The May Day Student Organization extends its solidarity to the 1,100+ students on tuition strike at Columbia University! We have followed your struggle with great interest and are encouraged by the militancy you have shown in withholding tuition to force your demands on the university. As the current crisis of capitalism deepens, and the coronavirus pandemic continues, attacks on the people will intensify. Now, more than ever, students must go beyond petitions and appeals to administrators’ goodwill to win concessions.
Tuition struggles take on a heightened significance in our context of a decades-long trend of declining state funding for schools and rising education costs for students. These trends correspond to recurring crises of the capitalist economy, in which the state has cut back in all areas of social welfare spending. We support all forms of tuition struggles that aim to expand access to education and alleviate students’ financial burdens. However, we recognize that the practice of charging tuition for education in general—and not just high tuition—is one of the principal barriers to equal and universal education. This restriction of science and knowledge is a tool of the capitalist class, used to reproduce its domination and mastery of the class struggle. While we fight in the immediate term against high tuition or tuition hikes, these reform demands are always in the service of the struggle for social revolution.
Abolishing tuition alone is not sufficient to realize the right of the whole people to higher education. Lack of open admissions is another significant barrier that must be overcome. Take CUNY, for example, which was free at its inception but was effectively closed to most working-class and national minority students. The underfunding and racial segregation of public schools meant that those sections of the population were unable to meet most college admissions standards, even without financial barriers. It was the 1969 struggle of Black and Puerto Rican students that resulted in Open Admissions at CUNY and truly opened the doors of the so-called “proletarian Harvard”. But the victories won by militant students in the 1960s and 70s soon collided with the realities of imperialist society in decay: shrinking budgets and privatization. In 1975, amid a catastrophic economic crisis, tuition was imposed at CUNY. Admission standards were progressively tightened, and under the tenure of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the policies of open admissions and remedial education at the four-year colleges were decisively ended, barring access for a large section of the city’s population.
Unless the demand for free tuition is combined with the demands for open admissions, remedial education, and full financial support for all costs of living for students, our system of higher education will remain segregated along nationality and class lines, and higher levels of instruction will remain inaccessible to broad sections of the masses.
Our organizational task is to link the many disparate and spontaneous struggles for immediate reforms to our revolutionary program. As we have learned from history, every reform won by even the most militant struggle can be snatched away. By uniting the existing reform struggles in the mass movement under the banner of social revolution, we can strengthen our force until it is strong enough to thoroughly sweep away the foundations of this decaying society.
Solidarity with Columbia students on tuition strike!
For free and open admissions! For a university that serves the people!
It’s capitalism that is sick and dying, let’s fight for socialist revolution!