By Issac Scott
Evergreen’s future is in real trouble as state budget cuts decimate programs we hold dear. Perhaps the most vivid example is the impending closure of the Evergreen Gallery, located in the library. It’s been there since 1971, quietly showing off world-renowned artists and the college’s awesome permanent collection, which includes pieces by Andy Warhol and Diane Arbus. Next year, it will likely be gone, with the fate of the permanent collection seemingly tenuous as well.
Evergreen’s reputation is largely based on the strength of its extra-curricular programs, giving students opportunities to work on professional-scale projects in a town where such opportunities are often hard to come by. Spaces like the Evergreen Gallery, Photoland, and Media Loan consistently make it feel worthwhile to be a student here.
But there’s no reason to think that closing any number of beloved college resources will be enough to prevent Evergreen’s downward slide. It should be apparent that the Evergreen Gallery will not be the last precious space to disappear. The Evergreen Gallery is not the problem—it’s the state’s tax system and its policies toward higher education.
I came to Evergreen in 2011, at the peak of the college’s enrollment. Since then, 20 percent of the student body has evaporated, and the sense of excitement at the school has dampened to something closing in on numb complacency.
Enrollment hit a high of 4,800 between 2009 and 2011, and is now down to mid-90s levels, around 3,900. Since 2008, tuition rates have jumped 70 percent, while support from the state is a third of what it was then. Every quarter this year students have uniformly complained of dwindling class options. And by the way, what ever happened to concerts on campus, once a hallmark of Evergreen culture, and still a central feature of college life elsewhere? The vibrant history of our campus events is now reduced to YouTube videos of Nirvana playing in K apartment.
It’s apocalyptic language, but I think it’s apt: the college is quickly becoming a shadow of its former self.
The administration is worried about student recruitment and retention. Well, if the college doesn’t have money to provide the academic and cultural resources students want, what’s keeping them here? If, quarter-by-quarter, programs are slowly eroded and respected professors eliminated, why should any student invest their time and money in the college? The grandiose promise for which Evergreen stands requires—as much as we hate to admit it—a lot of money. And without a significant and sustained movement for radical political change in the state of Washington, Evergreen’s promise will wither away. It is frankly sickening to know that we may be the ones around to see it die, and that we may be too careless, too apathetic to stop it.
And we cannot put blame squarely on Evergreen’s administration. Certainly, state politics and macroeconomics are the driving force behind all of these problems. Based on the documents I’ve seen in my reporting, throughout the economic meltdown, the college has consistently warned the state against budget cuts, lest it become unable to provide what students need. But overall, the response from the college—yes, including the student body—has been downright pitiful. Where are the protests at the state capitol demanding full funding of higher education? Where is the movement for student power? Where is “Occupy” when we truly need it here in our lives?
We pay for this college, and it’s time for us to take ownership and demand a change of course.
If doubled tuition rates aren’t enough to get us in the streets, what will it be? Will it be when the Evergreen Gallery shuts its doors for good? Will it be when the student media loses its funding along with most every student group? Will it be when the college picks a new president, and they announce a conservative new direction, neatly disguised as a package of “reforms?”
By that time, I fear, we will be too anemic to struggle.
If we surrender to these forces, our history will justify the very worst stereotypes of the Evergreen student body: we were always looking for fight, but when it came down to it, we were too stoned to get off the couch.