“Why We Fight” -PDF Formatted To Print As A One Page Fold-Over
Seven SUNY Stony Brook students sat outside of an invite-only press conference regarding the budget, tuition and the PHEEIA for a “beg-in”. Students held cardboard signs with slogans such as “So Hungry… Can’t Afford A Meal Plan” and “Change For Tuition?”. Some students held tin cans with change inside for dramatic effect.
Sitting on opposite sides of the hallway which is estimated to be roughly seven feet wide, the students made sure that they did not impede traffic (what very little there was) and made clear that their intentions were not to disrupt the conference but merely to make sure that student opposition to the PHEEIA, budget cuts and tuition hikes maintains a constant presence wherever it is discussed. The original plan was to leave after half an hour and return for the very end of the press conference so as to be visible as journalists walked in and then again when they walked out. The presence of the unnecessarily hostile and unreasonable police officers, however, caused the students to stand their ground and refuse to leave on principle of their right to peaceably assemble.
Chief Robert Lenahan arrived shortly after the students got settled and ordered them to stand. When pressed for a reasoning behind this order, Lenahan accused the students of “disorderly conduct”. Let it be known that Lenahan himself became the loudest, most disruptive person in the hallway since the students arrived and took a seat. The students stood up but continued to challenge Lenahan’s logic. He returned to the office in which the press conference was being held and when he returned the students were seated yet again.
Frustrated and somewhat “disorderly” Lenahan again demanded that the students rise, this time the students refused to comply, asking Lenahan to cite specific violations and asserting their rights to peaceably assemble. He acknowledged that the building was a public facility, open to students, and failed to explain how a relatively tranquil gathering of a little under a dozen people seated in a non-obstructive way in the hallway constituted disorderly conduct.
Approximately 10-15 minutes thereafter, four additional police representatives arrived, two males and two females. All except Lenahan refused to give their names, but the students stated that they would be capable of identifying them upon sight. By contrast, they demanded the students’ names and student ID numbers and prohibited them from taking audio and video recording and photographs. When one officer was questioned about the basis for Lenahan’s “disorderly conduct” accusation, he responded (paraphrased) that “I’m giving you a lawful order, and if you disobey that, that’s disorderly conduct” (implying that anything he said was equivalent to the law).
The officers present told the students that they would be filing citations against them (to a campus body, but they did not mention which).
Other forms of police harassment included the following: 1) one short, stocky officer in a blue coat smacked the metal can that one student was holding, telling him to “stop it”; 2) the same officer told the same student to “shut up”; 3) four of the five officers refused to provide their names or badge numbers; and, most offensive, 4) all five of the officers consistently refused to answer legitimate questions clarifying the students’ rights. They refused, for example, to tell the students what they would be doing with their personal information, and throughout their time there concocted multiple accusations against the students without providing any substantive justification or explanation as to the legality or appropriateness of their words and actions. Their words seemed clearly intended to intimidate the students.
The students decided to remain put until the press conference let out and most of them gave statements to the various journalists who exited the the room only to find just under a 1-to-1 ratio of students to officers.
The students have since written a report and submitted it to a lawyer.
You’re just not listening.
When you said that the PHEEIA “shields our students and our campuses from the worst effects of the fiscal crisis” you didn’t consider the fact that the legislation encourages tuition hikes (which are historically preceded and followed by budget cuts). Hikes that will hurt only those least able to afford public education– the very same people who are struggling most during this fiscal crisis. The PHEEIA doesn’t shield anybody. In fact, it adds insult to injury.
When you said that the PHEEIA “enables SUNY to engage in partnerships with the private sector, which means new revenue to support SUNY and the ability to create 2,000 faculty positions and a total of 10,000 jobs across the system — along with 65,000 construction jobs for capital projects” you forgot that we, the students, told you that the road to privatization puts profit above education. Students are not customers. Professors are not tools. The university is not a factory.
When you say that the PHEEIA “promotes transparency and accountability in our business transactions” what you mean is that it promotes business transactions and elevates them above the need for a real, affordable public higher education. You mean that it strips the legislators of power and thrusts it into the hands of the SUNY Board of Trustees who are not elected, but are appointed. This is not “empowerment” nor “innovation”. This is a corporate coup.
“Unfortunately, some critics continue to defend an indefensible status quo…”
You are the administration. You are the status quo. The SUNY system has been marching down the path of privatization through a convenient feedback loop of budget cuts and tuition hikes for three decades. You’re just putting the nail in the coffin.
“…providing no alternative solutions — only criticisms.”
“If current projections are accurate, there will be even less money to go around next year.”
No kidding? Maybe it has something to do with your acquiescence. New York State raises tuition and then factors the tuition raise into its budget allowing it to “justify” cuts.
“Business as usual will be nothing short of disastrous.”
So, why are you trying to speed it along?
“The Empowerment Act protects students with a comprehensive tuition policy that will enable them to plan ahead for tuition costs. Historically, tuition has gone up the most during tough times, when families can least afford it.”
The Disempowerment Act allows the SUNY Board of Trustees to slowly raise tuition over time in order to increase long-term yields without drawing the ire of the students. By 2020 it will have effectively doubled tuition. The only thing that” families who can least afford” education can” plan ahead for” is not sending their kids to college or being saddled with tons of debt.
