By Briana Williams–
Tuition, meal plans and housing costs were due to increase for the upcoming school year this summer. As many students already struggle to pay for their education, the increase spelled more financial hardship.
After former President James Ramsey’s resignation and dismantling of the board of trustees, some students felt the tuition increase was no longer warranted.
Kate Hall, Kaleb Fischbach and James El-Mallakh were some of those students. The trio sat in on a July board of trustees meeting and spoke out against the tuition increase, questioning university practices and consideration for students.
The Cardinal sat down with Hall and Fischbach to learn more about what motivated the three to speak out.
Hall and Fischbach began their political engagement in high school, attending events pushing for equality and civil rights. From there, working with their local organizations, their passion for activism bloomed.
Hall, Fischbach and El-Mallakh have experience in political and social involvement on U of L’s campus. With activism histories in the LGBT community, Cards United Against Sweatshops and worker’s rights, the trio aren’t strangers to taking action. So speaking up for students’ rights was no problem for them.
“We had a plan, and our plan was to ask questions,” Hall said.
Hall disagreed with how media outlets portrayed the trio as disruptive protesters. The three students are adamant that the needs of U of L students are being ignored and insist their intentions weren’t to be disruptive, but to get necessary information for the student body.
“They said we were lashing out. We weren’t sitting on the floor. We weren’t holding signs. We just wanted to ask questions of our board,” said Hall.
Fischbach agreed, saying they just wanted answers.
“While we have lots of experience in protest, and we were certainly in disagreement with the board’s decisions, I don’t consider what we did an act of protest,” Fischbach said. “We followed the rules, just in a way that surprised them.”
During the meeting, El-Mallakh questioned if the board realized how many U of L students were homeless. The board didn’t directly answer the question, and according to Hall, they dodged most of their questions in general.
“I was disappointed in the board’s reaction to our questions,” Hall said. “They didn’t really answer us and no one interacted with us besides Junior (Bridgeman).”
During the meeting, Chair Junior Bridgeman engaged with the students and even extended an offer to Hall to speak privately together. However, Hall believes they would not have made the same impact in a private meeting. By the end of the board of trustees meeting, Bridgeman postponed the five percent increase.
Students aren’t in the clear yet. A state judge temporarily blocked Governor Matt Bevin’s new board, which would nullify decisions made by 10-member board. The board’s decision to accept Ramsey’s immediate resignation and appoint Neville Pinto as interim president, however, stands.
The legitimacy of Bevin’s board was immediately called into question after it was implemented. Even Bevin and his lawyers have yet to prove its legality, according to Judge Phillip Shepherd. For now, the previous board has been reinstated.
Classes begin in weeks and U of L has a lot on its plate before then. Two things at the top of the to-do list are finding a new president and fixing the board of trustees’ many problems.
With many changes coming to U of L, Hall and Fischbach encourage students to let their voices be heard.
“Band together. Get a group, get a support system. Speak your truth,” Hall said.
“It seems intimidating, but you can be your authentic self. You don’t have to sacrifice your self-expression to talk to them,” Fischbach said.
Despite the issues, the two remain positive on the search for U of L’s next president. Hall said, “If we find a president that genuinely cares about the school and students, we’ll be headed in the right direction.”