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Acting with tacit approval from faculty and adminstrators, thousands of striking students at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst have brought the campus to a standstill this week protesting planned state cuts in education funding.
Most classrooms remained empty early this week as hundreds of students rallied outside the student union waving placards and listening to speakers protest the cuts, according to the Associated Press.
An editorial in the university newspaper, the Daily Collegian, read this week, "Until the legislature listens, on strike," followed by a blank page.
"Right now we have 60 percent of the students on strike," said strike organizer Lisa Nelson, a junior. "We have the total support of the faculty, and the graduate students. It is not just the radical left that is doing this."
Student action comes in response to faculty and library cutbacks and a plan before the state legislature to cut $25 million from the state's higher education budget. Under the proposal, which is part of a bid to reduce a $700 million-plus overall state deficit, the Amherst campus would lose $6.4 million next year and raise students' curiculum fees by $350 next semester, to $1465.
Amherst administrators and the Massachusetts Society of Professors (MSP) have endorsed students' goals.
Giving the official university position, acting news director Arthur Clifford said, "Students may follow their conscience, but faculty are not free to abstain from their responsibilities."
But some professors cancelled classes anyway, and many supported the strike by changing teaching plans. Some professors used class time to discuss state spending issues, took students outside to protests or moved courses to avoid crossing picket lines.
"The executive committee of the MSP shares our students' outrage at the repeated cuts in the University budget and opposes any further fee hikes, staff reductions or budget cuts...We request that the faculty not penalize students who are participating in the strike, absences should be excused, assignments and tests postponed," the professors' society declared in a press release.
Faculty should "keep teaching, but shift the focus of teaching to the crisis at hand and how to resolve it," said MSP president John Cole.
Student organizers said they plan to send a lobbying contingent to Boston today, and university officials have encouraged students to lobby legislators by phone and mail.
Nelson did not say how long the strike would last, but added that Amherst students are hoping to gather support from graduate students and other UMass campuses.
Amherst State Rep. Stan Rosenberg said he supports the strike "as long as it produces positive political action. Student activity throughout the last month has helped focus attention on higher education."
But the representative urged students to "recognize at what point the strike will have run its course. Most legislators are more influenced by lobbying."
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