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University Student Senate Protests Tuition Hike

By Sumana Ali

City University of New York students will be faced with a tuition hike of $320 at the end of the upcoming Fall 2020 semester. The CUNY Board of Trustees held a hearing on December 9, at Lehman College where students from all university’s colleges came together to plea for no tuition hikes.

University Student Senate, which is the student governance body that represents the half-million students in CUNY, held a press conference at Lehman College before the public hearing held by the board of trustees to share students’ concerns about the hike.  Students gave emotional statements on why they can not endure more tuition hikes.

“Tuition hikes, health and wellness fees; it seems like the day to day of our CUNY education has increasingly become a significant burden with insane expenses,” said Timothy Hunter, chairperson of CUNY University Student Senate and a trustee. “We, the University Student Senate, do not support any form of a tuition hike. It is important, to the success of our university, that we encourage our elected officials to invest in our students, and not increase the already heavy burden of their tuition costs.”

The board of trustees wants to approve its state budget request that would allow for this tuition hike, despite pleas from students to vote no.

Barbara Bowen, the president of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) was present at the press conference. “CUNY must be publicly funded, the TAP gap must be filled, and the trustees must not look to tuition increases and fee increases as the way to fill what should be paid for by the city and state,” said Bowen. “Our students are subsidizing this state after graduating and their tuition must be paid for by the city and the state.” Bowen emphasized that CUNY should be free for students because of the diversity of its students and the example it will set to the national stage.

According to the PSC, the union that represents 30,000 faculty and staff, public funding for CUNY has been reduced by more than $300 million in the last few years. Instead of restoring public funding, the governor and the legislature agreed to authorize years of tuition increases. The result of the reduced public funding by the state and city means that the students will pay more tuition to make up for it.

Many students gave impassioned statements at the press conference. “This ridiculous that they are having this hearing on finals week,” said City College student Esperanza.  “It is clear that they don’t want to hear from us. What’s even more insulting is that we don’t even see the results of these hikes. In 2015 we had the same issues on our campus as now. We are paying $2,000 more. We have bedbugs and raccoons in our library.”

Jamal Henderson from CUNY Raising Alliance suggested that the trustees did not understand students’ financial struggles. “These trustees don’t have a single clue about what we deal with and it is disgusting,” said Henderson. “We are going to call every trustee, every president and we will shut it down if we don’t get what we deserve.”

Approximately 79 students appeared to give emotional testimonies at the public hearing held by the board of trustees. Students pled to the trustees to find funding from state and city instead of increasing the tuition.

At the hearing, Enrique Peña, a Queens College student, was upset at what he viewed as the lack of interest of some board members.  “Some of you are checking your phones, some of you are sleeping, or already left, or didn’t even come,” said Peña. “We should change the name of this meeting from ‘hearings’ to ‘ignorings.’  How many of you have gone to a CUNY? How many of you really know what it’s like for us? Chancellor, you make by 35 times my whole family income.”

CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez had a spirited conversations with students after the hearing. Student advocates and the chancellor went head to head about the hike. He assured students he is trying his best. Individual students had a chance to let the chancellor know their opinions on the issue.

Students also spoke to the USS Chairperson Timothy Hunter about their concerns. “My vote is no and I urge you do vote no to this increase,” said Hunter at the board of trustees meeting after the public hearing. “ I am choosing between Christmas presents for my little brother and paying my tuition. I have an outstanding balance in my account. I don’t know if I am going to be able to graduate.”

Students are publicly calling on their representatives to take action to fund their education on social media platforms. Some students tweeted their elected representatives to push against the tuition increase.

This tuition increase is now an ongoing discussion as the state and city budget budgets are yet to be finalized. As the national student debt increases and becomes a pressing issue, public institutions like CUNY are facing more pressure from students for tuition hikes. The national student loans are currently over $1.5 trillion, more than auto loan debt and credit card debt. This is an issue that will continue to affect students in the coming years.

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