March 28, 2016

Petition urges pres to buy his own house

CIn response to the CSU Foundation’s decision to purchase President Ronald Berkman a new house, a student-started petition to strike this action, calling on the Foundation to require the president to buy his own housing, was posted online Feb. 28.

Gaining steam quickly via social media — having been shared almost 1,300 times to Facebook, the petition gained hundreds of signatures in mere hours. Picked up by WKYC, the momentum only continued to grow; prompting the signature goal to raise from 1,000 to 1,500 just days after it was first posted to

While the petition statement acknowledges that student’s tuition or fees do not go into the cost of the new house, it echoes long-standing frustrations with the spending habits of the university and Foundation as seen through the eyes of students, faculty, staff and alumni.

“Although no tuition or state funds will go towards paying for this move, it is important to understand that this money was donated to the university with the intent that it would benefit the students, not a president who makes over $400,000 a year as a base salary,” the petition description states.

“Meanwhile, the average [Cleveland State] student is over $24,000 in debt, repairs are desperately needed around campus, department funding is being cut and adjunct professors suffer on starvation wages,” it continues. “[…] We, the students and faculty who this money should rightfully be used to help, demand that this funding be repurposed into a budget that works for everyone, not just the interests of our President.”
With 970 signatures and counting, the petition has gained support in and outside of Ohio. Creator Robert Opsahl, member of the Student Socialist Society, has long fought for equality on campus — be it social, economic or racial.

“This was a cause that was kind of deeply upsetting to us,” Opsahl explained, “because of the fact that while students on campus struggle to pay their loans, pay for housing and even in some cases pay for food, the president is asking the university to pay for his third living arrangement.”

His frustrations are echoed by comments on the petition itself, many from students and recent alumni who take issue with the number of times Berkman has relocated compared to the little help they receive from the university.

“Berkman spent my graduation ceremony asking for donations instead of talking about the graduates,” Maria Arroyo, a recent alumnus, wrote. “I guess I know where donation money goes.”

While most students recognize that the money is not coming directly from their pockets, this does not dissuade their anger toward the university’s decision. Opsahl has been in contact with the Student Government Association which, according to him, wishes he wouldn’t have had such a heavy-handed approach, but are mostly on-board with his position nonetheless

Gaining support from other student groups like the Student Feminist Coalition and Justice League, Opsahl said he hopes to receive a direct response from the university as the number of signatures grows.
“A petition is used for two things: One, it’s meant to get the word out — it’s meant to spread the message across campus and also to [reach] alumni, who need to understand what their money is going to when they donate to the school,” he said. “And also its second method is to, of course, actually get the attention of the administration and have them do something about it, if we can get enough signatures, if we can get enough force behind this.”

When prompted for a response, Rob Spademan, chief marketing officer and university spokesperson, reiterated that housing for the president will serve to help the university in the long run.

“We are aware of the online petition and respect the right of anyone to voice [his] opinion on university matters,” Spademan wrote. “A presidential residence will serve as a long-term investment for the university and assist in promoting critical fundraising activities essential to the financial health of [Cleveland State] and our commitment to provide increased scholarship funding to our students.”

But members of the Cleveland State community are still unhappy, including adjunct faculty, whose salary and benefits are well below that of their full-time counterparts.

“By the time I stopped serving as an adjunct faculty member, my pay had declined to less than $10 per-student-per-month, with no benefits and not even discounted parking,” Pamela McKee, who taught in the art history department, wrote. “The administration has swollen to an insupportable level while tenured and tenure-track positions have declined. Berkman and his ilk are a huge part of the problem. The university would do well to try to live into its slogans.”

At press time, neither the CSU Foundation nor administration had reached out to Opsahl to discuss the students’, alumni’s and faculties’ concerns.


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