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CUNY Rising launches ambitious agenda

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The November 16 meeting of CUNY Rising launched a citywide campaign to demand substantial investment in public higher education, and also served as a forum to, as one sign put it, “raise consciousness.”

Alicia Arrington told attendees to focus on lawmakers and insisted, ‘You deserve to have access to college.’
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“Any student in this room who has gone through a hardship, whether it’s financial or balancing life with school, [needs] to take the time to sign this petition,” said Alicia Arrington of the Alliance for Quality Education at the meeting at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC). As a panelist, she spoke of the need for investment in public education from kindergarten to college, and urged people in the meeting to let lawmakers know their concerns. “All your elected officials have an obligation to serve you,” she said. “You are not ‘less than’ because you are black or because you’re Latino or because you’re undocumented. You deserve to have access to college.”

BILL OF RIGHTS

Activists at the meeting at BMCC, and at two other forums at the City College of New York and Brooklyn Borough Hall, called for support for the CUNY Student Bill of Rights, released this fall, which calls for free tuition, more full-time faculty, upgrades to CUNY’s aging infrastructure and lower caseloads for academic advisors and mental health counselors, among other demands. The “call-to-action” meeting also kicked off a petition campaign, urging state and city lawmakers to support the demands outlined in the Student Bill of Rights. (To sign the petition, go to tinyurl.com/cuny-rising-petition.) More than 30 community, labor and student groups are a part of the CUNY Rising alliance, and the group’s goal is to have 100,000 people sign the petition in the coming months.

Panelist Meg Williams, a Hunter College graduate student and PSC member, described how budget cuts have real effects on CUNY campuses, including campus disrepair and lack of funding for adequate numbers of full-time faculty.

“The system of adjunct labor…has been used to create a structure of systematic abuse against a large portion of the university’s workforce,” Williams said. “At the department where I work as a secretary, we have over 150 adjuncts and only 40 full-time professors. Students often don’t get to have a full-time professor until they’re in upper-level courses and sometimes not even then.”

The day of the forum, city lawmakers established a task force to examine the issue of affordability at CUNY. City Councilmember Inez Barron, a Hunter College alum leading the task force’s implementation, attended the BMCC meeting and told students there to get involved with the coalition, call her office about their concerns around higher education and push to make the petition’s demands a reality.

“There are those who say this can’t happen because of this, that and the other,” Barron said. “If you have a will and a mind for something to happen, you come to that openness. In fact, you can examine what are the ways that that can happen.”

NO ‘IFS’ OR ‘BUTS’

BMCC student Sherrod Stanton didn’t mince words when he took the microphone at the CUNY Rising event, saying, “CUNY should be free – no ifs, ands or buts about it. I don’t care what they say…. We got to organize and strategize and get that message out and build community.”

Brooklyn College undergraduate Zoey Wolfe said at the Brooklyn event, “The professors who provide…education deserve to be treated with respect and paid accordingly, not as replaceable and interchangeable...Students deserve relationships with professors who are not overburdened with course loads, overfull classes, and late paychecks. [CUNY’s] students deserve buildings that are not crumbling and an administration that prioritizes their needs.”

Stanton and others talked about the history of free public education, and how CUNY for the most part was free for nearly 130 years. They talked about the need for more guidance, an expansion of student support programs like Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) and the need to keep tuition down so that CUNY can remain accessible to the very students its original mission proclaims to serve – “the children of the whole people.” PSC First Vice President Mike Fabricant told the BMCC audience that it is important for students, faculty and the New York City community to unite and “build our power together.”

A total of around 650 people attended the three events.

“This is a real space and opportunity for faculty, staff and students to work together,” Fabricant said. “Without working together, we’re not going to advance the Student Bill of Rights. We’re not going to be able to advance a common cause that we all share, which is quality, free higher education.”