Columbia Students Threaten Withholding Tuition Amid Covid Protests | American universities

Nearly 1,800 Columbia University students in New York threaten to withhold tuition fees next year, in the latest signal to U.S. universities of widespread readiness to act on demands to cut costs and address social justice issues related to work, investment and surrounding communities.

In a letter to administrators and trustees at Columbia, Barnard College and Teachers College, the students said, “The university is failing its students and the local community sorely.

They accused the university of “inaction” since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March, when the students started demonstrate against what they say are exorbitant tuition fees “Which constitute a major source of financial difficulties during this economic depression”.

The letter referred to national protests against structural racism, accusing the university of failing to respond to demands to respond to “its own role in sustaining racist policing practices, damaging local communities and inadequately supporting black students “.

Emmaline Bennett, president of the Columbia-Barnard Young Democratic Socialists of America and a master’s student at Teachers College, told the Guardian that the university and other colleges have made no effort to reduce tuition fees while they were shifting to distance learning models made necessary by pandemic conditions.

“We think that says a lot about the profit motive of higher education, even as the economy is in crisis and millions of people face unemployment,” Bennett said. “This is especially true for Columbia, which is one of the most expensive universities in the United States.”

The demands described in the letter include reducing the participation fee by at least 10%, increasing financial aid by the same percentage, and replacing fees with grants.

Such reforms, according to the letter, should not come at the expense of paying instructors or workers, but rather at the expense of inflated administrative salaries, expansion plans and other expenses that do not directly benefit students. and workers.

The university, the letter said, must invest in community safety solutions that prioritize the safety of black students and “commit to full transparency over University investments and respect democratic student body votes on investment and divestment decisions – including divestment from companies involved in human rights violations and completely disengage from fossil fuels.

“These issues are united by a common fundamental cause: a blatant disregard for democratically supported initiatives within the community. The unilateral decision-making process of your administration has perpetuated the existence of these injustices in our community despite having sufficient resources to confront them with structural solutions.

“If the university continues to remain silent in the face of the pressing demands detailed below, we and a thousand other students are prepared to withhold tuition fees for the spring semester and not donate to the university. at no time in the future. “

A Columbia spokesperson said, “Throughout this difficult year, Columbia has remained focused on preserving the health and safety of our community, upholding our commitment against racism, providing the education sought. by our students and by pursuing the scientific and other research necessary to overcome the great challenges of society.

The university froze undergraduate tuition fees and allowed more flexibility in coursework over three terms. He also, he said, adopted provisions related to Covid including an off-campus living allowance of $ 4,000 per semester, to help with living and technology costs related to distance learning.

Columbia is not alone in facing high demands from students. At the end of August, for example, students from the University of Chicago staging a weeklong picket in front of the provost’s house as part of a campaign to dissolve the university police, Chicago’s largest private force.

The issue of student debt remains a challenge. In a nod to progressives, President-elect Joe Biden last month affirmed his support for a US House measure that would write off up to $ 10,000 in non-federal private loan debt for those in need.

Biden stressed that “people… have to make choices between paying off their student loans and paying rent” and said such debt relief “should be done immediately.”

Some Democrats say the relief should go further. In September, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren co-wrote A resolution who called on the next president to cancel up to $ 50,000 in outstanding federal loans per borrower.

At Columbia, students say their demands to cut Covid-related fees are just a starting point.

“In the long run, we need to completely reform the education system,” Bennett said. “We must make all universities and colleges free and cancel all student debt to avoid lasting educational and economic inequalities. “

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