Whose Fees? Our Fees!

The CUNY Wide Fight For Our Student Activities Fees

By: Lucia Rossi

The Board of Trustees heard over 60 testimonies at the public hearing in Brooklyn College on March 12. Credit: Lucia Rossi

Every student has a right to know that our democratic control over our student activities fees is currently under attack by the CUNY Board of Trustees.

On February 26, the Student Affairs Committee of the CUNY Board of Trustees introduced a proposal comprised of changes to Article XVI Student Activities Fees and Auxiliary Enterprises which, two days later, resulted in about 60 students protesting and attending the board meeting. By the time a month had passed, the number of student protesters grew to 200.

The proposed changes that have moved so many against this policy are as follows: the removal of funding for community service programs, eliminating funds for outside organizations which alludes to NYPIRG, the removal of the ability to earmark which guarantees consistent funding for clubs, services and organizations, elimination of the student majority budget committee which then gives the power over the fees to the college association that lacks student input and an attempt to make referendum viewpoint neutral.

These are major changes that will affect every student in CUNY.

These changes are also important because the student activity fees were created for students by students and this proposal takes away just that.

Even the very definition of this fee is changed in the first section to reflect what is being taken away, just so litigation could be avoided.

“This move by the Board to infringe upon students’ rights to self-govern implies that the Board does not believe students can be responsible for their own funds,” said Emanoil Shafik, CSI’s Student Government President.

“We believe that by taking that responsibility away, you remove students’ potential for growth through experiential learning and thus fail at upholding this university’s commitment to teaching and learning.”

According to Shafik, the Board of Trustees fails to uphold the preamble of Article XV, which states that, “Student participation, responsibility, academic freedom, and due process are essential to the operation of the academic enterprise. As members of the academic community, students should be encouraged to develop the capacity for critical judgment and to engage in a sustained and independent search for truth.”

CUNY students gathered and protested in the cold outside of the Board of Trustees hearing. Credit: Lucia Rossi

Every year, CUNY students see the tuition rise. Upon that, the Board of Trustees directly implements other fees including tech fees, consolidated fees, and excellence fees.

Just when you thought student activities fees couldn’t get any higher, the new changes will raise them even more to compensate for what the state of New York refuses to fund.

Your student activities fees cover many services and organizations such as athletic teams, intramurals, student government, clubs, publications, CSI Association, child care, Campus Activities Board, WSIA 88.9FM-our radio station, the Health & Wellness Center, our shuttle bus, NYPIRG, and the University Student Senate.

The complete list of student activities fees are available publicly on the USS CUNY website, along with the articles in question.  

Without earmark funding to these groups, they would no longer be guaranteed the money they need to thrive every year. Earmarks refer to designated money that can’t be taken away by the college association.

If removed, all the financial control of the SAF will be in the hands of the college association with little say from students.

The referenda process is a general vote by the student body that suggests how the student activities fees should be allocated by the college. If earmarks are removed, it would not honor the students who voted to have them in this process.

Not to mention, earmarks also protects the newspaper you are reading by allowing us to exercise our first amendment right without fear of retaliation from governing bodies.

The Board of Trustees is attempting to make referenda viewpoint neutral, which is unnecessary because they are not legally binding. This is due to the belief that students should not have to pay for a student group that they politically don’t agree with, like NYPIRG, which they believe is left-leaning and biased.

However, according to a member of the SAF Taskforce, which participated in the making of this new proposal, the New York State Attorney General said that viewpoint neutrality is required for referenda.

The University Student Senate is compiled of student government members from all of the CUNY’s. In their last meeting, covering this topic, SAF Taskforce members defended their proposal by saying it contains “raw language” which they are aware is confusing, that “it’s not a proposal”, that “it’s open to change”, that this was merely a draft and not the final copy and they are looking for feedback.

Although this may be true, CUNY has a reputation for passing legislation quickly over students heads to avoid retaliation. Given that General Counsel Martinez is asking that the proposal be approved within the next three months, it seems like another attempt to repeat this.

Raw language or not, the intent and implications proposed by the changes seem clear.

It also seems that many of the changes could be linked to Governor Cuomo’s budget cuts, especially since he appointed the people on the Board of Trustees.

“It is my belief that if this passes, the students power to allocate their own funding will be stripped,” said Shafik.

“The students need to send letters, show up to these hearings in mass numbers and voice their concerns. We as a student government will not stand for this and neither will the other 24 campuses.”

In regards to the Board of Trustees hearing on March 12 at Brooklyn College, Shafik said, “I was disappointed. They frankly didn’t care, you could see it on their faces. To have over 60 students speak to the Board of Trustees and see them simply not care, it was disgusting. Some of them were on their phones and even the chair [person] left early.”

Another CUNY student that attended the hearing said, “Needless to say, a lot of people were pretty frustrated with the treatment they were given by the Board, but I think the Board heard the message loud and clear. They definitely heard the chants coming from outside.”

Students protested in the cold for hours while it was claimed that the room had reached capacity, although pictures were sent from those inside showing that seats were available.

Chants like “When student power is under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!” and “Down, down with exploitation, up up with education,” was relayed over megaphones.

As this issue progresses, students are urged to get involved and to not let this pass.

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