A little more than 34 years ago, an article by former WSN writer Shaun Assael reported that in 1983, the New York University Board of Trustees raised undergraduate tuition by 8.5 percent. An increase from $6,634 to $7,200, this inflation sickened the students of the time, while the school administration celebrated “the lowest increase of tuition in the last five years.”
Today, in an affordability crisis ignored even more repulsively by the administration, NYU President Andrew Hamilton essentially maintains this same malignant rhetoric: celebrating that tuition is still increasing, but at a decreased rate. Hamilton himself seemingly has no concept of what affordability entails, for at his tenure at the University of Oxford, he decried that the state prevents universities from relying on students to fund their education rather than the endowment or the state itself.
Backtrack to the 1980s, where we meet a student activist by the name of Bill Wilhelm. Towering at six-feet-five-inches and heavily bearded, Wilhelm, like Student Labor Action Movement, had been on campus fighting to enact student representation on the university Board of Trustees. “Students should be able to have more knowledge about the Board of Trustee’s meetings,” regarded Wilhelm to a WSN reporter. “They should be able to express their ideas and hear the proceedings.” Later changing his name, Bill Wilhelm became one of, if not America’s most well-known, mayors, Bill de Blasio.
Due to mere coincidence, on the day of our first action of the year, SLAM ran into de Blasio at Weinstein. While planning the delivery of a letter to Hamilton reiterating our demands for the student trustees campaign, we learned of de Blasio’s return to his alma mater only hours before. Our organizers greeted him at his entrance to Weinstein Residence Hall and asked if he still supports our cause — his response was a resounding yes.
Our organizers always find it interesting when meeting with Hamilton and other members of the university administration, since their case against students on the board has always been what they call a “conflict of interest” in terms of governance. They believe the board does not serve an “advocacy role,” to quote Lynne Brown, the Senior Vice President for University Relations and Public Affairs, in our meeting with her, Hamilton and Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Marc Wais last March. We at SLAM have been tirelessly lectured by the administration about how governing bodies work.
Interestingly, a fossil fuel magnate on the board does not seem to be a conflict of interest to Hamilton, even when voting on fossil fuel divestment. By this logic, a predatory student lender is not advocating for higher tuition, he’s just doing his job. These holes in their rhetoric leave us increasingly confused. How are these questionable actors not conflicts of interest? We are sure de Blasio would love to hear their argument, as well.
Additionally, we understand how some may wonder what effect de Blasio’s endorsement for our campaign will have on a private university’s decision making. Looking onward, we are in communications with the mayor’s youth liaison office, setting up meetings and working on tangible ways to pressure the school’s administration into achieving our goals. From the highest public office in the city — the community of which NYU claims to be a part — we hope further urging and demands will lead Hamilton to change his mind on this issue.
Our fight will gain more support as it is made known, and our escalation will only increase. It rests on Hamilton and his administration to decide when he’s willing to approach the table, viewing our demands with respect and deep consideration.
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A version of this appeared in the Monday, Oct. 2 print edition. Email NYU SLAM at [email protected]