Commendably, the trustees of the City University of New York
refused to bow to intimidation, and put the best interests of the university
first by approving, in a 15-1 vote, a new tuition structure. The new policy grants
CUNY the authority to raise tuition by $300 annually for the next five years.
The decision, of course, met with outrage from the
“OccupyCUNY” movement, which appears to believe that unless CUNY can be funded
through a tax on New York millionaires, it should be starved of resources–and
that it certainly shouldn’t get any money through either private gift-giving or
minor tuition increases.
The statement that I found most revealing in the affair came
from a student protester named Brittany Robinson, who criticized CUNY security
for trying to prevent students from occupying Baruch, where the trustees met.
Here’s how Robinson explained her motivations: “We didn’t want this to be
violent. We just wanted our voices to be heard.”
At CUNY, it’s pretty easy for students such as Robinson to
have their “voices” heard by the trustees. Robinson could have signed up to
testify before the Board of Trustees meeting (anyone who wanted to testify
simply had to e-mail or call CUNY’s central office to sign up). She could have
submitted a written statement to the Board. Or she could have e-mailed or
written Board members individually.
But Robinson, and her “Occupy CUNY” colleagues, didn’t do
any of that. Instead, they only wanted their voices heard in such a manner that
disrupted other CUNY staff, faculty, and students, and posed a public safety
threat at Baruch. Such a tactic betrays a fundamental lack of confidence in the
merit of their ideas. But it had the advantage of allowing them to shift the
conversation to absurd claims that CUNY violated their First Amendment rights
by security officers choosing to ensure that all students at Baruch would be
The other striking element of the “OccupyCUNY”
movement came in the decision of the faculty union to back the protesters. On
the surface, it would seem that a proposal that boosts funds for CUNY would be
a no-brainer for any responsible union, given that the increased tuition
dollars will help fund new faculty lines–and hence new union members. A
pro-administration position would seem even likelier given that the union
recently embarked on a campaign demanding an expensive hike in adjunct health
But the head of the union, Barbara Bowen, reflexively
opposes any significant proposal made by the CUNY administration, and, like the
“OccupyCUNY” students, argued
that CUNY should bypass the new funds and instead hold out for the GOP-led
State Senate not only to reverse itself and back a “millionaires’
tax” but to devote the funds from that tax to funding new lines for CUNY
rather than to other, more politically popular concepts (like job programs).
Indeed, it seems as if Bowen spends most of her time acting as if she’s really
a plant by some far-right group designed to render academic unions ridiculous.
In that respect, Bowen and Ms. Robinson make a good couple.