Chika Onyejiukwa, of the University Student Senate, is part of a growing coalition of labor, student and community groups that is organizing around the needs of public higher education.
Free public university in New York City. More full-time faculty. Lower caseloads for academic advisors and mental health counselors. More updated technology. This isn’t a wish list. These are the demands of a growing student and labor coalition. And it’s only the beginning.
CUNY Rising, a coalition of the PSC and other community and student allies, has built on the energy of contract campaign and the movement to invest in CUNY and has issued “A CUNY Student Bill of Rights,” launching a petition campaign to support investment in higher education and holding a series of “call-to-action” meetings on how to ensure quality and affordability in public higher education.
AN AGENDA FOR CHANGE
“This is a vision of what students are entitled to at a university,” said PSC First Vice President Mike Fabricant, who helped draft the student bill of rights. “This is an agenda for students of New York City, who are largely poor and of color, and it is part of an effort to create a more level playing field for students during a time when inequality is increasing.”
The bill of rights also includes a demand for aid for books and class materials for those in need, a fair pay and workload for faculty and expansion of classroom space in order to alleviate overcrowding.
CUNY Rising was born out of the successful resistance from the CUNY community against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed austerity budget for CUNY earlier this year. In March, more than a thousand people from the coalition rallied outside of Cuomo’s Manhattan office to protest a staggering $485 million cut in the state’s allocation to CUNY, which he had proposed to shift to the city – a proposal the governor abandoned after labor and student pressure.
CUNY Rising began this academic year with plans to expand its base and organize around the bill of rights, which outlines basic needs in higher education, including free tuition, quality instruction, support for college retention and completion and safe and modern learning environments. (The group has also worked on a white paper detailing solutions for the points outlined in the bill of rights.)
The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), one of the coalition’s partners, has been a key force in fighting off tuition hikes and was part of a successful effort in the last legislative session to ensure that tuition did not increase at the state’s senior colleges.
“It’s very empowering and encouraging for students to know that it’s because of their advocacy and organizing that we were able to get a tuition freeze,” said Emily Skydel, the higher education campaign organizer at NYPIRG. “Now we’re building off that momentum and making sure that tuition doesn’t go up and that we see real investment from the state.”
Along with the Hispanic Federation, CUNY’s University Student Senate will be hosting one of the call-to-action meetings on November 21 at City College of New York. Chika Onyejiukwa, the interim chairperson of the University Student Senate and the only student voting member on the CUNY Board of Trustees, says that the coalition isn’t only about raising awareness, but about taking the necessary steps – “speaking up, demonstrating and holding key decision-makers accountable” – to create change.
CUNY Rising activists hope to use these forums to provide momentum for the bill of rights, ensuring that it’s not simply a one-time policy proposal, but a movement for student justice that CUNY and the state must address.
‘A NEW NORMAL’
“Because many of our students were born in the era of divestment in higher education, it has become normal for us to have to fight against yearly tuition hikes, for our faculty and staff to go without contracts for years at a time, or for our legislators to continue to cut our budgets,” Onyejiukwa told Clarion. “We need to strive toward a new normal.”
Upcoming CUNY Rising ‘call-to-action’ meetings:
Wednesday, November 16 at 6:00 pm
BMCC Richard Harris Terrace at 199 Chambers Street
Monday, November 21 at 6:30 pm
CCNY Faculty Dining Hall at 160 Convent Avenue
Tuesday, November 22 at 6:00 pm
Hearing Room, Brooklyn Borough Hall at 209 Joralemon Street
RSVP at [email protected]