“We’re having to kill off programs that are 100 percent healthy,” Ibáñez said. “I make more money working one night in a restaurant than I do working a week here,” said Sam Ray, a Spanish teaching assistant at UNO. “We don’t even have a Spanish department anymore; now it’s ‘romance language’ with an emphasis on Spanish.”

UNO student body president John Mineo said he gets the feeling many students have lost hope that anyone cares about them.

“I don’t agree with today’s protestors taking over buildings, but I like their passion,” Mineo said. He plans to mobilize student protesters to show up at Bobby Jindal’s doorstep in Baton Rouge. “We can give them truth and sincerity, but our basic plan is to use numbers because that’s all politicians care about,” he said.

Tania Ross, a UNO sophomore studying urban studies, participated in Wednesday’s protests. “I have a three-year-old daughter and I want her to have the same opportunities I had —growing up in New Orleans and then going to a good public university,” Ross said.

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