Brooklyn College students take on student government letter defending tuition hikes, administration

Students at Brooklyn College have responded to a CLAS student government letter that downplays the significance of the recent tuition hikes and tries to shift blame away from CUNY administrators. The letter was posted on the Reclaim Brooklyn College blog earlier today. In addition to the consequences of tuition hikes, the letter also cites misrepresentation of students in a public university as “consumers,” surveillance of Muslims and other student groups, and cuts to affirmative action and LGBTQ Studies, Women’s Studies, Africana Studies, Puerto Rican and Latino Studies as part of the grievances.

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011,

An Open Letter to the Student Body of CUNY Brooklyn College in response to the CLAS Student Government letter published in the December 5th issues of The Excelsior and The Kingsman Newspapers
Dear fellow students and broader members of the Brooklyn College community,
We write to you as a group of autonomous individuals joined together in a collective of students, faculty, and staff who convene every week on Wednesdays at 12:15PM on the first floor of Boylan Hall. We call our meetings ‘General Assemblies’ after a model adopted by Occupy Wall Street and exemplified by various other social movements around the globe throughout history. Our general assemblies are non-violent, non-hierarchical meetings that bring together different struggles from across our campus community. These general assemblies are organized by individual students in affiliation with the student community called the Brooklyn College Student Union, a group that seeks to unite students to defend our common interests in a democratic university. The Union was founded in the Spring of 2009, to empower and give a voice to the entire student body by engaging in sustainable and grassroots movements and ideas, which directly affect our education and campus life.

We would like to air our grievances about the current situation, both here at Brooklyn College and throughout CUNY as a whole. The CLAS student government offered opinion and made claims in an article of The Kingsman and The Excelsior that was published this week.  Particularly of concern is, “although the tuition hikes are hard to stomach, sometime our legislatures leave our schools with no choice,” as well as the idea that was expressed that students should “applaud the CUNY Board [of Trustees] and the administration of Brooklyn College for stopping the cuts.”  The letter also expressed praise from CLAS toward our college administration in their ability to be “able to move our education forward without cutting programs or the high level of education”. They then concluded their open letter to us, the student body, by claiming that “protesting the state when you have an issue is the proper way to handle injustice caused by them, but [that we must] keep in mind that it is the state and not the administration that is responsible here.”

We do not believe that their sentiments are representative of our student body what-so-ever. We represent parents, workers, undocumented students, queers, students of color, and women. We struggle to do outreach with our small numbers of dedicated students to the rest of our 17,000 peers.  Given our efforts and our regular interactions with the diverse members of this community, we know these words to be a farse that amounts to a casual dismissal of truly life-changing negative circumstances that many members of the community now face given recent board decisions.  We hold accountable those administration members that claim to be representatives and champions of the needs of the college community, and do not subscribe to the regular business-as-usual game of passing the buck.  Plainly speaking, it is our opinion that CLAS is as much out of touch with its community as the president of BC, the chancellor of CUNY, and the “representatives” upstate are.

We have 5 very distinct responses to the words of CLAS this week and will be sure to bring these words to our general assembly to discuss them further:

1) Our college administration is a part of the ‘State’ that you speak of and is responsible for perpetuating the status quo of an underfunded, increasingly inaccessible CUNY. It was only after students and faculty petitioned and demonstrated at a faculty council meeting in 2010 that the Supplemental Tuition Fund of $100 was implemented to cover the tuition differential for students that would have otherwise had to drop out of school in the middle of their semester. However, we understand these funds as mere band-aid solutions to what we will be facing in the future. Our concerns are not that the tuition hikes are, as a concept, “hard to stomach”, but the reality of how they will effect the diversity of our student body and our ability to attend classes in the coming semesters.

2) CLAS student government’s inability to understand the every day reality of students who are struggling to pay for school while reiterating the same ‘double-speak’ that the college administration does, is evidence that they are, indeed, not ready to be our allies.

3) In speaking about the rising tuition in university systems across the country, CLAS compared the CUNY wide 30% tuition hike to the rising price of gas and milk. This can be chalked up to ignorance with regards to the political climate that we are experiencing in the United States at this moment. These two phenomena are, in fact, a result of different causal mechanisms. As students we are not customers of CUNY!  The public has invested in our productivity by funding higher education programs for us.  Now they’re moving to cut those investments instead of taxing those responsible for the economic crisis.  Talking about CUNY students as consumers is an ideological misrepresentation.  A more analogous comparison would be: the increase in our yearly tuition with the increase in Chancellor Goldstein’s salary (FYI: including housing allowance, his salary is $600,000 per year, making him the 8th highest paid public employee in the country).

5) We are disheartened by your lack of sensitivity to the real reasons why people protest. We are already feel unsafe and unwelcome on campus: from the policing of Muslim student groups by the NYPD, to the campus police surveillance of our general assemblies, to the cutting of important affirmative action programs like SEEK and the underfunding of departments that teach us about our histories such as LGBTQ Studies, Women’s Studies, Africana Studies, Puerto Rican and Latino Studies. Those are just some the “issues” that we have begun to identify and that is why we protest.

Tuition hikes and budget cuts are a threat to the livelihoods of our own and future working class and communities of color in New York. When CLAS student government are willing to stand with the 25% of Brooklyn College students who live with an annual household income of $20,000 or less, the adjunct professors who work on multiple campuses teaching hundreds of students while getting paid $3,100, per semester, per course, and the rest of our campus stakeholders who are struggling to make ends meet, we will then consider acknowledging CLAS as our peers.

We invite you all to truly democratic assemblies of individuals dedicated to making changes at CUNY and on our own campus at Brooklyn College. CLAS will of course have an equal voice in our general assembly like every other member of our campus community.

There is much to be done before we can all attend the free and just City University of New York that we believe can be achieved. We look forward to working with you.

If you are interested in contacting us, please email: studentunion.bc@gmail.com, follow us on twitter @BCStudentUnion or ask to join our Facebook group: BC Student Union (this group is closed for security reasons). Also, feel free to check out our website at http://www.takebackbrooklyn.wordpress.com.

In solidarity, yours,
Autonomous BC students in solidarity with the Brooklyn College General Assembly
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