Queens College students protest tuition increases

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Between 600 and 1,000 Queens College students walked out of classes last Thursday to protest tuition hikes and call for an end to what they called “CUNY’s exclusionary and discriminatory practices.”

Devin Escobar, a Queens College senior, said the students were fed up with the tuition raises at CUNY schools, saying they had also been informed of the hikes in the past at the last minute.

“After several years of tuition slowly increasing ... we’re kind of tired, so a lot of students got together,” Escobar said in a phone interview Monday. “It was a very strong, collective effort.”

A full-time Queens College student is currently paying roughly $2,500 in tuition for the spring semester.

Junior Laura Meta said students learn of the tuition raises, which come from the state budget at the last minute, meaning the students’ loans may not cover their full tuition.

Escobar said that when the CUNY board of trustees met in November, they invited students to the meeting but gave them last-minute notice of it.

“They really go out of their way to exclude students,” he said.

Joseph Bertolino, Queens College’s vice president of enrollment management and student affairs, responded to the walkout in a statement.

“We support our students’ constitutional right to assemble and applaud all efforts to raise public awareness of the need to keep higher education affordable,” he said. “Of course, demonstrations and protests must always be conducted in a peaceful manner; if they are not, the students involved will face disciplinary action.”

But Escobar said the walkout was “completely peaceful.”

“No one was harmed. No individual was arrested. No one was hurt,” he said.

Tuition for the spring semester rose 3 percent and CUNY schools can choose anywhere between a 5 percent to 7 percent tuition hike, Escobar said, noting that Queens College was likely to institute a 7 percent jump.

The City University has five schools in Queens: Queens College, York College, Queensborough Community College, LaGuardia Community College and the CUNY Law School.

Escobar and Meta said they have yet to speak with the administration, but the school’s financial adviser told them the increases were “inevitable.”

Escobar said Queens College President James Muyskens is in support of a tuition hike and suggested adjunct faculty, which Escobar said get paid “poverty-line wages,” donate their Friday pay to the school.

Escobar called the suggestion “complete and utter disrespect to that community,” which he said is “underpaid and overworked.”

Meta said most school departments and offices, such as the registrar, bursar and admissions office, are either closed Friday or have a half day.

The students, who were joined by some school employees at the walkout, created a list of demands, including “fair and equitable treatment of employees.”

Escobar, a Flushing resident, said he is considering relocating to another school out of state because of the hikes, but Meta said she plans on attending Queens College.

“This is our city and we’re taking up this cause because we feel strongly,” she said.

Among the student demands were free tuition — students did not have to pay to attend CUNY schools until 1975 — that the college subsidize textbooks and supplies and increase funding “to further develop non-existing area studies like gender/masculinity studies, LGBT studies, etc.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 10:56 am, October 12, 2011
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