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Issues of Tuition & Living Wage Converge

Governor Bob McDonnell issued a letter earlier this month urging college presidents and boards to hold the line on in-state tuition.

The plea was repeated Thursday by the University of Virginia’s Rector Helen Dragas, but the board of visitors voted 14 to 2 to increase tuition and fees by 3.8%  or about $450 for in-staters and 4.8% -- just over $1,800 for students from other states. 

The board approved even bigger tuition and fee hikes for students in the law, business, engineering and medical schools.

The meeting was disrupted twice by students demanding a living wage for housekeepers, cooks, maintenance workers and other staff. About a hundred students rallied outside the Rotunda, demanding a living wage for the lowest-paid employees at UVA.  

Organizer Dana Dennis knows many hourly workers earn well over the minimum wage, but she says a growing number are employed by private companies that have contracts with the university. “Even though direct employees will be getting paid the base wage of $11.30 an hour, contract employees can be paid as little as the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour.  Now these employees are doing, in many cases, the exact same job as direct employees, in terms of cleaning the university, maintaining the grounds, feeding the students.”

Two members of the College Republicans club, Liz Minneman and Kate Gaziano, staged their own counter-protest – contending a wage-hike for the lowest paid workers would mean cuts elsewhere.

Supporters of the living wage marched into the Rotunda, where they continued to shout their demands.  Eventually, ten were allowed to enter a meeting of the board of visitors on the second floor, where – despite promises of good behavior – they renewed their chants and were ejected.
A second group of ten replaced the first in the fairly crowded conference room.  When it was apparent the board would not take-up their topic, that group also began shouting and was ushered out by security guards.  

The board of visitors talked at length about the lack of state support for higher education, the need to raise revenues to end a five-year freeze on faculty salaries and to cover rising costs for student aid and maintenance of new facilities built with money from wealthy donors.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief