THE CUNY PROTESTS
The proposal to impose a large tuition increase throughout the CUNY system at a time of lagging personal incomes and widespread unemployment makes absolutely no sense. It undermines the right of all New Yorkers to have access to a decent public higher education at minimum cost. The proposal emanates from a hysterical attachment to a politics of austerity and debt reduction in recessionary times. This policy does not reflect economic necessity. It derives from the political power of big money interests – what I call “The Party of Wall Street” – to impose callous solutions on the mass of the population while they themselves pay nothing. The most vulnerable elements in the population are thereby forced to pay for a recession they did not create, while those who drove the economy to the brink of disaster gain even more control over the national wealth.
This untoward proposal for a tuition increase must be collectively resisted by all elements within with the CUNY system, from Administrators and Faculty to Students and all the many employees (from Security Guards to Janitors) of an educational system that has served the economic interests of the state and the interests of the people so well over so many years.
It is therefore tragic to see rights of association, assembly and protest, rights guaranteed by the Constitution, trampled upon by policies formulated within the CUNY system that seem designed to deny the right to protest and to restrict the possibility for open and and pacific dialogue.
The response of some CUNY administrators to the protests has followed an unfortunate pattern that is now emerging right throughout the United States, which is to respond with untoward force and sometimes outright police violence to all those who are protesting the astonishing levels of social inequality that have now become the norm in the United States.
The problem is not simply that the disparities in wealth and income are inherently unfair, but that the concentrations of wealth and money power in the “one per cent” now so distort the political process, the means of communication and even our educational system, as to displace and defy the will of the people through resort to the corruptive power of the almighty dollar.
The CUNY system is an enormous asset for the State of New York and for its people. I call upon all elements within the CUNY system to collectively mobilize to resist the untoward imposition of this added economic burden of increasing tuition upon students and their families. Debt peonage for life, the creation of an ever more deeply indebted class of graduates from CUNY, is no real solution to the problems of public indebtedness. It simply transfers the burden of debt to a class of people least able to handle it. Our goal should be to create a higher educational system in CUNY that is free, fair and not debt-encumbered for individual students. This is the political solution for which we must all systematically strive. That solution will only become possible if the rights to freely assemble, associate and protest are also systematically protected and supported rather than systematically and forcefully denied.
I call upon all those with the interests of CUNY and the people of New York State at heart to support the protests and to seek to initiate a process of reform of public education in the State of New York that delivers free and fair education for all.
28TH NOVEMBER, 2011
-David Harvey, Distinguished Professor, CUNY Graduate Center