posted 2012-02-16 16:24:19

A Demand for Free Education

A rebuttal to "Education is not a right," Hunter Envoy Issue # 7

Christina Chaise

Contributing Writer

CUNY used to be free. Since its founding in 1847, CUNY was free during recessions, the Great Depression, and two World Wars. In 1969, Blacks and Latinos successfully occupied City College to demand access to a white-populated CUNY with a curriculum that included ethnic studies. Soon after, students of color were the predominant population. In 1975, a tuition was imposed, placing another social barrier in the way of the working class people for whom CUNY was founded— another discriminatory institutional barrier for Blacks and Latinos.

Since then, “fiscal crises” have functioned as scapegoats to justify less public funding to CUNY and to shy away from the social responsibility of quality education for the people of New York City. Rather, this social responsibility has changed into an individual responsibility: if you lack access to education, it is your fault. That is still the narrative, and many have internalized it. Yet others are waking up, realizing they DO have a right to a quality education, and therefore, an equal chance to determine the conditions of their lives and of their communities—and they're fighting for this right as history goes. Because education allows individuals to secure subsistence (food, clothing, shelter) and be productive members of society, the denial of this right is not just a blow to the individual, it is a blow to society.

That is why we have a tax system. Our taxes are public funding, and they are intended to fund public institutions conducive to the well being of society, like CUNY and other public universities. Unfortunately, for the last few decades our tax money has been going to military, prisons, and police, rather than to organizations to improve our communities. The results are appalling when one compares the amount of public funding that goes into the latter compared to public higher education, and this comparison sheds light on a failing prioritization. The less our taxes go to where they should, the more we have to pay in tuition, and the closer to privatization our CUNY becomes, and this applies to all public institutions.

If you want to be mad about the tax system, be mad that it is not proportional to income brackets and allows loopholes for excessively rich people and institutions. Be mad that we have little say in how and where our money is allocated. Be mad that we're paying twice, through taxes and tuition, to go to a school without free printing, without affordable and nutritional food, and with too many professors without a decent salary and healthcare.