After months of public hearings, protests across several campuses, and demands for board members to scrap a plan that would consolidate control over $37 million in student activity fees, City University of New York students earned a major victory when Board of Trustees chair Bill Thompson announced on May 9 that the new plan would ensure that student groups would not be at risk of losing funding.
“To all of the students at CUNY, we hear you,” Thompson told a crowd of about 100 protesters who had gathered to rally for the protection of student groups.
The fee—a moderate sum that varies by campus—allows students to fund extracurricular activities and is instrumental in everything from student activism to campus journalism. If the administration had not explicitly protected student-group funding in the proposal, certain organizations could have suffered a drastic cut in their budgets, which, according to Harris Khan, a City College student and member of its student government, would have been used instead for administrative and college operational costs—what he called a form of “mini-tuition.”
The proposed change came from a lawsuit filed in late January 2017. A Queens College student sued the university board members after her club, Queens College Students for Life, was denied funding without explanation from her campus’s student government. Her attorneys demanded that Queens College, and CUNY as a whole, create an equitable, viewpoint-neutral process when distributing funding to clubs. That November, a judge sided with the student and ordered a revision of the student activity fee process.
In October, the university created a task force that included students to improve the student activity fee procedure. At a March 12 hearing at CUNY’s central headquarters, Loretta Martinez, general counsel and vice chancellor of legal affairs, compared the “complicated” process to a worn-out car that required upgrades.
There are two methods to obtain a budget from this revenue source. The most common way is by requesting funding from the student government each academic year. The second option is through referendum. This demands more resources and time, alongside a series of steps to institutionalize the program or club on campus. A person or people must first obtain petition signatures from at least 10 percent of students on campus before being granted approval by the Board of Trustees. This ensures an allocated amount from the fee each year.
Programs and clubs funded through the referendum process were worried about the proposed fee change, including the New York Public Interest Research Group, a political-advocacy group present on several CUNY campuses since 1973.