By Dustin Graziano
Tensions were high at the CUNY Board of Trustees public hearing on the evening of March 12. Several CUNY students protested while they waited in line outside on the windy, near-freezing day to enter the meeting held at Brooklyn College. Their chants echoed down the streets, through campus, and were heard from inside – “Whose fees? Our Fees!”, “CUNY first? Or Cuomo first?”, “Hey Cuomo, what do you say? How many students did you starve today?”. Sabrina Yeung, a College of Staten Island student, said while standing in line, “this is a fight for student rights.”
More than an hour into the meeting, all eager citizens in line were finally admitted into the building, passed through security, and were escorted to the hearing room by BC Public Safety. Issues raised at the hearing included: underpaid adjunct professors, tuition raises, violations of labor laws from CUNY cafeterias, the infrastructure of CUNY’s buildings and facilities, and largely, the democratic control of CUNY’s Student Activity Fees.
“CUNY teachers and adjuncts need fair wages, and fair breaks… I have no faith in this board or in Cuomo,” said Daniel Lemons, Dean of Science here at City College. Mr. Lemons dropped his testimonial in the collective box while a voice erupted from the crowd, “Can one of you trustees explain to me why I get paid more as a bus driver than these teachers do?” John Jay College alumni, Steve Lieberstein, spoke on behalf of CUNY cafeteria workers. “These workers must be treated with respect; labor laws are being violated. Some employees are paid off the books, their working conditions are hazardous, and many aren’t getting breaks,” he said.
Anger and disgust were continually expressed toward the board from CUNY students and faculty who were all individually given three minutes to speak. Conor Reed, a CUNY teacher and PhD student, was among one of the many people who brought up the central issue of the public hearing – CUNY’s Student Activity Fees. He turned his back to the board and spoke to the crowd: “We can’t let CUNY’s student activity fees be run by these parasites, it needs to be in the hands of the students. I call for the democratic control of the Student Activity Fees by students and teachers, and for the need to turn the attention to ourselves! This board must step-down!” The crowd roared upon his delivery of the testimony.
Many student speakers asked the same thing of the Board – to evaluate their allegiance. “Your call is to reorganize. Look at who you are prioritizing. You guys don’t represent us,” said an alumni of Hunter College, Class of 2015. Piggybacking, a student of Queens College pled “The governor does not represent the interests of the students. Stand up with your students, not CUNY central.” Some of the adjuncts, present to petition their own issues, chimed in on the SAF issue. One BC adjunct asking: “I serve the students. Who do you serve?”
The CUNY Board of Trustees did not respond to any of the crowd’s direct questions. Gayle M. Horwitz, the member of the board that called speakers’ names, told them to, “please put your testimonials in the box.” Members of the board Ken Sunshine, Henry T. Berger, and Andrea Shapiro Davis did not stay for the entirety of the hearing. The next CUNY Board of Trustees public hearing will be on April 30, starting at 4:30 PM.