01/19/2012 04:02 pm ET Updated Mar 20, 2012

FIU Campuses Should Remain Free of Political Repression

This piece was coauthored with Muhammed Malik.

The arrest of seven young men at an Occupy FIU event last Thursday is the worst violation of freedom of speech in the 39 years that I have been teaching at FIU, and I came to FIU the first year that it opened in 1972-73.

Those arrested were participating in a peaceful musical concert commemorating the second anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti.

Occupy FIU is raising important questions about the inadequacy of funding for state universities in Florida and the poor priorities in spending on the part of FIU. 

The Legislature has cut university spending by tens of millions of dollars over the past few years, while the FIU administration has wasted money on excessive bureaucracy.

Students are required to pay almost $500 per year to support varsity athletics, with over half of this going to the football program.

FIU was once proud that its graduates had the second-lowest debt in the nation. In 1998, FIU graduates owed an average of only $4,580.

By 2011, after tuition had gone up by 75% within only four years, FIU graduates had an average debt of average debt of $14,912.

As the tuition went up, the graduation went down -- from 47% after six years in 2007 to only 43% in 2010.

The most recent authoritative statement by FIU CFO Ken Jessell in a speech to the Faculty Senate is that tuition will increase by 15% a year for the next ten years- - which would bring annual tuition costs to $20,000, a ridiculously high sum.

However, President Mark Rosenberg is quoted as saying at a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce speech that tuition would increase by 50 to 70% over the next five to ten years. A 70% increase over ten years would be only 5% a year.

The administration appears to be in some disarray since Occupy FIU began pushing for an end to unconscionable tuition hikes. The FIU administration has chosen to lash out at students who are questioning high tuition increases instead of engaging them in dialogue.

As someone who supported Mark Rosenberg's candidacy for the FIU presidency and as one of the few FIU people who totally supports his aggressive enrollment growth strategy, I am disheartened that his administration has ordered the arrest of these seven young men.

The FIU administration should drop the charges against all seven.  The FIU administration should seek a dialogue with Occupy FIU. 

Our University can get along without any further tuition increases for many years to come. Enrollment growth will bring us enough revenues to hire many new professors.

If students, professors and administrators work together, we can find solutions which will improve graduation rates and student learning outcomes without the need for higher tuition.

Brian Peterson is an associate professor of History at Florida International University and an activist in Occupy FIU. For the past ten years, he has edited a daily email newsletter on education reform.

Muhammed Malik is a human rights advocate and social commentator, born and raised in Miami, Florida.