In front of a series of posters with red and black slogans, Columbia-Barnard’s Young Democratic Socialists of America held a rally in support of their college tuition strike. The rally began with a press conference in front of 60 West Morningside Drive by University President Lee Bollinger and culminated in a march to the steps of the Low Library.
The YDSA strike, a movement that began last summer and has now garnered more than 4,000 student supporters, has expanded its initial tuition reduction message – starting with a 10 percent reduction in tuition fees and a 10 percent increase in funding allocation . To create a larger platform in support of social justice issues, the new demands include recognition of the PhD students’ union, a police de-financing move, fossil fuel divestment and an investment in affordable housing. Local political candidates have joined student groups in Colombia with a number of different goals to form a coalition for more collective action.
“We wanted a show of support,” said Willem Morris, CC ’21, a YDSA organizer. “And some New York politicians who supported the campaign are coming out and supporting us personally.”
Christian Flores, CC ’22, who is also a YDSA organizer, opened the press conference portion of the rally with an opening argument for reducing tuition fees. He cited the university’s $ 310 million increase in foundation assets last year, $ 8 billion in unrestricted assets, and nearly $ 974 million in cash as evidence of Colombia’s ability to meet YDSA’s demands .
“It’s not about whether Columbia can reduce tuition fees,” said Flores in his speech, “but whether Columbia wants to.”
Hold Columbia Fiscally Responsible
Angela Fernández, a candidate for Ward 10 for New York City Council, speaks to a group at the strikers’ press conference outside the home of University President Lee Bollinger on Morningside Drive.
Columbia cannot legally spend the majority of the $ 310 million that comes from the returns on its investments. In addition to the necessary use of foundation funds for purposes determined by donors, the law on the uniform prudent administration of institutional funds stipulates the implementation of a foundation expenditure policy. This means that the university can only use a certain percentage of the foundation’s market value per year as per spending policy and the law.
Columbia-Barnard YDSA cited Bollinger’s 2018 salary as a sign of the government’s uneven distribution of resources. Bollinger, who made $ 4.6 million in 2018 as the highest-paid president of the Ivy League that year, put a wage freeze this year while the Barnard administration cut wages, which included a 20 percent cut in President Sian’s salary Include Beilock.
While the specific tuition reduction requirements anchored the event, other local candidates for public office discussed broader policy issues around affordable education and Colombia’s role as a powerful institution in New York City.
Tahanie Aboushi, a Manhattan district attorney candidate, said New York City’s future would be “constrained” if students were forced into “ridiculous debts”. Angela Fernández, a candidate for the 10th district representative of New York City Council, said more boldly that “student debt is violence.”
The rising cost of tuition – and with it, the greater need for students to take out loans – has long been a discussion on Columbia campus. Arthur Schwartz, CC ’74 and candidate for New York City Council Representative, District 3, spoke during the rally of his frustration at the fact that today’s student movements are making the same demands as his colleagues when he was a student. At the time, students were trying to fight back a $ 50 increase from the then $ 1,000 tuition fee. Now, with Columbia College tuition fees of $ 58,920, he was more than ready to show his support for a new generation of student activists.
“Shame is a word we should use. It’s been 50 years and you are still making the same demands, ”said Schwartz.
Maria Ordoñez, one of the founders of the Columbia-Barnard YDSA and candidate for the 7th district representative of New York City Council, gave a speech in front of the crowd that also advocated a cancellation of the tuition fees.
“We have to cancel the class now. We have to invest in West Harlem. We have to make these demands now, ”she said. “Those in power are making a profit out of the working class New Yorkers and Harlem in order to make a profit for the elite institution. Politicians need to listen to the community. “
Ordoñez stressed the importance of ensuring that if Colombia continues to expand into West Harlem, it must ensure that it has affordable housing for locals, not just affluent New Yorkers looking to move into the neighborhood.
Since 2009, when Columbia bought 6.8 million square feet of land in West Harlem for $ 6.3 billion, it has been used by West Harlem residents for exploiting significant domains, increased surveillance of parishioners and working with law enforcement as well criticizes support for long-term community initiatives for lack of control.
Although Columbia is one of the largest landowners in New York City, Columbia only pays property taxes on a portion of its holdings, including vacant lots and lots, some residential, and commercial space. New York State law exempts most property taxes for private universities, colleges, and hospitals, and costs the city approximately $ 1 billion in revenue each year. 7 highlighted this discrepancy in her speech to the rally participants.
“In all fairness, the first thing I would like to see of Columbia is actually pay your fair share. The fact that, among other things, they are exempt from property tax is just absurd to me. They have to reinvest in the community they ransacked for existence, and that’s a very easy way to get started, ”said Morales.
While Morales rightly believes that universities and hospitals are exempt from property tax, the exemption is not absolute as Columbia pays annual property taxes on its properties that exceed those of the undergraduate campus and medical center. While Colombia is unlikely to have to pay property taxes on its entire country, Morales believes that if leaders like Bollinger “become aware that there is talk of having to pay taxes,” there may be more pressure the university to invest in the community.
“There are deeply ingrained structural and systemic problems that we must actually address in order to stop the poverty tide and the criminalization of poverty, as well as the inequalities and inequalities in this country,” said Morales.
Formation of coalitions inside and outside Colombia
City council candidate and Columbia student Maria Ordoñez, CC ’21, appeals to a crowd of over 50 college students and community members who have gathered on low levels to rally for the student-organized strike, the largest in the world History is.
“This is a moment when an active reassessment of the status quo is understandable and we expect nothing less from our students,” said a university spokesman in response to the rally. “Their voices are heard by Colombia’s leadership and their views on strengthening the university are welcomed.”
YDSA organizer Matthew Gamero, CC ’23, said the university’s reaction to today’s events was “a typical liberal reaction in terms of recognizing, but not changing, the institutional structures”.
According to its student leaders, YDSA is trying to form a coalition not only with politicians but also with other social justice organizations on campus such as the Mobilized African Diaspora and Students for Justice in Palestine, in hopes of finding common ground between their respective movements .
[Read more: Thousands sign onto Columbia tuition strike as student organizers push for voice in university budgets]
Morris, who was instrumental in planning the rally, is currently organizing a rapport with members of the West Harlem community to “discuss more about how students and members of the Harlem community can work together to harness their power, to bring about change “. They plan to use Community Board 9 meetings and the Ordoñez-West Harlem links to share their demands regarding the treatment of the community.
“It’s important to the tuition strike,” said Morris. “Not just to build this solidarity for the spring semester 2021, but to have a bigger platform for each of these groups and to work together in the future because all of our struggles are interconnected.”
Rachael Su, BC ’22, was an observer at the rally who believed the university did not uphold the “progressive values” it claims to have as an institution at the “forefront of education”.
“Colombia’s responsibility, if it continues to say such things, rests with its students, faculty and workers to actually uphold what it believes in what I think it doesn’t believe right now,” she said.
With Morris and other executives graduating in the spring, their overall goal with the rally and the tuition strike is to lay the foundations for more groups of students in the years to come.
“This is a lot more than just this college tuition strike,” said Morris. “This is about building a larger student platform and educating students about these issues for the long term.”
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