posted 2012-03-22 00:37:34

Students Protest New York State Education Policies in Albany

Thirty-three students arrested in front of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office

Kaitlin McKendry

Staff Writer

Roughly 300 students gathered in Albany March 4 in protest of recent reductions to state funding of education programs and legislation that permits public universities across the state to raise their tuition. Students from CUNY and SUNY as well as some professors and high school students marched the corridors of the state capital building protesting loudly against the rise of student debt and demanded burden-free access to education. The demonstrations were sponsored by New York Students Rising, an activist organization which paid for bus travel to and from the capital for many students.

The protest included a series of teach- ins and loud outbursts of chanting and culminated in a peaceful sit-in in front of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, where 33 protesters were arrested by New York State Police troopers.

The opposed tuition hikes were approved by Cuomo last year under a statute that allows public universities in New York State to increase tuition by five percent every year for the next five years. The measure allows the SUNY research universities at Binghamton, Albany, Stonybrook and Buffalo to increase tuition by an additional three percent annually. The CUNY board of trustees voted to increase tuition $300 a year for the next five years late last semester.

Students were also protesting the increased privatization of school services at public universities. CUNY students Domingo Estevez and Christina Chaise led a teach-in titled “CUNY and Privatization.” Chaise, a Hunter student and member of Hunter Students United (a branch of the city-wide coalition Students United for a Free CUNY). Domingo and Chaise held their teach-in in the capital building’s Senate Gallery, focusing on the evolution of CUNY and the detrimental effects they believe privatization will have on students in the short and long terms.

During the march through the capital, protesters could be heard throughout the building with chants such as, “school is not a factory, we are not a commodity” and “money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation.” The main hallways and staircases were lined with state troopers who tried to keep the walkways clear and keep the students in order. Early in the demonstrations there was little interaction between the protesters and police, a few brief aggressive moments errupting over the crowding of the hallways.

Protesters marched to the offices of several state senators, including that of Senator John DeFrancisco, who has supported budget cuts to public education. Once inside his office, protesters were met by DeFrancisco’s secretary, who refused to disclose information regarding his whereabouts. When informed about the protest that occurred in his office, DeFrancisco was on the senate floor, with other senators, commending a group of high-achieving students. He later expressed his opposition to the actions of the students. “I can speak for many of my

colleagues that most of them do feel that that’s [protest] not a good way to go about things,” he said according to Syracuse Online.

Following the final teach-in of the day, which took place in the capital’s War Room, students performed a “speak- out.” During the speak-out, students had the opportunity to tell the story of their struggles and hardships surrounding their education. Roughly 10 students spoke, many expressing their financial woes and their ever growing sums of student debt.

During the final rally of the protest, students and several professors staged a peaceful sit-in in front of the governor’s office. Roughly 25 state troopers protected the entrance to Cuomo’s office, preventing protesters from entering. As students moved from the War Room, state troopers warned them that they faced the risk of arrest if they entered the hallway leading to the governor’s office.

Students took a seat in front of the Cuomo’s office to the tune of loud chants in their support. Those protesters who chose not to sit-in stood directly behind those sitting in the surrounding hallway and along the perimeter of the adjacent room. The first arrest was made about 20 minutes after the sit-in began, with a total of 33 arrests made by the conclusion of the sit-in.

Throughout the sit-in protesters beckoned the governor to come out of his office, yelling, “Cuomo, Cuomo, come on out, face the students you sold out.” State troopers continued to monitor the protest, arresting one protester roughly every five minutes. The sit-in lasted about an hour and a half. Apart from several tense moments where student blocked the hallway to the office, there was no force used by the troopers against protesters. Cuomo never came out of his office to face the students, nor did his representatives release a statement.

“Unfortunately, the Governor chose to have us arrested instead of taking a moment to come out and talk with us”, said Binghamton student Jackie Hayes, who was arrested for her participation in the sit-in. “Regardless of where he stands, we do not plan to stop organizing and fighting back and we hope more students join us.”

Following the sit-in, protesters marched to the lower level, where they continued to protest until they were reunited with their detained classmates.

In reaction to the day’s events, Conor Reed said, “I am greatly inspired by the education movement in New York State. CUNY and SUNY students are taking aggressive action to protect our education.” Reed, an adjunct professor at Baruch and student at the CUNY graduate center, was one of the students arrested last semester at the CUNY board of trustees public hearing protest in the Baruch lobby Nov. 21.

At the close of the protest, there was a feeling of victory among protesters.

“It was important for me to be here today to show the politicians that the students have a voice,” said City College student Alyssa Osorio. “We are being wronged and no matter what, we are going to stand up for what is right.”