By: Radhamely De Leon and Brahmjot Kaur
On Wednesday, May 9, 2018 the CUNY Board of Trustees met in the Great Hall to vote on the future of the student activity fee.
As previously covered by The Campus, the student activity fee has been at risk to change drastically. The City College student activity fee is currently at $64.35; of this amount, $30.00 go to athletics, $13.00 to Student Life & Leadership Development, $5.00 go to Student Government, and even less are distributed to things like campus health services, student media, child development, and more.
The Board of Trustees planned on voting at the meeting to amend student fees to only be applied towards student programs and services. This amendment would drastically slash funding for student run organizations such as NYPIRG, campus media, and other organizations on campus.
Students gathered to rally starting at 4:00 PM right before the meeting was set to begin, but the activists were not allowed in until more than two hours later. Officials claimed that an executive meeting was being held. Reporters from The Campus were not allowed to enter the executive meeting while it was in session.
The rally consisted of students from several other CUNY schools, as well as student organizations such as NYPIRG, and elected officials including City Council members Inez Barron, Jumaane Williams, and Ben Kallos, who were standing in solidarity with the students.
Councilman Williams impressed the importance of the situation, as he found it to be “absurd”. He said, “I’m a former CUNY student, I’ve participated in so much activity including voting on where my activity fees were spent. To take that away is atrocious, without those experiences I might not be a Council Member.”
Councilwoman Barron and Councilman Williams stood in unity with the students even as they waited to get into the Great Hall. These elected officials outrightly condemned the decision as being a “power grab” on Governor Cuomo’s part.
The students certainly agreed. Chants of “Cuomo first or CUNY first?” were met with enthusiasm. “Andrew Cuomo tried to do this in the dead of night,” Councilman Williams declared as students gathered in front of Shepard Hall to protest the Board meeting inside. He continued, “And the best thing for darkness is light.”
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has been at the heart of the issue as much of the Board of Trustees have been appointed directly by him. Cuomo’s “claim to fame” was the Excelsior Scholarship which would supposedly guarantee free tuition for students across New York. However, there are several obstacles before one can receive the scholarship. While there are a significant number of problems with the excelsior scholarship, one obstacle is that the scholarship is only applicable if the student is taking 30 credits a year. Due to cost of tuition and supplies, many students are unable to take the needed 15 credits each semester. Further, with the cost of living in New York City being so high, many work as well as attend school.
Students were finally allowed into Shepard Hall after almost two hours of rallying, but were held outside of the meeting space while officials determined how best to proceed. “Protest is one of the weapons in their arsenal,” CCNY President Vincent Boudreau commented. “I dont think its a bad thing, it’s actually a City College tradition.”
The rally inevitably ended when Chairperson William C. Thompson Jr. notified the spectators that “We are not voting to change the bylaws today. We are just voting on the notice of possible changes to the bylaws”. Item number 3 was the discussion of the notice to request approval on amendments in the bylaws. Trustee John Aderounmu, the only student on the Board of Trustees motioned “I would also like to amend section 15.2 to remove the words ‘and funding’.”
The Board of Trustees then shared that they will revisit the topic of student activity fees in the Fall and will involve more students in the discussion, a response met with cheers from the crowd of young activists and supporters.
After the verdict, NYPIRG Chairperson, Smitha Varghese exclaimed that “It’s a small win but I think it’s a big win in terms of letting CUNY Students know how much power they have. We did this. If we didn’t organize, they would’ve done whatever they wanted.”