CUNY Rising

Chris Cascarano Apr 17, 2009

Fifty students gathered at Hunter College March 25 to speak out against proposed state funding cuts to the City University of New York (CUNY). The rally was organized by the Ad Hoc Committee Against Budget Cuts and Tuition hikes, which includes CUNY Contingents Unite, the International Socialist Organization and the Internationalist Group. The students were joined by striking workers from the Stella D’oro Biscuit Co. in the Bronx and members of the New York City Taxi Alliance.

“Most students think they have to pay the tuition or they can’t get the education. We’re trying to bring students to the realization that we could stop the tuition hikes — and tuition all together,” said Kristine Jungkurth, an 18- year-old Hunter College undeclared sophomore and member of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Budget Cuts and Tuition Hikes.

On March 5, hundreds of Hunter College students walked out of class and joined a rally organized by the Hunter College’s Student Union to protest the proposed state funding cuts and impending tuition hikes. The students traveled downtown to join an estimated 40,000 person rally at New York City Hall, where a coalition of labor, education and activist organizations advocated for a tax increase on the wealthy to make up the budget deficit.

Earlier this year, several Hunter speak-outs were organized for students to share stories about their struggles to pay tuition. Students at Brooklyn College, LaGuardia College and City College have also held small demonstrations. Organizers at City College are planning an April 22 walkout to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1969 student takeover of the campus that forced CUNY administrators to adopt an open admissions policy that greatly expanded opportunities for people of color.

CUNY faculty, students and staff have also raised their voices at campus budget hearings being held on 10 CUNY campuses this semester. Initiated by the Professional Staff Congress, a progressive union that represents CUNY’s 22,000 faculty and professional staff, these public forums have drawn crowds of as many as 300 people. The events allow various members of the CUNY community the chance to share their struggles against tuition hikes and budget cuts with each other and a slew of local politicians and their aides who have attended these gatherings.

Speaking at an April 2 campus budget hearing at Bronx Community College, Assemblyperson Michael Benjamin (D-Morrisania) told participants that their activism had helped prod the State legislature into approving $4 billion in new taxes on New York’s wealthiest residents in order to ameliorate budget cuts planned for public higher education and other crucial social programs.

“We heard you loud and clear and we believe we did the right thing,” Benjamin said. “[We] understand that if we are going to get out of this mess, we have to invest in public higher education.”

Campus budget hearings will be held at Hostos Community College and John Jay College April 30 and at Laguardia Community College May 7. For more information, see
John Tarleton contributed to this article.

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