A nascent but militant group of John Jay College of Criminal Justice students is linking demands for a tuition freeze and a revamping of the campus curriculum to the PSC’s struggle for a new contract. And the administration is taking notice.
At a lunchtime rally in the college’s main atrium on February 4, students from the Social Justice Project (SJP) and PSC members said that their nonviolent, nondisruptive rally was met with intensified security at the 59th Street entrance; at one point a security guard attempted to bar a BuzzFeed reporter from witnessing the events.
UNITING STUDENTS AND FACULTY
SJP activist and John Jay junior Naomi Haber said that the campaign against the $300-per-year increase in tuition — in force over the past five years, and proposed again for 2016-17 — was directly tied to the injustice of CUNY’s denying the faculty a fair collective bargaining agreement for six years. “Most of the students are working at least one job,” she said, adding that this put the same kind of strain on students as low-paid adjuncts who have to “to juggle several jobs at once, leaving them tired and not being able to give your all when you’re in the classroom.”
“This is really an extraordinary moment in which students have come together to join the tuition issues and the costs of attending this university with the lack of a contract for faculty for the last six years,” said PSC First Vice President Mike Fabricant in a February 5 interview. “Students and faculty are beginning to understand that their fates are joined to the policies of state disinvestment and that our work is to force the state to change course.”
Activists in both the SJP and the PSC noted that it is easy for management to pit students against faculty, especially when administrators claim a need for tuition hikes in order to settle the PSC contract — but during the rally they noted that their struggle came from the same place: state divestment in the CUNY system.
In a performance piece during the rally, an undergraduate portrayed an adjunct who, in order to continue teaching, made personal sacrifices, taking on second and third jobs. Like their colleagues in the full-time faculty, as well as staff who are higher education officers, college laboratory technicians and all other CUNY employees, adjuncts have not seen a raise in six years, even as the cost of living has increased. PSC activists noted that in the same fashion, the incremental tuition increases in the so-called “rational tuition plan,” enacted in 2011 as part of the SUNY 2020 legislation, are an attack on CUNY’s working-class student body. Having exhausted the program of tuition increases included in the 2011 law, CUNY has asked for a one-year extension of the escalation scheme at senior colleges.
“The vast majority of our students are either working part-time or full-time. Money that they earn is not extra money; that’s money that they are living on,” said Gerald Markowitz, a distinguished professor of history at John Jay and the CUNY Graduate Center. “These are students who frequently are paying their own tuition, so any tuition increase is a burden to them.”
SJP has also called on the John Jay administrators to take a more active role in addressing issues of justice in the city beyond the realm of how criminal cases are handled to examine structural issues of social injustice, such as over-policing. SJP leaders also want to change the name of the school to the Frederick Douglass College of Justice, noting that John Jay, one of the nation’s founders and an anti-slavery advocate was nonetheless a slaveholder.“It’s more than just a name; it’s a change in culture,” said John Jay senior Ayesha Hakim.