On Nov. 10, CUNY students and faculty members gathered in Manhattan at 100 Wall Street under the offices of CUNY Chairman Bill Thompson to protest against the decision of the CUNY Board of Trustees to support a public investment in Amazon.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state of New York have promised Amazon $3 billion worth of tax giveaways to entice the company into opening its second headquarters in Long Island City.
The event, organized by the Young Progressives of America, together with the Democratic Socialists of America, demanded that Thompson rescind his statement supporting Amazon.
“Thompson has welcomed Amazon with open arms. It is clear he cares more about companies than about college welfare,” are the words used by Brooklyn College student Corrinne Greene to denounce the apparent lack of interest CUNY has regarding its students.
According to the protesters, New York must allocate funds to raise the quality of CUNY’s colleges and, instead of supporting Amazon’s interests, should favor its low-income students. CUNY used to be one of the best public universities in the country, but it is now experiencing serious difficulties.
As students pointed out during the rally, CUNY structures are in terrible conditions. In some of the colleges, ceilings are falling down and there is evidence of vermin infestation.
In addition, CUNY is underpaying professors and faculty, and ignoring the economic difficulties of its students. To address this particular issue, protesters believe that New York should invest in CUNY to lower or eliminate the college tuition — that many students struggle to afford — and fund programs like the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs and Accelerate Compete Engage that offer smaller classes and better advisement to students, as well as free tuition, Metrocards and books.
This last request was also previously expressed in a petition addressed to Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio and signed by students, community groups and unions that launched a Citywide Day of Action on Nov. 14 “to demand that Albany and City Hall fully fund the City University of New York.”
As released in a statement by CUNY Rising Alliance, “The day featured petitioning blitzes on ten campuses in all five boroughs organized by NYPIRG, members of the faculty and staff union, CUNY Rising, and the CUNY University Student Senate.”
The goal was to fund free community college programs and support the many low-income students who consider CUNY “a way to overcome barriers erected by racism and systemic injustice.”
As Enrique Pena, a City College student and member of the YPA, stated during the rally, “It is harder for people like me and my family to pay our rents and to also afford a college tuition that increases every semester, as if New York City was out of money.” Amazon promised New York City 25,000 well-paying jobs, but the protesters do not believe this will benefit CUNY students. According to them, the six-figured jobs the company will create will not go to the average working-class student but will be reserved for wealthy elites.
Carlos Jesus Calzadilla, YPA’s president and spokesperson at the event, underlined that there is “no commitment by Amazon to give jobs to CUNY students.” Calzadilla also stresses the consequences that Amazon’s arrival will have on Long Island City’s reality.
According to him, the company “will displace the community and hurt minorities, as well as low-income families.” The increase in housing costs — and the consequent gentrification of the area — is predicted to force many residents away.
Students also expressed concerns regarding the future of immigrant students who see CUNY as an important resource to pursue their American dream. They believe that CUNY’s endorsement validates Amazon’s decision to support the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which was responsible for the use of tear gas against unarmed migrants on Nov. 25 at the Mexican border. However, Cuomo has strongly criticized the actions taken by the current U.S. government.
Greene has a different perspective from Cuomo; she believes that “if you do not invest in education, and you do not [invest in] students, faculty and staff, you have no right to call yourself progressive. You have no right to say that you are standing on the right side of
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