Taking on the cuts at CCNY

By Conor Tomás Reed

NEW YORK--Approximately 250 students and faculty walked out of classes April 22 at City College of New York (CCNY) in Harlem to protest looming tuition increases.

What you can do

Students and faculty are welcome to attend an organizing meeting to plan the next steps for the struggle at City College of New York, on April 29 at 6 p.m. at NAC's Morales/Shakur Center, Room 3/201. For more information, e-mail [email protected].

Conor Tomás Reed will be speaking on "Students and the Struggle for Socialism" on May 2 at 4 p.m. at the Puck Building, 295 Lafayette St., 4th floor (southeast corner of Houston and Lafayette). E-mail [email protected] for information.

State lawmakers and City Universities of New York administrators are seeking to impose increases of up to $1,500 a year on students at 23 public colleges across the city.

Participants in the walkout had a list of demands that were the result of a survey conducted of CCNY students. These demands included no tuition hikes and budget cuts; a pay cut and salary cap for administrators; free child care for the CCNY community; making curriculum and departments reflect the student body's composition; creating student and faculty referendums to weigh in on decisions about CCNY's policies; and a campus free from police presence.

These demands were forged as a way to pressure the school on specific political issues, while providing space for a broader student campaign advocating a total overhaul on the campus--which, right now, we see as increasingly unaffordable and undemocratic in its operations.

At the walkout's spirited rally outside the North Academic Center, CCNY's main campus building, participants were joined by several dozen supporters from the community. Striking workers from the Stella D'oro factory in the Bronx brought a large contingent to the rally and addressed the crowd in shared indignation that attacks on students and working people are part of the same upside-down methods for balancing the city and state budgets.

The rally also featured participants from the 1969 CCNY Open Admissions Strike, which successfully struggled to admit large numbers of students of color into City College. (Prior to 1969, people of color comprised just 4 percent of the student population in a school located right in the middle of Harlem.) The veteran activists spoke of the necessary link between past and present demands at the school.

After an hour, the rally loudly marched over to the college administration building, where more supportive students joined us. We were met by a row of security guards. Our invitation to CCNY President Gregory Williams to stand in support of our concerns was met by his absence from the campus grounds and closed doors to the administration building.

Williams did arrange for two liaisons to listen to us and report back to him, and something very inspiring occurred. Student after student came up to the front of the crowd and gave personal, heart-wrenching testimonies about how the school right now is falling apart, how different departments are not being at all adequately funded, and how military recruiters are allowed on campus while our students are beaten up by CCNY's security for peacefully protesting them.

Most often repeated in these testimonies was how tuition increases will be extremely detrimental to students, and may mean a reduction in class enrollment or even dropping out altogether.

One student, Maurice Selby, angrily pointed out the school's hypocritical rhetoric of welcoming working-class students to aspire to a better life at the same time that it allows students to become more and more disenfranchised by things like the proposed tuition hikes.

Professor Bill Crain explained that since the administration's testing policy for admissions was implemented in 1999 (ending open admissions), City College has seen a 14 percent drop in Black student enrollment--a fact which our administration officials are conscious of and unapologetic about.

Rally participants announced that we would give the administration a "due date" of noon on April 30 to come out in support of students, or that we would begin to advocate for ourselves. A subsequent rally will be held at that time.

Activists ended the rally on a high note, by marching to the train and riding up to the Stella D'oro picket line, where we held another rally of about 100 people in support of that strike. This kind of combined student/labor activism will be necessary for the future of our struggles.