NYU YDSA announces tuition strike starting today

The university’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America is asking undergraduate students to stop paying tuition to NYU and to never donate to the university in the future.

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Alexandra Chan

NYU students call for a tuition strike. Organized by NYU YDSA and Sunrise NYU, the strike also has the support of GSOC. (Staff Photo by Alexandra Chan, Illustration by Graciela Blandon)

By Trace Miller, News Editor

The NYU chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America announced a tuition strike starting today, April 30. The activist organization encourages students to withhold tuition for the upcoming Fall 2021 semester and to pledge never to donate to the university after graduating. Student activists will formally launch the tuition strike at Gould Plaza at 11:15 a.m., where members of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee will picket and where Divest NYU will have its soft launch.

“We’re declaring a tuition strike because at a time when NYU students needed NYU most, NYU and its administration failed us,” Gabriel Avalos, a Steinhardt junior and NYU YDSA campaign coordinator, told WSN. “There have always been issues with NYU, its treatment of students, but the pandemic really did shine a light on them. It highlighted them and exacerbated those issues.”

In part inspired by the Columbia-Barnard YDSA’s recent tuition strike, NYU YDSA’s current tuition strike fits into broader conversations about the cancellation of student debt, Avalos said. The strike aims to make people pause and consider where their tuition is going and what they expect of university administrations.

NYU YDSA is calling for a tuition strike for a variety of reasons, according to a press release, including NYU’s continued relationship to the New York City Police Department and the increasing costs of attendance. Noting that 57% of NYU’s operating revenue stems from undergraduate student tuition and another 10% stems from student housing and dining — a figure higher than that of comparable institutions — the press release alleges that NYU has no plans to stop raising tuition and is covering the debt caused by expansion at the expense of students.

University spokesperson John Beckman said in response that the university has restrained increases in tuition since university president Andy Hamilton took office in 2016 and has fallen almost 50 spots on a list of the cost of attendance of U.S. universities. Beckman did not specify the list.

“It is true that NYU is more tuition reliant than many of its peers, but that is because on a per student basis, its endowment is so much smaller,” Beckman wrote to WSN in an email. “It is ranked about 190th among US universities, and is on the order of 1/30th the size of Princeton’s, 1/20th of Yale’s or Harvard’s or Stanford’s, 1/7 of UPenn’s, 1/5 of UChicago’s.”

“It is untrue that NYU incurred debt as a result of its global presence,” Beckman added. “Our campuses in both Abu Dhabi and Shanghai were paid for by our local partners.”

NYU YDSA has not yet publicly released its full list of strike demands, but they fall into the five categories of divestment, tuition justice, university expansion, public safety and treatment of student workers. 

NYU YDSA coordinated the tuition strike and wrote the majority of the demands, according to Paige Anderson, a GLS first-year and organizer with Sunrise Movement NYU. Sunrise wrote the divestment demands, which urge the university to stop investing its $4.7-billion endowment in fossil fuel corporations and private prison operators. The divestment demands also propose the creation of a responsible investment committee, which would allow students to have a say in how the administration invests their tuition. 

“I don’t agree with a lot of the things NYU does — I think that a lot of it is very performative and doesn’t actually have any real impact,” Anderson said. “It’s not that we hate NYU or anything. We just think that as a school we can do so much better … I’m not doing this because I agreed to come here but I hate it. It’s that I agreed to come here and I love it to the point where I would want to change it.”

Avalos reiterated that graduate students’ working conditions are undergraduate students’ learning conditions. Rank-and-file members of GSOC agreed, stressing the interconnectedness of the undergraduate student tuition strike and graduate student worker strike. 

“Things like this are not many fights, they’re one fight — our strike with GSOC is in the same fight as a tuition strike,” Aaron Posner, a graduate student at Wagner and a member of GSOC, told WSN. 

“Both the work strike and the tuition strike, they share this fundamental need and argument to change the environment at NYU,” Sarah Sklaw, a Ph.D. candidate in the history department, said. “It’s an elite institution that positions in a lot of very contradictory and often very hypocritical ways. We really want to pull back the curtain on that and really emphasize the needs of students across the board, but also of course other workers at NYU.”

Some undergraduate students have automatic payments because of scholarships or loans. Although they may be unable to strike, Avalos said, they can still pledge to never donate to NYU. NYU YDSA members hope a number of students who signed their pledge of support for GSOC will also pledge to participate in the tuition strike. They expect the university to fine striking undergraduate students for missing payments and are consequently creating a strike fund while also working to ensure that striking students will be able to attend class. 

“Realizing that [NYU’s] endowment is sitting there while 41% of its students are food insecure, while many students are unhoused, and while tuition is increasing — I think we do have a right to demand more from our university,” Avalos said. “Private schools usually have bigger endowments, and it should not be spent on President Hamilton’s $1 million-plus annual salary and buying new luxury condos for NYU’s most illustrious professors.”

Email Trace Miller at [email protected]