Trustee Onyejiukwa Votes No on CUNY Budget

October 27, 2016

The CUNY Board of Trustees voted on the 2017-2018 Operating Budget request and Four Year Plan on October 26, 2016. The motion to adopt the request was adopted with a vote of abstention from Trustee Clarke and an unequivocal no vote from the student Trustee.


Below is the statement  Trustee Onyejiukwa delivered at the board meeting:


Statement of University Student Senate (USS) Chair and Trustee Onyejiukwa:


Thank you Chairperson Thompson,


I would like to begin my comments on the budget proposal by thanking Chancellor Milliken for his leadership and vision. I think we are all impressed with the initiatives outlined in the Master Plan and I think that aligning our budget request with the 4 year CUNY Master Plan gives us all a clear understanding of what the future holds for our University. I would also like to thank Senior Vice Chancellor Sapienza for putting this budget request together. He has worked very closely with the student leadership to get our feedback and we are grateful to have him during this process.


The budget request before us today calls for great investments into crucial programmatic initiatives that will allow the university to continue to provide high quality service in support of our statutory mission and our commitment to all New Yorkers. Particularly, the bridge to completion initiative would provide much needed financial support to students who are within 30 credits of graduation and need additional financial aid to get to the finish line; and the expansion of the ASAP program also serves as an important tool in helping our students graduate on time. I think we can all agree that we need to continue to invest in the programs that make CUNY unique, and serve our outstanding faculty, and our students.


There is one component of this proposal that I cannot, in good conscious, support and that is the tuition increases which is why I will be voting no, on this calendar item.


The budget request relies on tuition hikes and supports the extension of the “Rational Tuition Plan” that will effectively continue to raise tuition at a rate of up to $250 per year at the CUNY senior colleges and $100 per year at our community colleges.


We cannot simply look at these proposed  $100 and $250 annual tuition increases in isolation. We have to consider these proposed tuition hikes in the context of a larger national discussion on the need for investment in higher education and the historical backdrop in which these discussions are taking place.


Historically, CUNY has served as a beacon of hope for New Yorkers aiming to achieve the American Dream. What we have witnessed the last four decades is a our legislators serving our students a steady diet of budget cuts and tuition increases. The questions that we have to ask ourselves, as Trustees of this great university, is when is it enough? When can we reasonably say that students have paid their fair share? And when do we say to our legislators, “our students, our faculty and administrators are hurting, and as an elected representative of this city or this state, what can you do to help them?” I think if we posed those questions you would be surprised by the support and gratitude we would receive.


The discussion on the national level has taken a turn when it comes to public higher education. Recently, we heard President Obama make the case for free community colleges. We have also heard our presidential candidates speak on the rising student debt crisis in our country. Hillary Clinton’s proposal prioritizes the need for affordable instate tuition for working class people. With all those things in mind, it is unclear why CUNY would take steps to contradict this national conversation. We have an opportunity here, as New Yorkers, to take the lead. We can create an environment where opportunity is within the horizon for our citizens.


Last week at the public hearing, Jamell Henderson, three degrees from CUNY (he attended BMCC, Brooklyn College, and Baruch College) delivered a powerful and moving testimony:


I am asking you to look at us as your children; you ought to be very proud  that we are here in this university system that is designed to provide us with the best education in the world. At the same time however, you should be concerned that the cost of living that is at present in NYC is beyond out of control, our neighborhoods that we are living in are being heavily gentrified thus making it more difficult to make a way while working hard each semester to get the best grades to make you proud. Your CUNY children are hurting, we are struggling, some of us have hit rock bottom and yet despite all of these things we still believe in the great education that this university provides.


I am asking the board to appeal to the governor and the state legislature to take the lead on the needed investment in our University. It’s not that we simply don’t support tuition increases, but rather that it is not fair to our students--they cannot afford it.


CUNY is the one of few institution able to provide marginalize students with an opportunity to achieve the american dream. It is of the utmost importance we call upon the city and state to invest in this wonderful machine, which produces tax paying citizens that are the core of an vibrant economy.




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