Oval Becomes Forum For Students’ Gripes

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Droves of Ohio State University students braved cloudy skies yesterday to vent their frustrations and spread the message of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The crowd, gathered at OSU’s Oval, numbered more than 100 throughout the day, chanting and holding signs with myriad grievances — from student loans to environmental concerns to proposed privatization of university parking. More than 630 people said on Facebook that they would attend the event.

“We mostly want to get students aware,” said Chelsea Pflum, an OSU senior studying philosophy and international studies. “I hope (students) learn more, especially about the privatization of parking lots because that’s not something that’s well-known.”

Throughout the afternoon, participants listened to music, shared stories and hoisted signs before marching to the Statehouse, where protesters affiliated with Occupy Columbus continued their vigil. The group sent representatives to the Columbus City Council meeting last night, while another affiliated group drafted a letter to university President E. Gordon Gee.

Literature disparaged “corporate greed” and unequal distribution of wealth, highlighting the 98 OSU employees who made more than $300,000 in 2009 as compared to one making that amount in 2000. Gee made $802,126 in 2009 while the highest paid employee in 2000 was Fred Sanfilippo, dean of the College of Medicine and Public Health Administration, who made $450,000.

A letter on display named more than 60 university professors who supported the movement, and several professors spoke during periodic teach-ins. Pranav Jani, an associate professor of English, highlighted the similarities and connections between the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East, while Gene Holland, an arts and humanities professor, disparaged capitalism.

“Capitalism can only sustain itself with war, which is unacceptable,” he said. “It’s not that capitalism is in crisis. Capitalism is the crisis.”

Thousands of other students passed through the area on the way to and from classes. A group opposed to the rally gathered nearby and debated with Occupy the Oval supporters throughout the day. Police reported no incidents or arrests associated with the gathering.

“It’s all about socialism. That’s the true nature of the movement,” said Zena Aziz, an OSU student studying French and political science and a member of the Laissez-Faire Syndicate, a pro-capitalist group.

Daniella Augenstein, founder of the Laissez-Faire Syndicate and an OSU student, said she opposed the Occupy the Oval group’s opposition to privatization of higher education, saying she thought a deregulated economy would be more effective.

"Privatization has become something of a dirty word,” Augenstein said. “With public education, to be effective and innovative, it needs to be deregulated and privatized.”

Mike Pataky, of the conservative group, said he did not think the wealthy were responsible for social and economic conditions, and banks should not be punished for them. He said individuals should be responsible for their own wealth.

“(The Occupy movement’s) whole idea is this socialistic kind of taking from others to provide for themselves,” Pataky said.

Still, Occupy the Oval demonstrators said the rally was a success, and more gatherings are planned.

“I bet we could agree on a lot of things if we sat down and talked about them,” Pflum said of the dissenting viewpoints, “I don’t think you can say we’re all necessarily socialist.”

Tristan Navera is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau.