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A The U.T. Tower Bill Leisner %\\*.Iik .U, FEATURE Fighting the Power at U.T. BY ROBERT JENSEN When students occupied the main building at the University of Texas at Austin in October, the protest was about affirmative action but also about student power. Not only did U.T. students win an agreement with the administration to a series of “town-hall meetings” to resume the university dialogue about affirmative action, they reminded the campus what organizing can accomplish. “We demonstrated that power doesn’t always have to be from the top down,” said Carl Villarreal, a member of the student AntiRacist Organizing Committee, leaders of the protest. “At this university, students, staff, and even faculty have very little power. Most of the time we just accept that, but with an issue this urgent something different was necessary.” Joni Jones, a speech-communication professor who was with the students during part of the sit-in, said that no matter what views they have on affirmative action, all U.T. students shoul i d be grateful to the protesters. “It was so important for the studentS to see that they really are the force behind the institution, and to understand they should be able to have a say in what goes on here,” Jones said. “I think the students in the Tower that night realized that, which helped them muster the courage to hang in there.” \(The offices of U.T.Austin President Larry Faulkner, and other U.T. administraThe events of October 21 and 22 at the Austin campus part of national days of action observed as well in California and Michigan \(where affirmative action in education is also under political and they did put the issue back on the table for the campus community. The first day featured a panel discussion and teach-in. On the second day, at a noon rally on the steps of the Tower, students and faculty not only made a case for affirmative action, but sharply criticized the university’s handling of the Hopwood case, which the administration and its legal counsel had interpreted as requiring an end to all affirmative action programs not only the specific Law School admissions policy, since abandoned, which had occasioned the lawsuit. As the rally wound down, several hundred students remained, and organizers from A.R.O.C. decided to take their list of demands to President Faulkner’s office. About 200 students entered the building, and were quickly given a meeting with Faulkner. The students asked that the president agree to publish in the campus newspaper an open letter explaining the university’s position, and commit the administration to a series of town-hall meetings. Faulkner’s response didn’t satisfy the students, who spilled out into a hallway and decided to sit down. David Hill, a member of A.R.O.C., said the sit-in wasn’t planned. “It was decided on after Faulkner ran out of the room without answering a single question,” Hill said. “That was a total dis to all students, and the students there decided to take over the Tower, out of anger and frustration with Faulkner’s unwillingness to deal with them.” 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER By late afternoon, some of the approximately 100 students left the building to bring in others and get supplies, but U.T. administrators made the decision to shut down the building and not let students return. One student who tried to re-enter the building was taken into custody by campus police but later released without being charged. About forty students remained inside, pledging not to leave without an answer from Faulkner. Patricia Ohlendorf, vice president for administration and legal affairs, returned in the early evening to negotiate. She offered the students a meeting between Faulkner and six students the next NOVEMBER 20, 1998