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The four Ohio University students who were arrested following a tuition increase protest during the university’s board of trustees meeting pleaded innocent in Athens County Municipal Court to a charge of disturbing a lawful meeting.
On Friday morning, about a dozen OU students disrupted the formal OU Board of Trustees meeting in Walter Hall by standing between the board and the audience holding a sign protesting the approved 1.6 percent tuition increase for the 2013-14 academic year. Student Megan Marzec read a statement asking that the trustees suspend raises and bonuses for employees earning more than $100,000 until tuition is frozen.
The trustees and OU President Roderick McDavis left the room during the protest and the students were given two minutes to clear the room or face arrest. Four students — Marzec, Eden Almasude, Jessica Lindner and Ellie Hamrick — were arrested and charged with disturbing a lawful meeting.
On Monday, all four entered a plea of innocent and will have a pre-trial on May 7 at 8 a.m. in municipal court. The charge is a fourth-degree misdemeanor.
Following Friday’s Board meeting, McDavis said he supported the students’ right to exercise their freedom of speech, but said he did not condone the manner in which the students disrupted the meeting.
This week, some fellow students shared that sentiment.
One OU junior, who wished to remain anonymous, said he thinks students have the right to protest the tuition increase, but disrupting the board meeting was taking things too far.
“During the meeting, the (trustees) were attempting to accomplish things for the student body. (The protesters) made their issue of such high importance that they weren’t even allowing the trustees to do their jobs,” the student said. “I personally think the tuition hike is OK for the reasons that they’re doing it and I agree with the protesers’ right to protest and I think they have a valid argument.”
OU junior Turner Matthews said he has respect for someone who’s willing to get arrested to stand up against tuition hikes. However, Matthews said no matter how the students protested, he didn’t believe the board would have listened to the students’ concerns.
Matthews said the ever-rising price of tuition is “depressing.” He said he had a tuition waiver for two years while his parents worked for OU, but they have since taken jobs elsewhere, leaving him to ask his parents for large sums of money to help cover the cost of his education.
He said he hates having to ask his parents to help cover such costs and that he can’t imagine being a student working full-time to cover the expenses himself.
Newly appointed student trustee Keith Wilbur was in attendance at Friday’s board meeting and witnessed the protest first-hand.
Wilbur said three students — Tyler Barton, Ellie Hamrick and Jacob Chaffin — met with him and student trustees Allison Arnold and Amanda Roden on Wednesday to express their concerns about the proposed tuition hike. (Wilbur will take Arnold’s place as student trustee after she graduates from OU next month.)
Wilbur said the students gave the student trustees a detailed list of their concerns. Arnold articulated those concerns to the full board during discussion of the tuition increase during a full board committee meeting on Thursday.
According to Wilbur, the student trustees encouraged the students to attend Board committee meetings on Thursday, in which considerable discussion was held regarding the tuition increase. Instead, the protesting students came to the formal board on Friday and began protesting after the vote had taken place. The 1.6 percent tuition increase was passed unanimously.
Wilbur said the student trustees were aware that the protest was going to take place, but didn’t know how or the extent of the plans.
Barton and Chaffin were part of the protest, but left before arrests were made.
On Tuesday, Wilbur told The Messenger that students expressing their First Amendment rights is one of the things that makes OU special. However, he said that he wasn’t sure the protest was moving the tuition discussion forward in the appropriate channels.
He added that if it was the protesters’ mission to gain media attention, then they succeeded in their effort. However, he said he didn’t think the protest was the right way to change the minds of the board.
The OU Student Union, the group that organized the protest, is planning a “Chop from the Top” demonstration and rally for Thursday at 4:30 p.m. at the College Green Civil War monument.