The aggrieved students of New York City's public university system took to the streets of Manhattan Monday evening to protest tuition hikes many of them say will cripple their ability to afford to earn a college degree.
Hundreds of City University of New York gathered at Madison Square Park before marching to Baruch College at 24th Street and Lexington Avenue, where they picketed, chanted and demanded that the Board of Trustees hear their cries to vote against the tuition increases.
Only one trustee--Kafui Kouakou, the lone student representative on the appointed body--heard that call, and the board voted 15-1 to hike tuition $300 per year until 2015. That $1,500 permanent jump will increase tuition for CUNY undergrads more than 30 percent, to a total of $6,330 annually in 2015.
New York City College of Technology computer science major Dino Sakic, 26, said he was attending the event to protest the skyrocketing tuition costs, but also because he wants to draw attention to the erosion of civil liberties and to a morally bankrupt system that has left his generation in a lurch.
We're expecting police brutality, suppression of the right to assemble, the usual stuff, he said. CUNY used to be free 30 years ago, and now the way they're raising the rates, I don't see how it's even subsidized anymore. It's getting to be unaffordable now. And there are issues with the quality of education. Is that rising with the tuition hikes?
Once the throngs arrived from Madison Square Park, the protest began in earnest with a rally led by Barbara Bowen, a Queens College professor who serves as the CUNY faculty and staff union's president.
All of CUNY is a free-speech zone, she declared to roaring applause, adding, CUNY in this move has put the desire for control over the interest of education. We're here to say education comes first.
The crowd then filed out into the middle of the intersection of 25th Street and Lexington Avenue, then headed to 3rd Avenue, where they began to run at a full clip in an attempt to avoid dozens of police officers on foot and scooters, who were trying to herd them along a set route. At least one young man was arrested as the marchers proceeded, bearing signs with slogans like Down with the Board of Trustees and We are not the cause of disruption, they are.
The protest was held in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement and to show that the students will stand together despite the arrests of 15 protesters during a Nov. 21 protest at the school.
CUNY did not return a request for comment Tuesday morning.
Once the march got going and police began to use aggressive tactics, familiar OWS chants such as we are the 99 percent and we don't see no riot here, why you got that riot gear? rang through the streets. Union members also turned out in force to support the movement, and the crowd at more than one point repeatedly bellowed workers and students, shut the city down.
After about half an hour of tense marching, the mass of protesters headed back toward the school, where they again set up a rally to speak out against the cuts. They used the people's mic to call attention, then a succession of speakers that included City Councilman Charles Barron screamed through a portable amplification system about their qualms with the rising cost of education at CUNY, which was for many years free.
The financial crisis was not created by the students and the workers, and it will not be carried on their backs, Baruch Students United organizer Denise Romeo, 19, of Queens, told the crowd. These tuition hikes are not necessary...and they do not put us, the students, as the priority.
Queens College student and information technology support staffer Jonathan Alarcon, 22, took time after delivering animated remarks of his own to clarify the student body's other specific demands beyond lowering tuition rates.
We want to have true democracy in the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees need to be punished, they need to be incarcerated, he said.
To help lighten the blow on students' wallets, the Board of Trustees also added $5 million in tuition assistance to its budget. But Monique Whitaker, a 34-year-old graduate assistant at Hunter College and PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center, said that will not be enough to help all the struggling CUNY students.
I just think $300 can be the choice between buying a textbook or tuition. It's food money, Whitaker said. CUNY's mandate has always been to provide access to education for the most disadvantaged students in the city, and that's eroding every year. People have already had to drop out, and more will have to drop out now.