A daylong rally by City University of New York students against a planned tuition increase turned turbulent Monday evening when marchers ignored police requests to clear the lobby of a building where the university’s trustees were meeting and 15 people were arrested.
The students were pushed to the ground and taken away in handcuffs from the lobby of Baruch College, in Manhattan, while protesting a planned tuition increase for the 2012-13 academic year, on which the trustees are to vote next Monday.
Carlos Pazmino, 21, a City College student who helped organize the protest, said that after students began opening lobby doors to the building where the CUNY trustees were holding a public hearing on the 14th floor, CUNY public safety officers surrounded the entrances and pushed back, using their batons. He said that when students formed a line to push past, the officers began hitting the students with the batons.
“I saw two people knocked down by cops,” Mr. Pazmino said. “They were arrested, and one guy’s head was bleeding.”
During the fighting, students on higher floors dropped books down on the police, and captured the scuffle on video. A crowd of 200 to 300 protesters outside beat on the lobby’s windows, also shouting, “Shame.”
The protest began with a handful of organizers who marched through the cafeteria at City College at lunchtime. The group is demanding the repeal of the tuition increase approved in the summer by the city and the state: $300 a year for five years.
Later in the afternoon, the protest moved to Madison Square Park, where CUNY students from other colleges had agreed to meet. The growing crowd then marched on to Baruch College, at Lexington Avenue and 24th Street.
At Baruch, the campus police restricted access to the hearing to those who had registered, and set up barricades around the building, the William and Anita Newman Vertical Campus Conference Center, in whose lobby the confrontation occurred. At one point, the police told those who had pushed into the lobby, and refused to leave, that they would be arrested for trespassing. The students then sat down, and were pushed to a wall by the campus police.
“We have made it clear to the university that violent response to students who are protesting nonviolently is not acceptable,” said Barbara Bowen, the president of the faculty union, the CUNY Professional Staff Congress, who was in the meeting while the students were being arrested.
At the afternoon protest at Madison Square Park, protesters chanted, “Banks got bailed out, students got sold out.”
A small group of New York University and New School students joined the rally to support CUNY students, apparently part of an unrelated campaign by Occupy Wall Street organizers called Occupy Student Debt. Andrew Ross, an N.Y.U. professor affiliated with that group, said it was aiming to get one million students to pledge that they would not pay back their loans.
But Denise Romero, 19, a junior at Baruch and one of the organizers of Monday’s protest, insisted that the CUNY protest was independent of Occupy Wall Street. “We support them and they support us, but we are not affiliated,” she said.
She added that CUNY students were protesting not only tuition increases but also the university’s push for a public-private partnership. CUNY received $1.4 billion in private philanthropy this year, according to a university spokesman.
“We want more student representation,” said Ms. Romero, who had registered to speak at the hearing Monday.
Cuomo and Bloomberg think they can push sharp increases in fees and tuition and sharp decreases in financial aid onto SUNY and CUNY students and they will meekly take it.
So far, students and their families mostly have.
But we're starting to see some action on that front and occupying every one of these meetings where the political shills do their dirty work for their corporate masters is an important first step.
Publicly connecting Cuomo and Bloomberg to these tuition and fee increases and aid decreases is the next one.
Tax cuts for millionaire's, tuition increases for everybody else...
POSTSCRIPT: A group calling itself SAVE OUR SUNY was joined by members of Occupy Albany to protest budget cuts and tuition hikes at SUNY up in Albany.
It's good to see the ball rolling on this.