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APSU officials respond to plans for student protest

April 15, 2003

Some Austin Peay students held a rally on campus today to voice their opposition to budget cuts and other recent administrative actions announced by University officials.

Dr. Sherry Hoppe, president, acknowledged every person's First Amendment right to peaceful assembly. “The protest rally scheduled for today is an acceptable activity as long as Student Disciplinary Rules are followed,” she said. “Those rules specifically prohibit disorderly conduct and obstruction of or interference with University activities and facilities.

“We expect our students to abide by those rules. We also expect students not participating in the rally to respect the rights of those who do choose to participate.”

Attorney Richard Jackson, who serves in a cabinet-level position as senior adviser to the president for diversity, affirmative action and legal affairs, said, “Longstanding policies of the Tennessee Board of Regents and the University permit students to exercise the right to assemble and speak out on a broad range of subjects as long as University functions and the rights of others are not impaired.”

Hoppe has met more than once with many of the students organizing the rally. According to her, the concerns identified by the African-American students are primarily budget related.

She said, “Austin Peay, like all other state institutions, is being required to cut at least nine percent of our budget for next year. In determining the cuts to be made, the vice presidents and I used the following criteria:
  • Is this service or program critical to the mission of the University?
  • Can the service or program be provided in another way or by different personnel?
  • Will student services be significantly affected by terminating this service or changing the way it is delivered?
  • Will accreditation be affected by terminating this service or changing the way it is delivered?
  • What legal liability, if any, would be incurred if the service or program were discontinued?”
Based on a reduced budget, when considering faculty positions, Hoppe and the vice presidents looked at the number of students being served, the number of classes being taught by part-time faculty and the need for specialized areas within a discipline. For staff positions, they looked at the feasibility of transferring or combining responsibilities. In the case of reduction-in-force, they factored in longevity of service to the University.

Of the five full-time personnel who will lose their jobs July 1, all are Caucasian.

Although final decisions have not been made in some areas, of the 32 positions scheduled to be changed from a 12-month to a 10-month work calendar if the University gets no tuition increase, only six or seven would be African-American, which is equal to 20 percent of the total number being changed to part-time positions.

Hoppe said, “Currently, approximately 21 percent of our professional staff is African American and just under 25 percent of our clerical staff is African-American. Thus, it is clear the changes have not had a disparate affect on African-Americans.”

Hoppe indicated the academic-reorganization proposal was discussed broadly on campus, with African-American faculty, staff and students having had the opportunity to provide input.

“The final proposal to relocate the African American Studies Program and the African American Cultural Center was a modification of the original proposal, taking into account the expressed desires of African-Americans who participated in the discussions,” Hoppe said.

Hoppe indicated she remains open in working with all students as she is forced to make decisions that will affect their academic success.

“The budget cuts we are facing affect all who work and study at Austin Peay,” Hoppe said. “Our goal is to maintain the highest level of instruction and service for all of our students within the limited resources the state provides.”