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Marchers protest "death" of higher education in state

April 16, 2002

Clad in black and carrying cardboard coffins bearing the names of cancelled or threatened Austin Peay programs, some 200 people marched through the streets of downtown Clarksville this weekend to protest predicted state cuts in education.

Among the "mourners" were Austin Peay faculty and students. Public school teachers, a representative of the NEA and County Executive Doug Weiland and Mayor John E. Piper also joined the group.

The protest actually began Friday evening, as some 15 people attended a "wake" at a downtown location. Those gathered listened to languages and literature professor Dr. Tim Winters on "All Things Considered," a popular Nashville Public Radio show, as he discussed the impact cuts could have on education.

The march, which began Saturday at 11 a.m. was "energetic," according to Dr. Michael Schnell, associate professor of languages and literature, who, along with Winters, organized the event.

Marchers sang a revamped version of "The Tennessee Waltz" and chanted "Tax reform now!" and "Fight DOGs with CATS!"

"CATS stands for 'Create an Adequate Tax System,'" Schnell explains. "DOGs" refers to the Downsizing Our Government budget recently proposed by legislators, a plan that many say would have devastating effects on education in general and higher education in particular.

In what seemed to be a protest of the acronym given to the brutish budget under consideration, two dogs led by Professor Barry Kitterman, languages and literature department, joined the procession. Kitterman, at the other end of the dogs' taut leashes, carried a sign announcing, "These dogs want tax reform."

The procession began in front of Browning, crossed College on University, proceeded down University to Franklin, turned right and then made its way to Public Square, according to Schnell. After remarks by Dr. Jacqueline Wade, director of Austin Peay's African American Cultural Center, marchers took their protest down Second Avenue and back to campus, where students and other organizers made concluding remarks.

Highlights of the event were captured by local and Nashville media, including "The Leaf Chronicle," "The Tennessean," Channel 2, Channel 5, TV-43, WPLN, WJZM and "The All State."

The procession was met with stares, along with "some waving and applause and honking," Schnell says. There was also "an incoherent shout or two" from someone who may have represented the anti-reform faction, he says.

But Schnell says he believes income-tax protesters are part of a vocal yet shrinking minority. "We wanted to show our local legislators that public education matters a great deal to Tennesseans. We also wanted to show that Tennesseans are getting less, not more, for their money because of cuts in funding for education."

Did they meet their objective? Schnell believes so. "We at least led the horse to water," he says.