On Wednesday, March 30 with less than two days before the final budget is released, members of New York Students Rising (NYSR) at SUNY New Paltz gathered on the Old Main Quad from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to complete their 20 Days of Noise. This movement was aimed at freezing tuition hikes proposed in 2011’s NYSUNY2020 legislation.
According to recent molecular biology graduate Zach Coto, NYSR has been active on the SUNY New Paltz campus for about a year, but they have heavily increased their activism in the past month.
“Today is the final push to tell Gov. Andrew Cuomo to freeze tuition, it’s all directed at Cuomo,” said fourth-year International Relations and Sociology major Kelsey Ryan at the event.
As of Wednesday, the New York State Senate, Assembly and the SUNY Board of Trustees have all called for a tuition freeze. Participants in the rally were asked to call Cuomo and ask for his commitment to a long term investment into SUNY and a rejection of SUNY2020.
The event consisted of several tables with different clubs and action-based stations at each. Some of the clubs present include NYSR, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) and the International Socialist Organization. The stations consisted of a banner stating “We Are Not A Loan,” on which students were asked to sign their name and write their debt number, a trivia station, call-ins to Cuomo’s office and social media blasts.
The SUNY2020 legislation entails an annual increase in tuition costs up to $300 per year for all SUNY and CUNY institutions. The legislation also provides incentives for development on each of the 64 SUNY campuses in the long run.
According to the NYPIRG, a coalition of over 350 organizations and groups from colleges and universities across the state have called upon the New York State Legislature and Cuomo to increase state aid to SUNY and CUNY schools and freeze tuition at the current 2015-2016 academic year rates.
According to Coto, sympathy from some members of the Assembly such as Kevin Cahill and James Skoufis, who have both written bills proposing free SUNY and CUNY tuition, has helped in the student voice being heard.
A recent news release by NYPIRG reports that this year, the Assembly and Senate budget proposals include a tuition freeze and a real Maintenance of Effort (MOE) provision to provide stable funding for CUNY and SUNY.
“I think that [student activism] is the only reason they have come out and supported the tuition freeze,” Ryan said. “I think that if we had stood by and done nothing we would be in the same position that we were five years ago and we would have SUNY2020 passed again, but because students have shown up and cared and fought it has altered their agenda, and I think they are starting to realize that student power works.”
According to Coto, in the unlikely event that Cuomo does not support the tuition freeze, student activism will continue to be an important weapon in the fight against tuition increases. He also said that if a favorable budget is passed, students need to keep advocating because it would only be a temporary freeze and state investment.
“If the budget comes through and we have a tuition freeze, this isn’t going to be the end of our fight,” Ryan said. “It’ll be an issue again next year; even if they neglect the SUNY2020 this year it could always pass again. It’s really going to be about getting information out there and letting students know that this needs to be a topic of discussion every single year.”