Purchase College students embodied the message that they are tired of being treated like pawns in the governor’s budget by dressing up and acting out a human game of chess in the center of campus yesterday.
“We wanted to do something representative of how we feel,” said Anna Helhoski, 20, a junior who helped to organize the event. “We are people, we’re not pawns, and we shouldn’t be treated as such.”
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About two dozen students rallied in hopes that Gov. David Paterson and the state Legislature would rethink a proposed tuition hike for the State University of New York system.
Similar events were staged throughout the SUNY and CUNY system, with more than 12,000 postcards being signed and sent to the governor with the message: “We’re tired of being pawns!”
The governor has proposed raising tuition $600 a year, to $4,950, starting in the spring. Of that, 90 percent of the increase would go toward closing a projected $2 billion state budget deficit. In 2009-10, the state would claim 80 percent of the increase.
The plan to give SUNY part of the new revenue is a departure from standard practice, according to the governor’s administration.
Meanwhile, the SUNY Board of Trustees last month voted to increase tuition by $620 a year, starting in the spring. It’s not certain whether the board’s vote will stand, however, because traditionally the Legislature must approve tuition changes.
The last tuition increase was in 2003, when it rose 28 percent.
The prospect of a tuition hike comes at a time when the SUNY system has already endured a $210 million reduction in funding from last year, with students saying they have felt the effects at Purchase College.
“There’s less security, less classes, bigger classes,” said Roger Drew, 23, program coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group, which organized the protest. “This is what students are feeling already.”
One of the programs hit at Purchase College is the Educational Opportunity Program, which admits underprivileged students into the college and assists them financially and academically.
The program lost more than $1.3 million this year, which resulted in the inability to admit any new students for the spring semester, according to Paul Nicholson, director of special programs at Purchase College.
“With any future cuts, we know students will have to leave college,” he said. “The reality is our economic times are pretty awful and everything’s being cut, but there’s a level where we can’t sustain these cuts anymore.”
Right: Kristen Woods, 19, a sophomore from Santa Fe, N.M., said: “I care about tuition hikes. It’s already hard enough for me to pay for school so I really care about the cost of tuition.”