Emerson College Student Union undergoes renovation in light of transparency issues
Emerson College has experienced significant economic, safety, and social challenges resulting in the re-unionization of students. The college’s student union has been dormant since 2020 and the class of 2025 came together to revise a new student union group.
Students have made demands for collective bargaining, transparency, accessible healthcare, protection for vulnerable populations, and expanded compensation for staff. Dylan Young, Amaya Gonzalez-Mollman, and David Sazdic are three among many students who have participated in the re-unionizing effort due to their personal experiences.
“We are hoping to start a campaign against the privatization of basic needs in education,” said Young, a sophomore at Emerson.
In April 2022, students organized a tuition protest as their first event once finding out that over the last 10 years, the college has raised tuition a total of $25,000.
Sophomore Gonzalez-Mollman recalls going out on Boylston St. and the Boston Common to hand out flyers and spark conversation. The main goal of the union is community building and service. Members have gotten out in the community for protests, river cleaning, and meditation sessions.
While members have had the opportunity to listen to each other’s concerns and bond over shared experiences, the group has faced backlash.
“During an organizational fair, two administrative employees came up to our table, pointed at the food and said ‘we pay for your welfare,’ and then walked away,” said Gonzalez-Mollman.
There’s a “miscommunication” taking place between the administration and students, said Sazdic.
This has left students feeling “replaceable and like we don’t matter,” said Young
The cost of attendance at Emerson College has risen 48.46% over the past 10 years. Tuition alone has had a 56% increase in the same period.
David Sazdic, an international student from Sweden, expressed concern about the rise of tuition.
“As an international student, I don't have access to a lot of the loans that Americans have access to here at Emerson,” said Sazdic. “It's difficult to get loans from your country when you've been living internationally for a while.”
While students understand the cost of supply and demand for higher education, Emerson students are concerned about where all this money is going.
The staff at Emerson are currently attempting to negotiate a new contract for cost-of-living adjustments according to a post on their Instagram. Staff includes people working in the dining halls to security guards. Any Emerson employee apart from professors and administration faces different treatment.
Staff hired during the COVID-19 pandemic have gone without a raise for 3 years. Wages have fallen 10% due to inflation. Sazdic, Young, and Gonzalez-Mollman have all seen staff members working multiple jobs on campus.
The members are advocating for increased staff funding by voicing their concerns and showing support for staff on social media and advocating for increased funding.
“80% of the faculty and staff last year wouldn't receive the compensation that they would have at peer institutions,'' said Young. “When we pay 89% of the school's profit, and we have a $300 million endowment that is pretty much only going to personal funds.”
Over the past year and a half, 30% of staff has been lost. One office hit hard by staffing shortages is the Title IX office, which, according to Young and Gonzalez-Mollman, has only two staff members present.
This has created safety concerns the union intends to address.
Title IX requires universities to protect all students, faculty, and staff from sex-based discrimination. At Emerson, multiple students’ say their Title IX cases have been disregarded.
“I know multiple people who filed [formal Title IX complaints] that just like never got investigated because of a lack of staffing.” Said Gonzalez-Mollman.
The current role of President at Emerson has been dormant since 2021, William Gilligan serves as interim president. Gilligan has not made any comments on the union.
Members of the Emerson Student Union want to make a broader statement about the privatization of universities due to their personal experiences deemed “inhumane.”
Diversity, success rate, cost and political affiliation are all important aspects of a university to applicants. Emerson checks off a lot of student’s boxes in these areas. The problem lies within privatization.
Private colleges are owned by private organizations. Funded through tuition paid by students, and donations from alumni or other organizations.
Public colleges have been founded and funded by the State government. Due to this, there are different rules that apply to private universities.
Students at Emerson express concern for the university going in the direction of profit-seeking. “The continued focus on profit from our education is very worrying, especially because it often takes a toll on the people who the institution is hurting,” said Young.
When students encounter issues at a private university. As long rules don't violate the law, federal and state, Private universities have the right to impose their own rules and regulations. If a student encounters something that infringes on their rights, they have to be represented by an attorney. This makes it almost impossible for a college student to get justice unless spending thousands of dollars on an attorney. This leaves students with an ultimatum: deal with it or leave.
In February 2022 three graduate students at Harvard University filed a lawsuit against professor John L. Comaroff for sexual misconduct after claiming that “Harvard’s deliberate indifference” to their title XI cases allowed Comaroff to “sabotage students’ careers if they complained.”
Filling a lawsuit was the only way these students could get the attention from the administration. Allegations stem from 2017 according to the Harvard Crimson and the title XI investigation went on for over a year starting in 2020
Comaroff was placed on administrative leave and returned to campus to teach for the fall 2022 semester.
Although Harvard has its own controversies, there’s one big difference in comparison to Emerson: political influence.
Harvard spent $560,000 on federal lobbying during President Joe Biden’s first year in office. The mass accumulation of wealth gives ivy league schools a foot in the door when it comes to tax decisions
Harvard’s political influence means that they need a good reputation among students; problems are more readily addressed in order to keep tuition high and acceptance rates low.
Harvard and other private schools will still get thousands of applications a year no matter the mistakes they avoid because higher education is sought out and competitive.
As long as they are given money: private universities will capitalize off of dreams.