Hundreds of protesters descended upon Baruch College yesterday afternoon to intervene a CUNY Board of Trustees meeting, which was expected to decide on yet another tuition rise. With the main Baruch building on 55 Lexington Ave. sealed off by a hefty presence of NYPD, the surreptitious meeting went ahead uninterrupted, passing a series of $300 annual tuition hikes over a course of five years. The rally, however, managed to avoid the kind of run-ins with the police that saw 25 arrests at the previous demonstration last Monday—yesterday just 3 arrests were made.
The 15-to-1 vote means that by the 2015-16 school year, CUNY undergraduates would have to pay $6,330 per year for tuition, in comparison to last year’s $4,830, an increase of 31 percent by the end of the five-year period.
Demands at the rally were not limited to lowering tuition–many clamored for the immediate resignation of CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and the abolishment of the current CUNY Board of Trustees. Unions such as UAW (United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America), PSC-CUNY (Professional Staff Congress CUNY), TWU (Transportation Workers Union), and Internationalists also showed a strong turn-out Monday, making up at least a third of a rally that was spearheaded by CUNY students in conjunction with a large number of CUNY faculty members.
In anticipation of the protest, all classes after 3:00PM were cancelled, with routine access to the building denied by a legion of NYPD. The police were lined up behind metal railings that claustrophobically hemmed in protesters like sardines on pedestrian sidewalks on the block by the building’s entrance, along 25th St. between Lexington and 3rd Avenue.
The rally was relentlessly restive; the claustrophobia and general outrage at last week’s mass arrests at CUNY seemed to circulate an apprehensive air of spite towards the police and the Board. More excitable protesters howled “Fuck the p’O’lice,” and others scathingly hissed at individual officers. However, the festive temper to which student rallies are naturally inclined (this time courtesy of an omnipresent marching band in green) sufficed to make sure things did not go overboard.
Prior to the march to Baruch, several hundreds gathered in Madison Square Park, where placards, signs, and political flyers were being distributed. Individuals spoke through the archetypal OWS human mic system to get the crowd’s adrenaline flowing. David Julian Guerrero, a graduate student at Hunter, held up a document of statement from student lender Sallie Mae before proceeding to set it alight. Surrounding protesters collectively chanted “CUNY must be free.”
CUNY graduates and various CUNY faculty members dominated a scene that was contrastingly more senior in age than the student rally at Union Square two weeks ago. Denise Romero, a 19-year-old Politics major at CUNY said that it was easier for graduate students to turn up because “Undergraduate students are mostly from low income communities… ethnic minorities… they often have two to three jobs just to pay off tuition… [S]o they cannot attend these rallies because they’re at work.”
On the way to Baruch College from Madison Square Park, voluntary ‘marshals’ with colored armbands patrolled and shepherded the crowd, constantly trying to keep the march from spilling out from the sidewalk. These marshals were also using walkie talkies to coordinate their movement from front to back of the serpentine march in order to prevent splintering. The procession that cried mantras like “Money for jobs and education/Not for police and corporation” drew plenty of attention from onlookers, who poked their heads out from windows; by-passers looked bewildered, amused, apathetic, intimidated, or substantially pissed; and all were taking snapshots on their phones. At times, the scene looked less a political rally than a feeding ground, a frenzy of journalists and cameramen looking for a story.
Around 4:00 p.m. the rally arrived at Baruch to find that the union masses had already occupied the street in front of Baruch College. After a bout of collective chanting, acknowledging mutual allegiance, half the rally was compelled to break off and march again around a two-block radius of the building. Protestors then began spilling out onto the roadside, at which point a squadron of officers on adorable mopeds popped up to force them back onto the sidewalk. The spillover continued into Third Ave., and the police mopeds charged more aggressively there, physically pushing protesters with the bodies of the vehicles. Amid such mayhem there was a brief moment of brawl, between the aforementioned David Julian Guerrero, and a mounted officer, which reportedly resulted in his arrest.
Students from other universities like the New School, Columbia and NYU also showed up in small numbers to show their solidarity. Members of NYU4OWS were present,
all of whom were doctoral students [UPDATED: Please see correction below]. They held signs reading, “One Struggle, One Fight, NYU Stands With CUNY.”
Max Liboiron, a fifth-year-doctoral student at NYU in Media, Culture, and Communication, said he saw CUNY as “an icon for the state of education in general,” citing it as one of the few universities with affordable tuition. She dreaded that impending changes at CUNY would make education no longer accessible to “students across the board, drowning in debt, who just to go to school so that you could enter a job market, where you’re not likely to get a good job and be able to pay off your debts.”
Of NYU, she said she objected to “all resources” being funneled into the international aspect of the university, while there was “zero cultural competency to back that up. I find that very unethical…5-years-ago it wasn’t like this.”
Individuals where were key in organizing the student aspect of the nationwide “Day of Action” were again at the forefront of the protest yesterday.
NYU Local also spotted some of the participants of the New School Occupation that ended last Friday. One of them, a graduate student in Sociology at New School who wished to remain anonymous said “This is a moment when students can unite regardless of what school you go to. This [the current state of affairs] affects everyone. It ties in neatly with the discussion of public education.” She has also been actively participating in the city-wide General Assemblies, which deals specifically with “common issues that affect all students: tuition increases, student debt, and value of public education in general.”
By about 6:45PM, many of protesters at the rally gradually began making their way home, after a day of what was, to a greater extent, a peaceful demonstration.
Photographs by Rachel Kaplan and Harry Lee
UPDATE: The article originally stated that all of the NYU4OWS members present were doctoral students, while in fact there were also NYU graduate students and undergrads present.