Cuomo Won’t Deliver Us a Free CUNY


On January 3rd, 2017, New York Governor Cuomo and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced a plan to bring free tuition at public universities in New York State for those students coming from families with joint incomes under $125,000 under a three-year phase-in program through the new Excelsior scholarship.  

Students for Justice in Palestine has had a massive presence in the CUNY and SUNY systems in the last five years, with chapters present at almost all of CUNY’s four year campuses and many SJP chapters active as well on the SUNY level.  We have dedicated ourselves to the struggle for a free and liberated University that serves the needs of the broad masses of working-class and oppressed nationality New Yorkers. Indeed Palestinian organizing as part of the larger CUNY struggle  goes at least as far back as the 1990s where the Palestinian Club at Hunter College made up an integral part of the Student Liberation Action Movement whose precursors battled then Governor Mario Cuomo, the current Governor Cuomo’s father, on the streets of the financial district, forcing him to veto his own bill to raise tuition at CUNY.

We recognize and understand the rich history of struggle at CUNY, and that our role as Palestine organizers must be one of unconditional support and participation in the movement to liberate CUNY for the people.  We understand the historic demands of free tuition, open admissions, democratic governance, and a revolutionary curriculum which teaches oppressed nationality students their history, stemming from the 1969 Open Admissions Strike, to be part of a larger anti-racist, global movement to bring down US Imperialism and provide reparations for those populations shackled under it.  Indeed, it was the specific conditions of CUNY itself that led us to build NYCSJP, which would include all youth from our communities, not just those who were fortunate enough to attend CUNY or another higher education institution.

While we are excited by the possibility of great opportunity for working-class and oppressed nationality youth in New York City to attend CUNY and SUNY schools given the Governor’s proposal, we worry about the larger impact of the proposed legislation itself. With the increased effort by CUNY to privatize and militarize the university as a whole, this can lead to increasing the number of black and brown working class NYC youth being locked out of the CUNY system and their right to education.

As with the passage of open admissions in 1969, we expect that CUNY enrollment will increase astronomically in the next few years, especially given the poor job market for those who do not possess college degrees. The question then remains if Governor Cuomo will provide increase funding to accommodate these extra students. If not, the individual colleges will be forced to further increase their already outrageous selectivity standards, pushing us further away from the historical demand of a CUNY student body which represents the makeup of New York City as a whole, and increasingly locking out the exact students which Cuomo’s proposal was supposed to assist in attending college.  

When we examine, for example, the most elite and selective institution within CUNY, the Graduate Center, we see an overwhelmingly White population, unreflective of the population of  NYC Public High Schools and even of the other CUNY campuses.  We will not trade affordability for access and we reject any attempt to continuously increase the selectivity of an institution which belongs to the people of New York.  If tuition is abolished but only the elite, select (and White) few can attend CUNY, we consider this no victory and pledge to fight any attempts to cut funding from CUNY after the passage of the Excelsior scholarship.



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