CUNY students, teachers resist budget cuts

By Heather Cottin

Students and teachers at the City University of New York have been organizing rallies at their college campuses and at the offices of the CUNY Board of Trustees, protesting threatened cuts to their education.

CUNY/LaGuardia students<br>at Nov. 24 rally.
CUNY/LaGuardia students
at Nov. 24 rally.
WW photo: Heather Cottin

Furious over a proposed $600 tuition increase—a result of Gov. David Paterson’s deep cuts in education, health care and other social services in New York state—CUNY students will hold three city-wide protests and rallies against the plan in December.

The announced budget cuts amount to $51 million for CUNY and more than $200 million for the State University of New York system.

CUNY is the biggest city university in the United States. Established for New York’s working class in 1847, its tuition was free until the 1970s. Then the Board of Trustees, responding to pressure from militant community movements, allowed open enrollment. This brought in many students of color for the first time. But, also for the first time, the students had to pay tuition.

CUNY is now home to a multinational student body of more than 450,000 in six community colleges and 11 four-year and graduate schools.

New York has gotten its educated working class on the cheap. Salaries at CUNY are low. At some of the community college campuses, where the students are largely people of color, facilities are decrepit.

Some 57 percent of CUNY teachers with doctorates and master degrees are adjuncts or part-timers. These educators have no job security and few benefits. They earn less than $25,000 a year.

Last spring, part-timers and graduate students joined in an effort to press their union, the Professional Staff Congress, to negotiate for job security and wage equity. The union vowed to work on this. But CUNY employees had been working without a contract for three years. So when the CUNY Board of Trustees offered a contract, the Delegate Assembly voted for one that did not include the contingent teachers’ demands.

CUNY Contingents United (CCU) was formed in late summer to address this inequity. Made up of graduate student teachers and part-timers, the group began organizing on various campuses.

The financial meltdown has hit New York, as it has most other states. Four days after Paterson announced the cut in education funds, CCU and students from Hunter College and several other campuses held an emergency protest. Some 200 students and faculty came out to oppose the cutbacks and tuition hikes.

In 1975 the big banks that hold city bonds—especially JP Morgan, Chase and Citibank—threatened to bankrupt the city. Subway fares were raised, tuition was imposed, programs were cut, and the working class footed the bill to keep New York afloat.

Now, when Wall Street has been guaranteed more than $7 trillion by the federal government to continue business as usual, almost half a million of this city’s students and workers have been asked to shoulder the burden of the latest meltdown—again with tuition rises, layoffs and fare hikes.

The people are not buying it.

At a meeting at Hunter, students representing many of the CUNY campuses called for a student strike and expressed solidarity for transit workers whose jobs are also threatened.

The next week, the PSC organized a protest against tuition increases and budget cuts that drew about 300 students at LaGuardia Community College. The PSC urged people to sign postcards to “Save CUNY.” The union will send buses to Albany, the state capital, to rally against the cuts and tuition hikes.

Members of a new student group, LaGuardia Students United, spoke against the draconian measures. “We don’t want adjuncts cut,” said Jason Chester, a LaSU officer. “Some of my best teachers are adjuncts.”

Another student said: “The MTA is threatening a fare hike, so my commute will be $100 a month. It’s impossible. I have taken on extra hours at work to pay for my tuition now.”

“They have hundreds of billions for the bankers, not the people!” said another. An international student said she is already paying twice what New York residents pay and can’t afford to double that.

“I have to work two jobs now for my tuition,” said Mayra Gonzales, a LaSU officer. “I don’t always have enough money for food.”

The students clearly see the connection between the enormous military budget and the state’s miserly attitude toward education. “No to wars and occupation, we want schools and education,” has been a recurring chant at all the protests.

The CCU vows to “unite with the organized workers’ movement and all working people, immigrants and minorities who together make up the vast majority in this city.”

CUNY cuts are already causing class cancellations and layoffs. Militant CUNY students and workers are organizing for a protracted struggle against the state and the rich capitalists, like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who command it.

On Dec. 16, when the next cuts will be announced, CCU will hold a mass rally at 4:30 p.m. at the governor’s office on Third Avenue at 41st Street.

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