More than 200 CUNY students and supporters demonstrated at New Deal for CUNY rally in front of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall on March 19. (Karen Juanita Carrillo photo)

Four-time CUNY grad Jamell Henderson is still studying—he says he’s on the path to graduating a fifth time. 

When he graduates with a PhD from CUNY’s College of Staten Island, he will become Dr. Jamell Henderson and a five-time CUNY grad. “Twenty years of being a student––and a student advocate––because this university is so important for people like myself who live in NYCHA,” Henderson told the crowd assembled in front of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall on a bitter-cold Sunday afternoon. 

Henderson was one of the leaders of more than 200 CUNY students and supporters demonstrating at the “New Deal for CUNY” rally on March 19. They spoke out against Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposal for a CUNY tuition hike—the first increase since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019.

Hochul is proposing a 3% annual tuition hike. CUNY protestors want the proposal shot down; instead, they’re pushing state legislators to enact New Deal for CUNY legislation, which would call for schools to set a ratio of approximately 15 students to one full-time professor; set aside funds for repairs at schools that have deteriorating infrastructure; raise the salaries of adjunct professors; and make CUNY tuition-free. 

Henderson said CUNY students include “people who come out of foster care. People who are experiencing homelessness. Who are experiencing hunger. Who are dealing with situations, and know and understand the importance of our great degrees. [They] will go out there and make a difference for their families and their communities.”

“For more than 100 years,” CUNY Rising Alliance’s “New Deal for CUNY Concept Paper” argues, “the majority white student population at CUNY could attend without paying a dime in tuition. But today, when the student population is majority people of color, the state takes more than one billion dollars from the pockets of students––that is an average of more than $4,000 per student, per year. Put differently, that is groceries for the year––or a laptop and a few months’ rent. If a free CUNY was good enough for the majority white population in its first century, surely it is good enough for the majority students of color population today.”

Electeds attending the March 19 rally also voiced opposition to raising CUNY tuition. 

“CUNY is the future of a thriving, of a healthy, of an inclusive New York City,” noted Comptroller Brad Lander. “Eighty percent of CUNY grads stay in New York City. CUNY grads become one-third of the teachers in our New York City Public Schools, raising up the next generation of our young people. CUNY graduates become one-half of the nurses in New York City, keeping the city healthy, and boy, if we have any chance at a future for an inclusive city––a city where 80% is from working class and low-income families, where 80% of them are students of color, where 45% are first-generation college students—the only way we will build that thriving, that healthy, that inclusive New York City, is to invest in CUNY and not to divest from it. 

“How on Earth could you propose a budget that cuts CUNY by 130 million dollars?”

State Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani insisted that those students who plan on coming to Albany to speak out against Hochul’s proposed tuition hike need to demand more. “There will be too many of us who will be self-satisfied at defeating this tuition increase,” Mamdani said, “and we must say no, we must take the step toward a New Deal for CUNY.” 

State Senator Iwen Chu, who came to the United States 18 years ago and attended Brooklyn College, told ralliers: “I got my degree. It opened many doors for me. I’m going to tell you, this is a real story of a real American dream for all immigrants and immigrant kids. Our public higher education has to be affordable…we need to make sure we don’t see tuition hikes.”

“Don’t say that you care about public higher education and underfund public higher education,” State Senator Andrew Gounardes said about Hochul’s proposed tuition hike.

“Don’t say you support working-class students and then ask them to pay a tuition increase, which is a tax increase by another name. Don’t say you care about the future of the next generation if you’re not willing to plant the seeds for that generation…right now. That’s what the fight for the New Deal for CUNY is all about.”

Before the ralliers set out for their march across the Brooklyn Bridge, Salimatou Doumbouya, chair of CUNY’s University Student Senate, said, “There is one message that I want all the leaders to hear—all the elected officials, everyone at CUNY Central to hear: The students are here! They know what they deserve, and they will keep fighting for what they deserve. On their local campuses, with their faculty, with the staff and every single person, [we will] make sure that CUNY remains the greatest urban university in the world.”

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