A coalition of student groups, including Barnard-Columbia Abolition Collective, Student-Worker Solidarity, and Columbia-Barnard Young Democratic Socialists of America, has announced plans to mount a tuition strike ahead of the Spring 2024 payment deadline. Among other demands, organizers hope the move will pressure the University to divest from Israel.
On Wednesday, various student groups announced CU Tuition Strike, a call for Columbia students to withhold paying University tuition for Spring 2024. They’re also encouraging the larger Columbia community, including students, affiliates, and alumni, to support the strike even if they are not able to withhold tuition. This effort is a collaboration between a number of student coalitions, including Barnard-Columbia Abolition Collective (BCAC), Student-Worker Solidarity (SWS), and Columbia-Barnard Young Democratic Socialists of America Divestment (YDSA). Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD), as well as the recently-suspended Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and BC/CU Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), also shared posts announcing the effort.
The organizers hope to gather at least 1,000 signatures pledging to participate before officially initiating a strike. According to a statement from the organizers, students who pledge to the tuition strike will withhold their Spring 2024 tuition and other payments to Columbia, which are due January 26th. For students on substantial financial aid, pledging to the strike could look like withholding their student contribution payments.
Part of the impetus for Tuition Strike, as listed in an FAQ document shared by the organizers, is a continued resistance to the University’s investment in “ethnic cleansing and genocide abroad” and the “silencing of student voices demanding decolonization.” The movement seeks to build on these points with action items that include divestment and transparency on public safety information.
Included in CU Tuition Strike’s divestment demand is a binding referendum that would have Columbia immediately divest from Israel if the majority votes are in favor of doing so. This would largely mirror earlier student referendum votes—in 2018 at Barnard and 2020 at Columbia College—in which 64.3% and 39.3% of students, respectively, voted in favor of their colleges divesting from economic ties to Israel. At the time of those votes, both Columbia President Lee Bollinger and Barnard President Sian Beilock announced their respective colleges would not be moving forward with divestment.
Additional strike demands call for the University to publicize investment information from the last decade, as well as investment information on members of the Board of Trustees, and to remove trustees who “profit from or [have] support for Israeli apartheid.”
Concerns over Columbia’s lack of transparency on the University’s management of public safety and NYPD presence on campus were also among the group’s demands. Specifically, CU Tuition Strike is demanding that Columbia “cease contact with and outreach to the NYPD for the purposes of crowd control and protest support.” Discussing this issue, organizers wrote, “The standing practice of policing on campus overwhelmingly surveils and targets racialized bodies, rendering Black, indigenous and other marginalized students vulnerable.”
In addition, organizers also called for transparency on the budget and organizational information of Columbia Public Safety, as well as greater publicity on the surveillance information Public Safety collects. These demands come after a number of on-campus protests were met with substantial NYPD presence in October and November. The group also referenced the recent doxing of students, as well as multiple incidents of harassment that led SJP and JVP to establish their own reporting form. Organizers noted that it was “unacceptable, and a clear sign that our policing system is broken, that students have had to take on the burden of defending and protecting themselves.”
The organizers conferred full support for the demands of CUAD, including an end to “academic ties to Israel.” In a statement to Bwog, CU Tuition Strike affirmed its demand for the cancellation of the Tel Aviv Global Center and suspension of the Tel Aviv University dual degree program.
In communication via social media, organizers of CU Tuition Strike were straightforward about the risks involved with striking. Columbia students who are able to register for classes are by default in a financial agreement with the University to pay all due fees. By striking, a student breaks that agreement, and may be fined up to $150 for late fees and an additional 1.5% of the amount charged.
If the strike is successful, however, organizers believe there is a possibility that substantial pushback will force the University to forgive the late fees. At the same time, Tuition Strike has set up a mutual aid request form for anyone seeking funds to cover late fees. The organizers further noted that for Columbia students, participating in the strike should not impact Spring registration nor health insurance enrollment, which only requires continued course registration. If a registration hold is issued, it won’t be applied until Summer and Fall 2024 class registration.
However, organizers also noted that Barnard students will face “particular challenges, including late fees that could surpass $500, registration holds, loss of Barnard housing, and disenrollment.” Due to this, the group has encouraged Barnard students not to partake directly.
For graduating students or students on a visa, there may be additional complications surrounding staying on track to graduate and visa arrangements. Students are also not advised to cancel any student loans as reviving it is challenging.
CU Tuition Strike organizers shared that they will continue to work with other student coalitions to organize in-person and virtual events, continuing their activism through and beyond the tuition strike itself. Students can look into the Instagram pages of YDSA, SWS, BCAC for more developments.
In a statement to Bwog, organizers emphasized that the strike is part of a continued effort for apartheid divestment, noting that whether or not a Tuition Strike is called, their efforts will persist. They continued, “We want Columbia University to know that community members are willing to take direct action and stand in solidarity together as long as Columbia administrators, donors, and Board of Trustee members are using our money to fund genocide against the Palestinian people and to fund the policing against oppression of Black and Brown bodies.”
Featured Image via Bwog Archive