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OCCUPY COMES TO UMW
Occupy Mary Washington students protest outside meeting of board of visitors

 Occupy UMW protesters meet outside the Jepson Alumni Center to discuss changes they'd like to see on campus.
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Date published: 11/19/2011

BY JEFF BRANSCOME

Around ten University of Mary Washington students approached the school's Jepson Alumni Executive Center yesterday afternoon with a chant.

"Whose school?"

"Our school!"

"Who do you see?"

"BOV!"

"What does it mean?"

"You and me!"

UMW's board of visitors--the school's 12-member governing body--was meeting inside.

The students represented Occupy Mary Washington--an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement that has taken root in various cities.

One of them read a letter addressed to the school's board, and his peers repeated after him.

"We, Occupy Mary Washington, inspired and strengthened by those who struggle for democracy, demand change," they shouted outside the Jepson center. "We will no longer accept the dictates of an oppressive governing body, nor will we be satisfied with token representation."

The students had several demands, including voting membership on the board of visitors for students, faculty and staff; living wages for all employees; and for an end to hierarchical decision-making.

The board of visitors, meanwhile, went about with its meeting.

HONORS PROGRAM

The BOV discussed a variety of topics, including an honors program scheduled to begin in the 2012-13 school year.

The program will accept 50 freshmen who graduate high school with at least a 3.9 grade-point average and a 1300 SAT score. Eventually, it will have 50 students from each class, based on the university's plans.

"I think it will attract some of the brightest and strongest students, which will help to strengthen the university," chemistry professor and honors program director Kelli Slunt said in an interview with The Free Lance-Star.

UMW President Rick Hurley mentioned the honors program last year when he announced his goal for UMW to be the best public liberal-arts school in the nation. Most Virginia schools, including the University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary and James Madison University, have honors programs.

"I think a hallmark of a high-quality institution is having an honors program," Hurley said in an interview.

OCCUPY MARY WASHINGTON

After the meeting, Hurley said he didn't realize students in Occupy Mary Washington had gathered outside the Jepson center for several hours.

He and UMW Rector Dan Steen spoke with the group on Thursday.

"We didn't try to defend ourselves as much as we listened," Hurley said.

Steen, a UMW alumnus, told them that he was an active student. In fact, when he was an undergraduate, Steen helped get a bill passed that required student representation on the board of visitors, Hurley said.

UMW Student Government Association President Ashley Nixon attends board of visitors meetings, but she doesn't have a vote.

Hurley said he told the Occupy Mary Washington students that he's proud of them for taking a stand on issues they feel strongly about.

"I think now that I know more clearly how they feel, I'm going to ask them to meet with me and have an in-depth conversation," he said. "I'm not sure they're aware of all the methods through which we solicit student input."

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402
Email: jbranscome@freelancestar.com