Over 1,000 students at New York City’s Columbia University are withholding this semester’s tuition payments, demanding a 10 percent decrease in tuition and a 10 percent increase in financial aid for students burdened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The strike, which was organized by the Columbia chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, began in December when over 3,000 students signed a petition that the student organization circulated online. The strike officially commenced last Friday — the day tuition checks were officially due.
In a statement on the group’s website, titled “We’re Striking Because We Know Our History,” organizers cite “past student-movements at Columbia” — including 1968 anti-Vietnam War protests and a variety of student-led social justice movements that took root during the 2010s — as inspiration for the current tuition strike.
“These protests had long-lasting effects on Columbia but, most importantly, they showed who truly holds power on college campuses: students,” the statement reads.
The students are also demanding that Columbia use some of its $11 billion endowment to alleviate the financial burden the pandemic has placed on them.
University figures show Columbia tuition for the 2020-2021 academic year is almost $59,000, and undergraduate students finish on average with almost $22,000 in student debt, according to US News and World Report.
In a tweet, the Columbia YDSA Tuition Strike account pointed out that the school also employs Lee Bollinger, the second-highest paid president in the Ivy League, who has not taken a pay cut since the beginning of the pandemic.
In addition to the tuition demands, strike organizers have also called for a number of social justice and climate change reforms, such as a divestment from fossil fuel companies, negotiations with student-worker unions, and a halt to construction on the school’s new Manhattanville campus to stop the gentrification of the Harlem area.
Organizers are also demanding administrators honor the results of a referendum passed last year and divest from companies involved with human rights abuses in Palestine.
In a statement to Fox News, Columbia contended that it had already made pandemic-related changes to the university’s tuition system, and that it welcomes all input from students on how to “strengthen” the University.
“In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the University modified its late fee policy in March of 2020 and suspended all late fees until January 2021,” a spokesperson for Columbia University said Thursday.
“As communicated previously, beginning on January 22, 2021, a late payment fee of $150 will be assessed for any unpaid charges remaining from bills issued before and on December 18, 2020.
“This is a moment when an active reappraisal of the status quo is understandable, and we expect nothing less from our students. Their voices are heard by Columbia’s leadership, and their views on strengthening the University are welcomed.”