Fri, May 4, 2012
Nearly 100 students protested scheduled tuition hikes at City University of New York’s Brooklyn College on May 2 outside of President Karen Gould’s office on the second floor of Boylan Hall, according to student activists. CUNY security officers arrested two of the protesters, and brought them to the 70th precinct.
The students, riding on the crest of post-May Day and Occupy sentiment, were upset with the projected 15 percent annual tuition increase of $300 year for the next five years, adding up to $1,500 cumulatively. Student protesters argued that the hikes will add to the debt and financial burden of this already largely working class student body.
“We have started to mobilize the students against this injustice,” said Saar Shemesh, 20, who is receiving her B.A. in Visual Politics and Social Change at Brooklyn College.
Wednesday’s protest became tense, say student activists, who contend that CUNY security officials used undue force, including taking a cane from a disabled woman, and barring incoming students’ access to classes.
Administrators say that heightened security was necessary, because students were causing an unnecessary disruption and actually blocking access to not only the president’s office, but to classrooms on that day.
The students entered Boylan Hall from the quad, where they were demonstrating earlier, after a banner was unfurled from one of the building’s windows.
“It seemed like it was a coordinated action,” said Jeremy Thompson, spokesman for Brooklyn College, who heard the commotion from his office when the students rushed into the building. He adding that the language was peaceful initially, but later turned profane. “That’s when the area was cleared out.”
Thompson wanted to dispel what he called myths about the heightened security that day. Although he recognized that some students without valid ID’s were not allowed in, he maintained that neither batons nor pepper spray were used on the protesters, and that the cane was only temporarily confiscated as the disabled woman was being removed from a sit-in in front of the president’s office. He added that she was assisted by a faculty member down the stairs as she was escorted out of the building.
“The NYPD was not present, either,” Thompson added. However, having been informed by social media of the planned demonstration, the police were waiting outside of the campus gates in the event of the situation escalating.
Currently, full-time undergrad students who are in-state residents pay about $4,105, before fees, per semester. The CUNY network colleges used to be free. Between 1970 and 1975, CUNY admitted any student in New York with a high school diploma who passed the entrance exams without charging tuition.
But now, protesters like Shemesh say that the university is denying its majority working class students a future education. “In five years, a huge majority will not be able to get an education,” she said.
Spokesman Thompson says that about 60 percent of Brooklyn College’s student body, who he describes as working to middle class, receive some form of aid.
“We do whatever possible to support our students,” Thompson assured, citing recent additional private funding acquired for student scholarships. “Tuition increases are never something we want to implement and find it unfortunate that students have to shoulder the burden.” Thompson said.