Students Take Concerns to Capital

Approximately 40 SUNY New Paltz students went to SUNY Palooza on Tuesday, March 15 to appeal legislatures for cutting public education funding.
Approximately 40 SUNY New Paltz students went to SUNY Palooza on Tuesday, March 15 to appeal legislatures for cutting public education funding.

Student Association (SA) President Jennifer Sanchez and  Vice President of Academic Affairs and Governance Caitlin Ryan had the same thing to say about SUNY Palooza on Tuesday: “It was beautiful.”

“It was incredibly moving,” said Ryan. “It was really what it was meant to be. It was kind of crazy because it was a learning experience and we got to connect with so many different people.”

After last week’s walk out and teach-in, SUNY New Paltz students and SA representatives gathered ideas and used them when they appealed to legislators to not cut funding for public education at SUNY Palooza, a day where students across the system lobbied in Albany, N.Y.

Sanchez said approximately 40 students came in a bus and separate cars, many of which heard about the event after last week’s teach-in that  focused on campus, state and national economic concerns.

Although students from across the system came together for SUNY Palooza, Sanchez said the president of the SUNY Student Assembly “wasn’t very cooperative” with the group of New Paltz students.

“At first she started raising her voice and getting angry, but I said that wasn’t necessary,” Sanchez said. “Sometimes I feel that people have this fear of losing power. But they had no choice but to listen to us. They had to come out of their offices because our voices were reverberating off the walls.”

Students from schools like Hudson Valley Community College and University at Buffalo also came to Albany to lobby, according to Sanchez. She said they came with testimonials about how the budget cuts were affecting their personal lives and brought forth a resolution with a list of demands for dealing with budgetary shortfalls being faced by schools across the state.

Sanchez said the SUNY New Paltz representatives, the other participating schools and non-students began chanting throughout the event, as well as on their way through the legislative building. They were able to give the list of demands to the legislators, and SUNY New Paltz students gave them the manual used at the teach-in.

The lobbyers were in support of the millionaire’s tax, which is directed to those that make over $200,000 a year. But according to Sanchez, the state wants to either get rid of the tax or have only those that make over $1 million pay it.

“That means anyone who makes $700,000, $800,000 doesn’t have to pay it. That’s kind of ridiculous,” said Sanchez. “It’s on the back of the middle and lower class if the millionaires don’t pay. What they [the community voices] were arguing was that we know it’s not a budget crisis, it’s a revenue crisis. So it’s not that we don’t have the money, it’s that they don’t want to charge the people that do have the money.”

SA representatives who attended the event said the New Paltz students had a strong desire to be heard, but that this energy caused problems with the Student Assembly.

At one point in the day, Ryan wanted to speak into a microphone and was denied, said Sanchez.

“They said, ‘New Paltz hasn’t been cooperating all day, you can’t speak,’” she said. “Quickly they saw people’s reaction and they called their E-board at Student Assembly and they were like, ‘Okay, you can speak.’ Eventually we found out afterwards that they are scared to upset the governor because the Student Assembly is funded by the governor.”

SA Vice President of Programming Anthony Lino, who also attended SUNY Palooza, said the actions of the SUNY Student Assembly members at the event were disappointing.

“They don’t keep the interest of New Paltz in mind and other SUNY schools,” he said. “They were very political and not solution-oriented at all towards the event.”

According to Lino, the SUNY Student Assembly was more pro-active about promoting the institution of rational tuition fee which was what he said New Paltz students were fighting against.

The proposition of instituting rational tuition increases across the SUNY system was put forth in the failed Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act. Lino said he and other New Paltz students hope this idea does not come back into conversations among legislators because it would be unfair to students.

“Education is a right; it should be free, and we shouldn’t have to pay for tuition. This nation has more than enough money to aid health care, education, but we spent most of that money on war, gas, petroleum to control their success and the functions of their institutions,” he said.

Ryan and Lino said SUNY New Paltz was able to do a lot of beneficial networking with other schools and representatives, and they are looking forward to working with new people to promote their ideas.

For the future planning of rallies and demonstrations, Sanchez said organizers need to discuss the logistics of what happened at SUNY Palooza and go forth from there.

“The students and the youth have the energy to really make this a revolution and a movement,” said Sanchez. “People are starting to wake up, and it’s really very exciting.”