Notwithstanding that some people in my little home town back in the late 60s when I was a college student labelled me “The Protestor”, I have some sympathy for these students. After all, the woman who wrote to me is an engineering student. I graduated from university with some debt. The next generation graduated with substantially more. And now, it’s ridiculous–and for essentially the same education. I don’t have any answers. But I do like seeing students not just sit back and take it. From the civil rights and anti-war movements, I have seen the limits of protest–but also the chance to move the discussion. Anyway–something different for this blog.

1,300 students at Columbia University commit to tuition strike, calling for “a democratic vision of the university where students, workers, and the Harlem community are valued above profits”

Over 1,300 students at Columbia University have committed to withholding their tuition payments for next semester if the University continues to ignore student demands to reduce the cost of attendance, increase financial aid, and concede on a number of key demands relating to labor, investments, and the surrounding community. 

The students organizing the tuition strike view it as a last-resort tactic to compel the university to listen to demands that students have been organizing around for the past few years. A statement on Monday cited the 8,500 students who signed in support of a tuition remission at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic; 1,500 students who supported the demands of Mobilized African Diaspora, a student activist group at Columbia, around issues of racism, policing, and gentrification; 1,000 Columbia College students who voted in favor of a divestment referendum sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace; 1,000 students, faculty, and alumni who signed on in support of full divestment from fossil fuels; and 1,800 academic workers who voted to strike in response to the university’s lack of responsiveness to key demands related to labor rights and benefits. 

The tuition strike demands letter calls on the University to recognize these movements and give students a more democratic say over the cost of tuition and how it is spent. In addition to calling for tuition reduction and increased aid in light of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, the letter stipulates that these demands “should not come at the expense of instructor or worker pay, but rather at the expense of bloated administrative salaries, expansion projects, and other expenses that don’t benefit students and workers.”

The following demands focus on changing how tuition payments are spent: calling on the University to invest in the West Harlem community, end expansion projects, replace Public Safety with community- and student-controlled safety solutions, bargain in good-faith with campus labor unions on key demands, and provide students greater transparency and control over investment decisions.

Students involved in the tuition strike view their efforts as part of a wider struggle against unaffordable tuition and student debt and in support of College for All. A statement by Columbia-Barnard YDSA (Young Democratic Socialists of America), the group organizing the tuition strike, noted that tuition at Columbia is between 51-84% more expensive than the average U.S. four-year private university and stated that “it is unacceptable that students should go tens of thousands of dollars into debt for an education when this university possesses such vast wealth.” Columbia students hold an average of $21,979 in student debt after graduation. The university’s endowment is $11.26 billion, including a $310 million increase during the pandemic. 

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