Bourgeois Universities (and the State) are Unfit to Manage the COVID-19 Crisis

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Across the US, students are being evicted from their residence halls and apartments. For many, there is simply nowhere to go. Roughly 60% of students are housing insecure, and at least 14% are homeless. Universities are posturing that these mass evictions are being carried out to protect students. This is a lie. 

The primary concern of bourgeois universities during this crisis lies in protecting their own legitimacy and financial well-being, at the expense of their students. For most, full housing refunds aren’t on the table—only partial refunds that often exclude irrelevant administrative fees. In some cases, housing refunds are only being offered in the form of credit, to be distributed only after classes are back in session. Most students can’t afford to wait. International and working-class students in particular are suffering with no clear path forward, and only piecemeal assistance is being offered.  

With state funding for higher education declining, many universities in the US today are on the brink of a financial crisis. At the same time, the bourgeois university system is increasingly characterized by thousands of bloated administrative bureaucracies and overpaid executives. The commodification of higher education has allowed for the ruling-class managers to steadily increase tuition costs, pouring money into stadiums and other vanity projects on top of their own paychecks. Meanwhile, they claim that they are powerless to aid students financially. New York University, for example, owns real estate assets worth roughly half a billion dollars, and is citing the construction of more facilities as an excuse for denying even partial tuition refunds to their students. The situation is even more dire outside of private institutions. At CUNY schools, for example, students have been rapidly evicted to make room for the oncoming tide of those suffering from COVID-19. Students evicted from CUNY dorms will receive no housing or tuition refunds whatsoever. 

In New York City, the mass eviction of students has occurred explicitly so that dorm rooms can serve as reserve hospital bed s. The fact that universities are being called upon by the state to supply this additional hospital space speaks to the ineptness endemic to bourgeois rule in general. The question must be raised: Why are there so few hospital beds that we must throw students on the street in order to make up for the inadequacy of our healthcare system? The administrators of our universities and hospitals assure us that they are “doing their best,” but we must not be fooled by this platitude. We know that this situation is not inevitable, and rather results directly from the role of these institutions under capitalism. In spite of the glut of wealth amassed by the capitalists, our universities and hospitals exist to be maintained at minimum cost, and generate as much profit as possible. This is not a moral question, but a material one. 

In the case of privatized healthcare, hospitals are designed only to care for those who can afford it, and are therefore vastly under-equipped for a crisis of this scale. In the case of universities, any form of substantial relief for students is out of the question. Since the 1980s, universities increasingly operate like businesses. The investors, executives, upper managers and capitalists who run them have to break even to stay afloat, even if this means tearing funding and housing away from precarious students.

Against the universities who are “doing all they can,” students must unite and demand the revolutionary transformation of higher education. Universities must be made free and open to all. All students must have full access to necessary housing, food, healthcare, transportation, and medical supplies. Universities must be controlled democratically, and for the interests of the people. Student debt must be cancelled. And above all, students must remember that the ongoing conflict is not between humanity and the virus. It is not the capitalists who are being evicted, forced to work for meager wages at incredible risk, or thrown into crippling debt. It is not the capitalists who will die by the hundreds of thousands in overcrowded hospitals. The ongoing conflict is between the ruling class and the suffering masses.