Students Raise Concerns about CUNY’s Response to COVID-19

By Briana Calderón Navarro and Lucien Baskin from Free CUNY

Students at the City University of New York are facing unprecedented crisis due to the failures and negligence of CUNY’s administration, as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In comparison to private colleges across New York City, CUNY responded late to the virus by waiting until March 11th to implement an ‘Instructional Recess’. This protection was only secured after overwhelming public pressure to close our colleges, which included a viral petition that racked up over 100,000 signatures. Even during the Instructional Recess, many non-essential workers were expected to commute to a CUNY facility, which created such a health risk that the professors’ labor union, the Progressive Staff Congress, published an article on March 18th titled ‘Tell Your College President to Stop Putting us in Danger’. 

From Thursday, March 26 to Saturday, March 28, the CUNY administration forced students to leave their dormitories after Governor Cuomo requested these facilities for use as temporary hospitals. The university should have protected students by resisting this demand to relocate students during the city-wide ‘shelter in place’ policy. Instead, the administration issued a 24 to 72 hour notice (depending on each campus) and transported students across boroughs to an unfamiliar residence in Queens, in an effort to consolidate students with nowhere else to go. Students did not give consent to this plan. There were no considerations given to students with disabilities. Many out-of-state and foreign students had to make dangerous last minute travel plans to leave the city.

CUNY classes are now being taught online, but this transition has not been straightforward or fair. From March 27th to April 1st, CUNY issued a ‘Recalibration Period’ to finally address the needs of disabled students and provide laptops to students lacking adequate resources to continue their studies. This is not enough. 

There are many groups on campus that would like to see CUNY take responsibility during this crisis, including the University Student Senate, Free CUNY, and YDSA. These three groups vary in principles to some extent, but we all support a full tuition reimbursement and more funding for CUNY.  

Free CUNY is a movement fighting for a free, liberatory, and anti-racist university, led by a coalition of students and educators that are now asking for a full refund of the Spring 2020 semester. We also support the merit of an ‘A for All’ grading policy, and call on professors to give all As this semester. This approach would implement an equitable universal pass system that better serves the needs of students in comparison to the Board of Trustees’ plan for an opt-in Credit / No Credit system. 

Students are also concerned that the Trustees are planning to increase our tuition again next semester, as suggested by the governor. The most recent tuition hike in the Fall 2019 semester was fought bitterly by students who risked arrest at a Board of Trustees meeting during finals week. Unfortunately, this $320 hike passed nearly unanimously. CUNY raised our tuition $1,000 in the past five years, and plans to do it again by extending a highly criticized ‘Rational Tuition Policy.’ Unlike the Board of Trustees, we believe in an anti-racist, tuition-free, and fully funded university. As the COVID-19 crisis in New York makes very clear to see, we need free education—especially considering CUNY students are still working during a public health crisis or have lost the paychecks they rely on to afford ever rising tuition and fees.

Please take a moment to sign each group’s petition as a gesture of solidarity.

Free CUNY: Five Demands to Heal CUNY in Crisis

YDSA: Help CUNY Students, Staff, and Faculty get the Support We Need!

USS: Freeze & Fully Refund Tuition due to COVID-19 Outbreak at CUNY and SUNY 
For further updates, please review thisCUNY COVID-19 folderthat includes resources and an archive of our mobilization efforts. There is information available on how to continue supporting our community during this crisis. This includes a guide on how to transition to online teaching by Rank and File Action, a movement of adjunct educators at CUNY fighting for workers rights and liberatory education. 

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