Students Protest $300 Tuition Hike at CUNY BoT Meeting

A student-and-professor led protest disrupted a CUNY Board of Trustees meeting Monday at Baruch College over the impending tuition hike the board was set to vote on.

The Board — CUNY’s decision-making body — voted in favor of the university’s 2020-2021 budget request, which includes a tuition and fees increase of $320 for students at all CUNY senior and community college campuses. 

This increase will result in an added $200 to students’ annual tuition and $120 more in fees, which, unlike tuition, are often not covered by financial aid and are up to the students to pay. 

Part of the money, namely the fees, will be going toward expanding and improving mental health and wellness services and education at the schools, something that some campuses fall short on. 

The goal is to expand health center hours and to add mental health counselors and support for LGBTQ+ students and students facing housing and food insecurity.

“Average tuition and fees at CUNY are among the lowest in the nation. With state aid, including TAP, and federal aid, two in three full-time CUNY students attend tuition-free and three in four graduate debt-free,” Frank Sobrino, CUNY’s Director of Media Relations, told KCP.

“The quality and affordability of our institutions and the outcomes our graduates can expect are why CUNY is widely recognized as the nation’s best-value public university system. CUNY takes great pride in having helped generations of low-income, underserved and immigrant students realize the American Dream,” he went on to say.

Far before the vote happened or the subject of the budget proposal was brought up, however, chants from Free CUNY and CUNY Rising Alliance protestors erupted from the audience. 

Protestors rallied against the hike, saying that many students cannot afford to pay more in tuition, citing that nearly half of all CUNY students have experienced housing insecurity and that the hike would impact lower-income, expressly black and brown, students.

Slogans like “Free CUNY,” “Hypocrites” and “If we can’t get it, shut it down” were screamed as the trustees spoke about new food insecurity initiatives and the donations the university received on Giving Tuesday, or CUNY Tuesday as the board called it.

Soon, security came in to remove those who were chanting, but as people were made to leave the room, more began to chant, with curse words directed at the board and CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez.

One man who was forcibly escorted out by security ended up on the floor, with protestors saying he was shoved by the officer and public safety saying he tripped. 

“The mere fact that the Board Chair, Bill Thompson, was so cowardly to cancel public appearance for the rest of this hearing shoed very poor leadership,” said CUNY Rising Alliance Coordinator and four-time CUNY graduate Jamell Henderson. “As a board chair, he should allow students to express their voices. Why? Because at the end of the day, it’s not touching his pockets.” 

Brooklyn College student Hailey Lam, who disregarded security’s attempts to have her leave, was detained for upwards of half an hour in a classroom, guarded by members of public safety, causing the “Free CUNY” chants to become “Free Hailey.” 

An officer threatened her with arrest just moments before she was forced into the classroom, from which she left crying but still chanting “Free CUNY!” She will not be facing legal action.

University Student Senate Chairperson Timothy Hunter, who spoke with Lam and public safety, returned to the board table, and the protestors left to the lobby of the Newman Vertical Campus building, as part of an agreement with public safety.

Hunter, as chairperson, is the only student on the Board of Trustees, despite the fact that the board is meant to make decisions on behalf of CUNY students. He acts as a representative of the university’s student body.

At the meeting, Hunter proposed two amendments to the 2020-2021 budget proposal that would eliminate the tuition hike and fee hike, but both got shot down and the budget request was approved by the board as is.

“Me, as a student trustee, I cannot stand for any tuition hike or any type of increase in fees,” Hunter said at the beginning of his explanation for the amendments.

The Board also approved application fee waivers for spouses of student veterans and renewed the university’s subscription to the American Chemical Society Journal Collection, among other initiatives.

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