A group of SUNY-New Paltz students are rising up against ever-increasing tuition and their belief that the SUNY/CUNY system is becoming increasing less public and more privatized. “We’re a chapter of a SUNY-wide group, New York Students Rising, that is focused on protecting public education, access to public education for the public good, which was the initial mission of the SUNY system,” said Shane Triano, a member of the SUNY-New Paltz Students Rising group.
“With the enormous decline in state funding for our SUNY public schools, we’re seeing an increase in privatization of our school’s services and a movement toward turning a public model into a corporate model,” said Roberto LoBianco, also a member. He cited several examples where he sees education suffering while students are being asked to pay more — $300 per year for the next five years.
“Class sizes have increased dramatically,” he said. “It’s redefining what a ‘seminar’ class should be.” Regarding the number of adjunct faculty being used for seminar classes, he added, “As great as they are, they haven’t received increases in years; they’re forced to work two and three jobs. That affects the way they teach, the quality of their teaching, because they’re overworked and underpaid.”
Several of the members of the SUNY-New Paltz Students Rising chapter cited privatization as a major bone of contention, and as a “threat” to what they believe should remain a public institution. “You have corporations coming in and taking over things, like Campus Auxiliary Services,” said LoBianco. “That means the money is not reinvested in SUNY-New Paltz; it goes back to corporate headquarters.”
“Or the Park Point Development,” chimed in Cody Hill, a senior, referring to a large-scale proposal to build student housing on the southern end of campus by a private developer. “Here you have a private corporation developing and managing student housing with no proof or commitment that it will be more affordable or as affordable as the student housing we have now. Students like myself can barely afford the cost of tuition, housing, food, books. Our tuition goes up, yet the quality of our education goes down.”
Hill cited the lack of “resources being put into academics. I’m a Women’s Studies major, and that program is very unstable. There is no longer a full-time faculty member in the department. If we have more corporate donors and more privatization in a public school system, that’s going to lead — and has led — to certain programs being cut and greater resources given to programs and departments that fill those corporations’ needs, like Engineering or Business.”
“What about Humanities and Foreign Languages?” asked Alyssa Greenfield. “They’ve been on the chopping block at several SUNY schools, or have been axed.”
The goal for this group is to “raise awareness” and inspire other students to get involved and work together to address these concerns — to let “our voice be heard by the administration and by the state government,” said Hill. To that end, they all attended a gathering called Students’ Power Convergence in Ohio over the summer to learn ways to “build momentum, both statewide and nationwide, as so many higher public education systems are facing privatization. “ We want to protect the public good, keep public education affordable for everyone,” said Triano.
On Oct. 18, they will be participating in and raising awareness around campus for International Student Strike Day, where students nationally and internationally will stage protests and events that empower students and education and push back against privatization. “We are going to collect student feedback around campus, advertise Student Strike Day and endorse and support all other actions being planned on that night, as several other groups we work with have already planned things,” said Triano.
The group, which meets every Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Atrium on campus, encourages everyone and anyone to join. The members were cautious to point out that, as many of them are seniors, this is “not just about us. We don’t want to be some lone group out there, and we’re not. We’re part of a bigger organization, and we want other like-minded organizations to raise their voices as well, to help safeguard a precious public institution,” said LoBianco.
To learn more, show up on a Wednesday night, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or link up with the SUNY-New Paltz Students Rising group Facebook page.