By Brahmjot Kaur

Vice Chairperson Barry F. Schwartz fell asleep during student testimonies. Photo by: Brahmjot Kaur

Frustrated students and faculty gathered at LaGuardia Community College on Monday, April 30 at 4:30pm to testify at the CUNY Board of Trustees Public Hearing. These testimonies expressed their experiences and opinions on a few topics such as adjunct salaries and the student activity fee.

What is the student activity fee?

Student activity fees are separate from your tuition. This fee funds campus media, student government, and student organizations. Along with these, it also funds programs and services for students. You can watch a more in depth explanation here.

Why was this meeting so important?

As early as May 7, 2018, the CUNY Board of Trustees will vote on an amendment which will terminate all earmarked funding for student organizations if passed.

The first proposal was to remove all specific earmarks and create one lump sum of funds. These funds would be decided by the Student Service Corporation (SSC) which consists of 7 faculty/staff members and 6 students. A faculty majority could cause difficulties in keeping the student activity fee in the hands of the students.

After rallying and protesting from CUNY students, the Board of Trustees proposed that only programs and services, which at CCNY would mean only Student Life, Voluntary Emergency Squad, Child Development, and U.S.S. would remain funded. This means that students would no longer be able to petition the campus to fund student organizations.

An outline of the SAF allocation at City College.

What is a referenda?

A referenda is when 10% of the student population petitions to raise the Student Activity Fees to fund specific programs, services, or student organizations. After successfully petitioning the campus, the item is then voted upon at the same time as student government elections.

During the meeting, students and faculty alike were able to stand in front of the Board with a 3-minute time slot. Councilwoman Inez Barron shared her concerns regarding the student activity fee while speaking in front of the Board. She explained how there may be a disconnect with the Board of Trustees because “they don’t look like the students.”

Barron’s assertion is not empty.

Aside from stark differences in economic status between the Board members and CUNY students, the officials are also disproportionately white and male. 53% percent of the Board is white, as compared to just 23.7% of CUNY students, according to CUNY’s enrollment statistics. On the same accord, only 35.29% of the Board is women, while 56.8% of all CUNY students identify as female. This disparity, some attendees found, could negatively affect student’s voices being heard.

Throughout the meeting, students mentioned how CUNY is so affordable, yet has such great resources. Many pleaded that certain funding for programs should continue such as the tech incubators at Queens College.

Groups such as the campus media and the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) are in danger. A possible amendment in section 16.6 of the CUNY Bylaws states that “student activity fee funds may not be contributed to or paid directly to separately incorporated organizations outside the college or school unless such organizations are providing goods or services under a contract approved through university procurement and purchasing processes.” This added amendment will basically remove NYPIRG from campuses across CUNY.

A number of members from NYPIRG were able to speak in front of the trustees. NYPIRG is a nonpartisan student activist group on campuses across 9 CUNYs and several SUNY and private universities. Activists such as Haris Khan, a rising senior at City College, exclaimed that “These fees are created for student activities […] We decide on these fees through a process which includes a student-wide referenda that engages the entire community. The Board of Trustees have basically spent the last 6 months trying to take away our rights to decide where our money will go.”

You can read further into this situation here.

With a successful 45 year partnership with CUNY, NYPIRG has been able to engage students on campus. Campus media continues to voice the concerns of students, become an outlet of information, and aid expression for students across campuses. If the Board’s amendment passes, articles such as this will be threatened.

Applause erupted in the crowd after one NYPIRG member called out the Board of Trustees for not paying attention to the issues and testimonies being shared. Vice Chairperson Barry F. Schwartz and Trustee Charles A. Shorter fell asleep as these students and faculty passionately spoke about their own issues as well as those that plague the rest of the CUNY population. President Felix V. Matos Rodriguez of Queens College was also texting during the testimonies on several occasions. 

What can you do?

CUNY students, including City College, need a call to action. Show up to the next board meeting where they will vote on the amendment that could eliminate campus media and student organizations on campus. Show up and make your voices heard. This is YOUR money. Students have the power to show the Board of Trustees, as well as the rest of CUNY administration, that they will not stand for the atrocities they are allowing. It’s time for these individuals to stop dozing off and using their phones when students are trying to raise their voices.

The next CUNY Board of Trustees Board Meeting is Wednesday, May 9 at 4:30pm. It will be held at the City College of New York in the Great Hall.

Clark Adomaitis, a sophomore at City College, encompassed the general attitude when he declared, “you are trustees, but I personally don’t trust you.”

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