“Our tuition plan will maintain affordability and accessibility. We are in the process of developing a detailed tuition policy that would cap total year-to-year tuition increases, while protecting access with expanded financial aid.”
How does gradually increasing the tuition maintain affordability and accessibility? The “cap” for year-to-year tuition increases will be 2.5 times higher than the current HEPI rate. Expanded financial aid sounds nice in theory but the fact of the matter is that it is the role of a public higher education system to serve the needs of the least able, not put education just out of their fiscal reach and then shower crumbs upon them.
“These reforms will not “give the state permission to cut SUNY.” The steady erosion of support shows that the state long ago gave itself permission to cut SUNY.”
Tricky wording here. The reforms won’t give permission to the state to cut SUNY but the reforms also do not prevent the state from cutting from SUNY. What you mean to say here is that SUNY can make up for slashed state support by placing the burden on students.
“During this fiscal hurricane, we simply cannot afford to stake everything on the hope of budget restorations. To do so will lead to diminished access, erosion of academic quality and economic stagnation.”
Instead we should entirely abandon the idea of public higher education, transform the SUNY system into one that caters to fiscal matters and put providing affordable education on the backburner, right? You’re basically saying here that we should just give up on public education.
“When I was hired by the board of trustees, I pledged to “press the reset button” on SUNY’s way of doing business.”
So you mean that you want to restore all state funding to the SUNY system, lower tuition and throw out the idea of letting the private sector invade our public institutions?
You’re obviously not listening. So, we’re going to make you.
Organizers are made aware that university police received word of the intentions of the protestors to storm the CEWIT building to interrupt a press conference. Speculation over whether a police officer had been a member of the online group or an individual within the group had forwarded information to university police.
Six to eight police officers spotted in the SAC lobby. Organizers gather in the SAC plaza and begin distributing signs.
Rally begins. Speakers from the RA Union, undergraduate and graduate student bodies and the UUP.
Students march across the academic mall and passed the Administration building chanting. They gather on a bus which delivers two groups to the CEWIT building located on south campus.
Approximately 100 students arrive at the CEWIT building where they’re herded like cattle into a “free-speech zone” on the very wet and muddy lawn. Students take the line chanting and shouting.
One of the police officers is recognized by a number of people as having RSVP’d the event. We found our rat. Students shout “who’s the rat?” and as if to confirm our suspicions, the bastard smiles and the other cops look in his direction.
People begin exiting the conference including the university president to whom students were able to successfully deliver the open letter posted below.
Crowds disipate with plans to attend strategy sessions tomorrow for actions to be taken next week.
Chancellor Zimpher and President Stanley,
The SUNY system is under attack and has been for quite some time. Historically, with each and every budget cut comes a tuition increase and vice versa. We are not so naive as to believe that you are the ones who bring the ax down upon state funding or raise our tuition. We understand two things, though: your duty is to represent the students and their best interests and your voices can affect state policy.
We are critical of the way you’ve handled the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act. Instead of making it a point of discussion, you’ve directed your powerful resources to stump for the legislation without consulting those affected: us. Instead of representing us, you’ve made your position to convince us. Regardless of the merits and drawbacks of the PHEEIA, this unilateral attempt to decide what’s best for us will not stand. The PHEEIA may not have begun as a discussion but we’re making it one.
Since you never asked the students what they expect from the university, we’ve decided to make it clear. We are unequivocally opposed to budget cuts and tuition hikes. This is not at all unrealistic, either. The Fiscal Policy Institute (www.fiscalpolicy.org) has developed a list of alternatives to balancing the state budget.
We are not here to negotiate. We, the students, are the core of the university. We know that we can receive a great and more affordable education without marching down our current path of privatization. SUNY is a victim of cuts in part because it allows itself to be. Time and time again we, as students, shrug our shoulders and take the cuts and hikes. Time and time again the administration remains silent or tosses out useless rhetoric against the cuts and hikes without truly using its power to help prevent them. The students have risen to the challenge. The question, now, is whether or not you will.
When an economic crisis hits, the ones who feel it first are always the poor, the working class, the ones who can least afford an education and who need it the most. When budgets are cut, the ones who feel it first are always the students, people who work for a pittance of an hourly wage and whose hopes of social mobility stand only on their ambition and their access to education. When tuition is raised, these are the people who have to bear the burden. These are people who suffer.
That is why this is the moment when adequate funding and low tuition are at their greatest importance and must not be sacrificed. The people for whom public education exists must actually be able to attain it, especially during these worst of times. Simply acquiescing, accepting budget cuts, and requiring your students to cover the rest of the cost is not looking out for our interests. It is because of this that we demand that you use your voice, amplified by your importance to the institutions of the Empire State, to fight for alternative solutions.
Our wallets sit lightly in our pockets. Our belts are out of notches to tighten. We cannot afford to bear a greater burden. We are the students, the future, and we ask that you stand alongside us rather than before us. We stand against budget cuts. We stand against tuition hikes.
In Defense of Public Education,
Concerned students and faculty of Stony Brook
“SUNY AGAINST THE CUT$ WE WILL WIN”
Students hopped around a large wood barrier on the Union staircase and went up onto the roof. After dropping the banner, using a bike chain they were able to lock the doors behind them from inside to prevent anyone from taking the banner down. As of midnight the banner still hangs.