By Sheik Floradewan
In a university system where 42 percent of students’ households earn less than $20,000 a year, $200 can be a big deal.
That is only one of the reasons why CUNY students, faculty and alumni spoke out against a possible $200 tuition hike for senior colleges at a June 17 CUNY Board of Trustees hearing in the Bronx.
Students and members of the coalition CUNY Rising Alliance, the CUNY staff union and other advocates gathered before the hearing in front of Hostos Community College to denounce the tuition hike and demand a contract of $7,000 per course for adjunct professors. Adjunct pay currently starts at $3,200 per course and averages around $3,500 per course, which many adjuncts say is not enough money to live on.
More than 100 speakers, limited to three minutes each, addressed the attendees. Members of the Professional Staff Congress testified before key CUNY administrators and the board, which acts as the overseers of the CUNY university system.
Student government representatives and members of the University Student Senate questioned the price of an education for a school that was tuition-free until 1976.
“Students come to CUNY for an affordable education, and making the students pay more is not the solution. We are the future of New York, so the state should invest in us,” said USS Delegate Rejwoan Matubbar. “My mom came to this country from Bangladesh and she works in a factory for minimum wage, so increasing tuition another $200 impacts students like me.”
“If you’re gonna charge me $200, give me a damn MetroCard,” added Baruch student Andres Aguirre in his testimony to the board.
Other speakers quoted a manifesto written on palm card that was handed out to meeting attendees. Their supporters repeated each line of the statement.
“We oppose this tuition hike. We demand a return to full funding of education in New York. We support a fair pay for faculty and staff, and stand together as a community. For you will not divide us,” the statement read.
In addition to potential tuition hikes, speakers testified about prominent budgetary issues within CUNY, such as the poverty-level wages that adjuncts earn, pensions for retired professors, issues with the Excelsior scholarship program and a lack of pads and tampons on campus.
The FY 2020 University Budget Request justifies the tuition hike by asserting that cost increases are mandatory for “contractually required incremental salary increases, fringe benefit expenses and building rental and energy cost increases.”
The PSC demands more funding needed to pay faculty, staff and adjuncts competitive wages, but PSC members said they did not want the raise to come at the expense of students.
“They claim that the tuition increase is to help us but we aren’t seeing that money, so where is it going?” said one PSC member. “We demand a raise but not one that is dependent on a tuition hike that takes away from our kids their educational rights.”
The CUNY Board of Trustees is in the process of reviewing their FY 2019-20 University Budget Request, which includes the tuition hike, and will vote on passing the budget at its next meeting on June 24.