On Wednesday, over ten thousand of people rallied in downtown Manhattan at the #OccupyWallStreet protests now in their third week. On campuses across the country, students walked out of class in solidarity with the occupiers.
It is not hard to tell that young people, including college students and recent graduates, are upset. We are upset that as we graduate we must struggle to find a job. We are angry with the bankers for getting richer after destroying the economy. And we are furious that money from those same bankers and other corporations is stopping our politicians from making the rich pay their fair share.
The colleges where many of us spend at least four years of our lives, and a huge sum of money, are an important actor in this system themselves. Unfortunately they continue to do little to make the changes that would support their students and future generations. Sometimes they are even working alongside the bankers and corporate interest.
Colleges in the U.S. are big business. They control major amounts of money including about $350 billion in endowments and over $100 billion in annual spending. It is time for colleges to begin thinking about the future of our society and including the fates of their graduates instead of just the bottom line.
Students around the country have tried, with some success, to influence higher education decision makers on a range of issues. They have encouraged policies that support a fairer and more sustainable economy through community and responsible investment. They have rallied around the rights of undocumented immigrants to an education. They have argued for the rights of campus workers and helped secure better conditions and pay for workers abroad making university apparel. Students have also fought for university action on environmental sustainability including a leadership role in fighting for legislation on climate change. Of course they have also fought tuition increases and lobbied for the right to education. These struggles have met with mixed success in part because universities are often run by the same corporate executives who are dodging the needs of the 99%.
But students are rightfully angry at what is going on in this country where they can spend $200,000 on college and still be unable to find a job. It's about time for institutions of higher education to rethink their role in our economy and our society. Colleges must become part of the solution. They can use their endowments to invest in their communities, their purchasing power to help create good living wage jobs and their lecture halls to develop solutions to these crises. It is time for colleges to start building a world where graduates do not feel they need to #OccupyWallStreet. If not, they may soon have to deal with solidarity walk-outs of #occupycolleges becoming #occupycampus takeovers.
Photo from flickr user david_shankbone.
Follow Dan Apfel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/endowmentethics