CUNY students and professors rally at City Hall for free tuition

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Around 40 students, adjuncts and professors gathered in front of New York City Hall on Oct. 10 at 4 p.m. in an organized effort to advocate for a tuition-free CUNY.

Participants of the rally were representatives and supporters of the CUNY Adjunct Project, the Coalition for the Revitalization of Asian American Studies at Hunter, CUNY Democratic Socialists of America, Free CUNY, the Lehman College Socialists of the International Socialist Organization and more.

Advertised via Facebook, the event “Rally to Make CUNY Free Again!” showed that almost 1,000 people were interested and 100 people planned on attending, despite only about half the crowd showing up.

Participants spent the rally sharing personal anecdotes, beliefs and proposals about what they think needs to be done within CUNY. Participants insisted that this issue needs to be handled by New Yorkers themselves and that others, such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo, were not acting in genuine concern but from political opportunism.

The New York City Council’s Committee on Higher Education’s task force on CUNY affordability was required to release a report on whether free tuition in New York City would be feasible by Oct. 15, as mandated by the City Council.

The rally’s intention was to ultimately deliver a petition — which had accumulated over 3,000 signatures — to City Hall making participants’ demands clear.

The organization Free CUNY believes that the quality of education should remain high in quality whether or not an institution is publicly or privately funded. It also proposes that this right be extended to undocumented students, who currently pay out-of-state tuition, and that stipends be provided to cover with students who fall below the poverty line.

This movement is not only limited to student concerns — it gladly welcomes professors’ issues, especially those associated with adjunct professors. Currently, adjunct professors within CUNY are paid around $3,000 per course. Free CUNY suggests that this be bumped up to $7,000 per course to push adjunct faculty out of the poverty line.

The organization recommends that all of these demands be funded by placing an income tax on New Yorkers making $600,000 and above. Organization representatives also noted the city and state’s surpluses in the past year could also be directed toward funding CUNY and would be more than adequate.

Tiffany Berruti, a CUNY graduate who is affiliated with the Free CUNY movement and CUNY DSA, was one of the more prominent organizers of the rally. She explained that her drive to rally with and advocate for this movement was spurred by the changing attitude toward public education investment.

“I think what we’ve seen at CUNY in the last 40 years is pretty much this massive increase in tuition and this massive decrease in investment and a lot of that is coincided, frankly, with the university getting less and less white. People care about it less,” Berruti said in an interview.

Linda Liu, another rally organizer who is also a CUNY graduate and the former president of CRAASH, advocated strongly for making CUNY education free again, citing the underfunding and neglect of adjuncts and ethnic studies departments — the Asian American minor at Hunter College in particular.

“With only adjunct faculty teaching in a program who aren’t paid enough to properly teach and ... mentor and give those resources to students, that affects the kind of education students are getting,” explained Liu in an interview. The minor is primarily taught by adjuncts, a situation that is not exclusive to this department or Hunter College.

Often the quality of the classes being taught and the degrees that students receive are affected by departments that are regularly underfunded or lack merited attention. A free education, Liu argues, opens up the way for students — especially those who must work or attend familial obligations — to focus more on their studies than simply being able to afford them in the first place. It could also afford adjuncts this same comfort. The timing for this call, in conjunction with the committee’s report, is also apt as the contract between CUNY and the Professional Staff Congress CUNY is set to expire this November.

One of the main arguments Free CUNY had for free tuition was also the nature of CUNY’s establishment. Berruti elaborates, “I think all colleges should be accessible to everyone, like CUNY specifically is a public university that was explicitly founded to be a free university, so I think it absolutely should be tuition free for all students.”

After taking turns speaking and chanting in front of City Hall, the group walked over to City Hall Park where Berruti issued a few more concerns before several more speakers gave their last words.