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Students Stage Sit-In at University of Illinois Urbana Over Elimination of Sole Academic Adviser in Department of African American Studies

Students protesting the elimination of the sole academic adviser in the Department of African American Studies have staged a sit-in that entered its second day Thursday. 

Students gathered at the department’s offices in a house at 1201 W. Nevada St. on Wednesday afternoon following a related rally on the Quad. They want the university to reinstate the position held by Lou Turner, who has been the adviser there since 2006.

The Black United Front, which helped organize the protest, is also pushing the UI to increase black enrollment through a “Project 1000” campaign to admit 1,000 black freshmen a year by fall 2020. The campus had 548 black freshmen last fall, fewer than the 565 in 1968, the first year of the Project 500 initiative.

About 25 students camped out peacefully in the department’s living room overnight, and organizers said they plan to continue the sit-in until the position is reinstated.

Removing an academic adviser from an ethnic studies department affects students in significant ways, said UI senior Ines Nava of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan), which is supporting the sit-in.

“This is a person that encouraged students to remain in school, that became a mentor for these students. So removing him seems like an attack on the students,” she said.

Turner said he was informed last August that his position would be eliminated in September 2017, a standard one-year termination notice for academic professionals.

The department head, Professor Ron Bailey, said it was a budgetary decision, part of a reorganization of his small department prompted by steep cuts in the UI’s state funding over the past two years.

Turner, who has criticized Bailey’s leadership, believes there’s more to it.

“That’s not the reason. The reason is that the head has been wanting to get rid of me for some time,” he said Thursday.

Turner said he works with about 72 students, graduate and undergraduate, who are majoring or minoring in African-American studies, helping them select courses, writing recommendation letters and offering career counseling.

Turner and others argued the university could find money for his position; he said he earns about $46,000 a year.

Bailey said he couldn’t respond to specific questions on a personnel matter but supports increasing black enrollment.

In a prepared statement, Bailey said the department is reducing the number of staff positions from four to two. Two will be eliminated in September, and a previously vacant position, an administrative assistant, was filled in March.

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Source: The News-Gazette | Julie Wurth