Last Thursday afternoon, over 50 students gathered in the Student Activity Plaza for a candlelight vigil inprotest of the proposed tuition increase, budget cuts, and financial aid cuts for SUNY and CUNY. The vigil, held by New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) and other campus organizations that have aligned to form the ‘No Tuition Hike Coalition,’ is the first of many events that are planned to protest theproposals.
According to statistics presented by NYPIRG, New York State Governor George Pataki’s 2003-04 Higher Education budget proposal includes a $1,200 tuition increase for SUNY and CUNY, a reduction of TAP grants by one-third, a 15 percent cut to the operating budgets of state universities, and a 50 percent cut to programs such as EOP, HEOP, SEEK and College Discovery.
‘Governor Pataki is trying to let us know that SUNY isn’t a priority, and students want to let Governor Pataki know that SUNY and CUNY should be on his list of priorities,’ said Helen Ho, a first-year Project Coordinator for NYPIRG’s Stony Brook chapter.
The purpose of the candlelight vigil was ‘to commemorate the students who dropped out in 1995 because of the tuition increase,’ explained Melissa Morahan, who is also in her first year as a Project Coordinator for NYPIRG at Stony Brook.
‘The last time there was a tuition hike, close to 30,000 students dropped out,’ Ho said. ‘A tuition hike of this magnitude will mean thousands of students will have to drop out, which will result in less full-time faculty and more job cuts. It’s not beneficial to anybody.’
‘[The 1995 dropouts are] a symbol of what’s going to happen in the future, because not only are they raising tuition, they’re cutting financial aid,’ said Sean Bartlett, Media Coverage Coordinator for NYPIRG’s Stony Brook chapter. Unfortunately for NYPIRG, news coverage was limited to on-campus media.
Students who were at the vigil hoped that they could make a difference. ‘I don’t see why anybody would support a tuition hike,’ sophomore Jason Cheng said. ‘Hopefully we can help stop this proposal.’
During the vigil, students shared comments and stories about how a tuition hike could affect them and lit candles in protest, while NYPIRG project coordinators led chants against the tuition increase.
After the vigil, NYPIRG led a discussion held in the Student Activity Center lounge to explain the budget proposals at length and outline future protests that are being planned. Campus organizations were also invited to join the ‘NoTuition Hike Coalition.’
One ofthe future events being planned is an action meeting to be held on Feb. 12 at 12:40 p.m., at the Colors Caf’eacute; in the Stony Brook Union. The movement will culminate in a rally to be held in Albany on March 11, which is expectedto draw approximately 10,000 SUNY and CUNY students from all over New York State.
NYPIRG project coordinatorsMorahan and Ho said they felt the vigil was a success, and called for thesupport of all students.
‘I think it went well, and hopefully the students [that attended] will spread the word to their constituents,’ said Morahan. Ho added, ‘This is a particularly bad year, so we need to take action in a very loud way.’