Fed up with conventional higher education, a group of students established an alternative university on the Diag this week.

Sarah Royce
Passersby mill through Tent State University, an alternative university students set up to illustrate student concerns with higher education, on the Diag Monday. (AARON HANDELSMAN/Daily)

Tent State University, which ran Monday through Wednesday, was held under four large tents erected on the Diag.

Organizers said the goal of Tent State was to protest the current state of higher education. The event involved keynote speakers, workshops and student-run classes as well as entertainment and public art.

Organizers portrayed the University administration as inaccessible and undemocratic. They also painted a University education as increasingly unaffordable.

Tuition went up more than 12 percent for in-state students and 6.9 percent for out-of-state students this year, nearly four times the rate of inflation.

“Everyone complains about it, but no one sees tuition increases as something we can change,” said Claire Beyer, a lead organizer of Tent State.

Tent State organizers hoped to change that perception.

The Michigan Organization of Students, an umbrella group of 39 student and faculty organizations, organized Tent State. The number of groups involved was a reflection of the group’s belief that student unity is the remedy for the shortcomings of higher education today.

According to organizers, a student union – a student-led organization designed to lobby on behalf of students – is the only way to effectively address these problems.

Leaders of MOS said uniting the campus enough to eventually create a student union is a daunting task, but they said Tent State is the first step.

“(The event) is a way to bring the membership of many student organizations together on one big project,” Beyer said.

Organizers would not specifically say what needs to be done to improve higher education, explaining that they need more student input before they can speak for the student body.

Each organization that participated in Tent State was given the opportunity to teach its own class in the tents. Class subjects ranged from a presentation on HR 4437, the divisive immigration bill, by Migrant and Immigrant Rights Awareness, to a how-to workshop on graffiti by Fighting Obstacles Knowing Ultimate Success.

“(The variety of workshops) is a great way to visualize the interconnectedness of everything,” said Adri Miller, a member of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality.

Rebecca Tarlau, a Tent State organizer, said the array of courses at Tent State “is a critique of the current system, but it is also a showcase that an alternative is possible.”

Organizers said they wanted to highlight common goals of often-contentious campus groups.

“There are hundreds of student groups on campus, but they each have their own focused agenda,” Beyer said. “We want to help to bring them all together.”

Alma Davila-Toro, who led the graffiti workshop with Fighting Obstacles Knowing Ultimate Success, said uniting campus groups is an important goal.

“Our mission at FOKUS is to unite the student body using arts as a common medium,” she said. “So we were excited about that part of Tent State.”

At the workshop, Toro showed students how to sign their name in graffiti in an effort to illustrate the power of art.

Beyer said she was pleased with the turnout.

“As far as promoting the Michigan Organization of Students, I guess we will see in the fall,” she said.

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