Demonstrators Rally to Urge Cuomo to Invest in CUNY, Raise Min. Wage
By Kawsara Hassan
Students, professors, and members of CSI staff gathered at the fountain behind 1P for the Million Student March’s national day of action on November 12.
CSI was one of the hundreds of colleges across the U.S. to hold rallies and marches with demands for tuition-free public college, cancellation of all student debt, and a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers.
Members of SIARAPB (Staten Island Against Police Brutality and Racism), PSC (Professional Staff Congress), SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine), and CSI’s Student Government were present.
CUNY demonstrators demanded Governor Cuomo invest in CUNY and sign the Maintenance of Effort Bill, which guarantees funding for CUNY and SUNY from the State and will cover mandatory costs of maintaining facilities as well as covering staff salary and benefits.
It issues a directive that funding can not fall short of the amount provided in the previous year.
Since the bill SUNY 2020 was passed in 2011 which prompted to add an annual $300 to CUNY and SUNY tuition, the state has been slacking on its end to cover costs.
The current budget does not include the 62.9 million dollars it will cost for CUNY to be funded this fiscal year.
Protesters urged the approval of a fair contract for CUNY workers. Workers have not received any raise in the last five years.
The PSC declines CUNY Chancellor Milliken’s insufficient contract offer.
“[A] salary ‘increase’ below the level of inflation-in other words, a salary cut. We cannot afford a cut in the real-dollar value of our salaries when we work in one of the most expensive cities in the country. A failure even to keep up with inflation-in the absence of other major improvements—will make CUNY increasingly non-competitive in attracting and keeping the faculty and staff the University needs,” Barbara Bowen, president of PSC wrote.
The rally kicked off with chants of “Education is a right,” carrying signs and arousing the curiosity of passing students.
“One of the things we fought for was open admission…open admission helped minorities: African American, Latinos, other minorities tremendously. It also helped working white class students. More white working class students were admitted than ever before when they attacked it in the 90s. One of the attacks were a racist attack on open admission,” Dave Poleshuk, a member of SIAPAPB said.
He continued, explaining that fighting racism is important because we are going against our own interests when we buy into those ideas.
Students and professors took the opportunity to address the crowd. They discussed how tuition hikes affected them and how their unity would be the start of change in an otherwise quiet, unaware college community.
Rallies such as this are significant because they inform students about what is at stake. Student loans have become the second highest form of consumer debt at a staggering 1.2 trillion dollars.
The Center for College Affordability and Productivity reports that nearly 48 percent of college graduates work jobs that require less than a four year degree, showing an increasing amount of underemployment among U.S. college graduates.
“What we are doing right here in a microcosm is the type of movement that we need across CUNY if we are [going to] win across the United States,” Jay Arena, professor of sociology and member of PSC said to the crowd.
Student leader of SIARAPB Krystal Sanchez shared a story about a friend who faced difficulty navigating through campus on her wheelchair.
“We should be able to go through the campus and be able to get to our classes whether or not we’re [disabled], we should have the resources to keep students from leaving school…Is it worth it when we’re going deeper and deeper into debt and then we graduate and then we can’t even get a job?”
The rise of student activism at CSI and across the nation brings to light a dire circumstance in today’s society is in despite’s effort to continue catering to the idea of the “American Dream.” With mounting debt, rising tuition, and low wages this generation of students and workers watch the reality of owning a home, a car, and having secure retirement funds drift further away.