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Students and faculty protest CUNY tuition hike
Education is a right!

By David Thurston | July 4, 2003 | Page 2

STUDENTS AT the City University of New York (CUNY) have just been hit with the biggest tuition hike in the school's history. And now they're organizing to fight back.

CUNY's Board of Trustees met at Baruch College June 23 to vote on the hike--and they were confronted by crowds of students and teachers, who rallied outside before going in. From the moment that the meeting was called into session, protesters heckled and booed, chanting, "Education is a right, not just for the rich and white!"

The crowd of about 250 was furious about the proposal--but also about the totally undemocratic nature of the board that was voting on it. All but one of the 14 board members was appointed by the mayor and the governor. Many are millionaires, and the vast majority are white--in contrast to the large number of lower-income and minority students at CUNY.

Tuition is being raised by $800 for undergraduates, and by $300 for students at two-year community colleges. The resolution also allows CUNY's chancellor to raise tuition by another $150 without another vote.

As the board pushed through the hikes--with only one board member, a student representative, opposed--the protesters' anger boiled over. This is a 25 percent tuition hike at a time when layoffs and cutbacks are on the rise. Thousands of students are likely not to come back to CUNY, and more will go deeper into debt to pay for school.

CUNY's faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), pointed out that 42 percent of the school's revenue will now come from private tuition--a massive shift for a school that didn't even charge tuition until the late 1970s. "The tuition increase effectively 'privatizes' what was once a public institution," said Jay Appleman, PSC chair at Queensborough College.

The assault on public education is taking place across the state and the country. A week after the CUNY hikes, trustees for the State University of New York (SUNY) approved a $950 tuition increase for the statewide system.

And to make matters even worse, last month the U.S. Education Department changed its method for calculating billions of dollars of financial aid. For starters, the changes will slash a few hundred million dollars in Pell Grants to 4.8 million low-income students. Millions more will have to shoulder additional costs.

We have to remember how tuition hikes have been stopped in the past. Building occupations forced former Gov. Mario Cuomo to drop plans for tuition increases in 1989. The faculty and students at CUNY and SUNY have the power to stop these attacks. But this will require rebuilding organization and learning the lessons of past struggles.

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