Tuition Strike Threat: Columbia University Offers Olive Branch

·3 min read

MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, NY —Several weeks after Columbia students threatened to not pay tuition unless the university lowered the cost of attendance and conceded to other demands, they said Wednesday that school officials are, in fact, beginning to listen to them.

Columbia University announced this week that it will increase financial aid for the spring semester and cease to charge late fees for tuition payments in January, students behind the strike said. The university also announced that students at the school of general studies will receive a grant for summer classes.

"We recognize these are extremely challenging and unique times. If you are a student experiencing financial hardship or are unable to register for an upcoming term as a result of account balances, please contact your school's financial aid office for assistance," the university states on its website.

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Strike organizers said the new developments take steps towards addressing some of the demands of nearly 4,000 students. Those students signed a pledge in support of a tuition strike starting on Jan. 22 if the university continues to ignore student demands.

"The national significance (of a tuition strike) is that college students around the country are facing similar issues during the COVID pandemic and the student debt crisis," Sheena Bilmas, one of the organizers supporting the tuition strike, told Patch. "Students have filed lawsuits against universities demanding tuition reduction but a tuition strike is even more significant because it represents a mass of students demonstrating power collectively."

The strike will move forward until all of their demands are addressed, organizers previously said. The demands call for a reduction in the cost of attendance for the spring semester by 10 percent, in addition to other key demands relating to labor, investments and the surrounding community in Harlem.

"There is no reason why a school with a hefty endowment should subject students who have been severely impacted by an unforeseen pandemic to the price of full tuition and student contribution,” Laura Bane, a student at the university, said. “The university is trying to charge us as if we're operating under normal conditions when, in actuality, we're experiencing one of the country's most severe downturns since the Great Depression. It's simply immoral.”

The nearly 4,000 supporters of the strike make it the largest tuition strike in U.S. history, surpassing a 1973 tuition strike at the University of Michigan with 2,500 supporters, according to a release.

"The only similar recent movement was at the University of Chicago last year, when there was a 200-person tuition strike that won significant concessions," Bilmas said.

Last week, Bilmas said Columbia-Barnard Young Democratic Socialists hosted an international town hall with student groups from more than 75 schools across the country who are interested in replicating the movement underway at Columbia University.

Columbia University didn’t return a request for further comment.

A university spokesperson told Patch earlier this month that it "remains focused on preserving the health and safety of our community, fulfilling our commitment to anti-racism, providing the education sought by our students, and continuing the scientific and other research needed to overcome society's serious challenges."

This article originally appeared on the Upper West Side Patch

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