CSI & CUNY Students To Pay More Money
On February 25, the CUNY Board of Trustees approved an end to its decade-old “last semester free” program, under which students receiving a bachelor’s degree were not charged tuition for their final term. “We just can no longer afford it,” Chancellor Matthew Goldstein told the Board of Trustees. The Board also voted to impose a “technology fee” of $75 per semester for full-time students, and $37.50 for those who attend part-time.
Both changes were opposed by the Professional Staff Congress. “Ending ‘last semester free’ has been under discussion at 80th Street for over two years,” said PSC Secretary Cecelia McCall. “The fact that the Chancellor now wants to ‘self-fund’ certain budget items is being used as an excuse to push it through.”
Goldstein's aid that the additional semester of tuition was needed to pay for more full-time faculty. But the PSC warned that there is no guarantee as to how the money will be used: while the BOT resolution on the tech fee specifies that those funds must be spent on improving computer services, the resolution ending “last semester free” leaves the use of that money wide open.
CUNY spokesperson Michael Arena told Clarion that the union had no cause for concern. “The Chancellor has indicated that replenishing full-time faculty is his highest priority,” Arena said, “and the Board has voted on that. I think that’s a very strong statement.”
CUNY management justified the end of “last semester free” in part by pointing out that since the policy was adopted in 1992, the City Council established the Vallone scholarship program that gives a 50% reduction in tuition to students with a “B” average or better. However, Mayor Bloomberg has called for axing the Vallone program.
Students in the audience were both amused and irritated by Goldstein’s insistence that the move “is in no way a tuition increase.” When the Chancellor explained that the Governor has not requested nor is the Legislature expected to pass any change in tuition this year, a student called out, “If we pay more money, it’s a tuition increase!” Some Albany legislators expect Pataki, if re-elected, to ask for a tuition hike next year.)
“We know from research that the major reason students drop out of CUNY is not academics, but economics,” said Lawrence Rushing, professor of psychology at LaGuardia, representing the National Action Network at a BOT hearing February 19. At the public hearing, most who spoke on “last semester free” opposed ending the program. The opposite was true for the new technology fee, though UFS observers said that 80th Street has made many calls urging people to speak in its support.
Five CUNY college presidents spoke in favor of the tech fee, including president, Marlene Springer. Those who work most closely with CUNY’s computers formed a large and vocal constituency in favor of the $75 per semester charge: students and faculty in computer science departments, administrators in charge of computer labs and librarians all urged the Board to adopt the fee -though most said they did so with regret.
“How can we compete in the job market when we’re using Windows 95 or 98, and now Windows XP is out?” asked Donna Quinn, majoring in computer information systems at John Jay.
But Queens College student Donald Passantino said that the tech fee “amounts to a back-door tuition hike,” one that asks students “to shoulder the burden of two decades of disinvestment.” He noted that the fee would fall most heavily on the poorest students: “Unlike actual tuition hikes, the burden of these fees cannot be offset by student financial aid.” Most importantly, he said, the tech fee “moves CUNY yet another step farther from its long-standing commitment to providing affordable, accessible higher education to New Yorkers.”
The vice chair for disabled student affairs at the University Student Senate, Passantino closed by arguing that if this fee was imposed, CUNY’s 9,000 students with disabilities should have a proportional share dedicated to making computer services accessible.
The most fundamental argument against the tech fee came from a tongue-in-cheek presentation from Hunter student Liam Flynn-Jambeck, calling it “an ingenious way to raise money.” She went on: “This fee thing seems kinda cool .... I’m not sure if you know, but many students use the bathroom at some point during the day and they don’t pay a dime for this. I thought a little $55 per semester bathroom fee would be appropriate. But why stop there?... Let’s face it, chairs aren’t free, and students sit on chairs in almost every classroom. Let’s do a $20 chair fee .... What about a $10 door fee?”
“Budgetary cannibalism from within our University serves no one,” declared Valerie Vazquez, student government president at Queens. “We need to work together to find a better way!”
Assembly Higher Education Committee Chair Ed Sullivan has introduced a bill that would limit CUNY and SUNY fees to no more than 15% of tuition.