STATEMENT AT CUNY BOARD OF HIGHER EDUCATION
TUITION HEARING [MAY 5, 1976]
Statement by June Jordan Ass’t Professor of English Black poet and writer.
That I stand here as one of three spokesmen for my Brother and Sister colleagues of the English Department, here at CCNY, is an honor and a deeply felt privilege I wish to proudly acknowledge, first of all.
We intend to present you with the reasons for our pledged resistance to CUNY Retrenchment, the ending of Open Admissions, and the imposition of tuition; we intend, here, to make plain our perspectives, analyses, and action proposals; we speak to you as Black educators dedicated to the preservation of a just and democratic access to first rate, higher education, as Black members of the City University’s clear majority Third World population, as Black fathers, mothers, as Black citizens of this country that we perceive as a predicament of accelerating, national jeopardy to Black life possibilities for self- respect and self-sufficiency on every level of confrontation between priorities of people and priorities of the dollar. It is our goal to join with the entire University, and with all the peoples of New York City, for the sake of an informed, successful defiance of the Economies of People Extinction that everywhere imperil the survival and the life quality of those who are forced into abject dependencies upon the city, and the state, and then despised and condemned for that dependency from which there is no escape.
Once upon a time there were no Black students and no Black faculty and no Black studies within the City University of New York. During that era, this was an institution celebrated as a great and essential culminating experience for successive waves of ethnic groups who possessed no alternative to this University and who, indeed, did not need to seek or find alternatives which, in any case, were not available. Your economic origins, your ethnic identity, your cultural so-called deviation, your so-called “broken English”—none of these factors weighed against you.
You lived in this city, you went through twelve years of compulsory public education; it was understood that, if you were ever to change your status, and the victim status of your kinsmen, you must be enabled to achieve self-respecting self- sufficiency; it was understood that the enablement provided by a liberal arts education, and by the specialized, graduate schools, was absolutely vital. In those days, indeed, where there was the will or even the wish, there was the way. The City University stood, doors open, as the logical, truly public, conclusion of public education in New York.
Now, the powerful say, “alas:” The color of the students, the rhythms of the music, the speech patterns—these things have changed. Now there are Black and Third World students living in huge, majority numbers within this city. Hence, it is clearly conceivable that this institution shall soon primarily serve this same, rightful majority.
Now, the powerful say, “alas:” CUNY is no longer “a great university;” it has become a “jungle,” a “carnival,” “an unmanageable problem.” What do they mean?
Has the need changed? What is the alternative for the majority public education pupils, Black and Third World children of the City of New York? What is the alternative available means to a liberal arts’ education, to professional training? In short, what is the alternative to the City University where the children of the poor, where the children of the working class and the lower middle class, what is the alternative where our children of American rejection and hatred are concerned? How else will these, our children, achieve a self-respecting self sufficiency?
Today, the need for an open University is more critical than it ever was. Today, there is, manifestly, the will and the want for this crucial, last phase of public education, but, for the impoverished families of New York there is going to be no way: unless we resist.
We say that the judgment, the aim, and the consequences of this changed attitude towards the City University, we say that the Kibbee Plan, Marshak’s Retrenchment Proposals, we say that the impending end of Open Admissions, the impending establishment of tuition requirements are, one and all, racist events that we cannot countenance, nor in any way accept.
If you do not agree with this analysis then how can you explain the elimination of The Hostos and Medgar Evers Colleges as fully operating, distinct schools serving predominantly Black and Hispanic students? The first and only Black Vice President of the Board of Higher Education, Franklin Williams, has resigned his position because he could not participate, even by association, in these decisions that he evaluated as unmistakably racist and, thus, indefensible.
How can you explain official estimates that the proposed transformation of the City University will result in a 65% decline in Black enrollment, come September, 1976. Sixty-five percent.
Look at this City of New York that can spend more than 200 million dollars on Yankee Stadium, that can contemplate an imitation Albany mall atTimes Square, that can underwrite Bicentennial pseudo- events to the tune of the sky’s the limit: On the other hand, look at this City of New York that cannot and will not afford necessities of the people whether they be adequate social services, adequate garbage collection, adequate police protection, or the preservation of an open University for all of the people. What does this mean?
We view the City of New York, and its Economics of People Extinction, as consistent with currently ruling national values, hatred, and demoralization.
We view the crisis of the City University of New York as local evidence of a national disorder that is unjust, immoral, racist, and impossible to tolerate.
We cannot accept the death of this great, free University because we cannot accept the death of the spirit, the death of aspirations, the death of the future, that will surely follow for our children, our students.
Racism means hatred means death: unless we will resist.
We now move to do whatever is necessary to resist such death.
We will fast. We will take a cut in salary. We will fight. The possibility that we may lose is not a possibility: we have to win.
We speak on behalf of our children, and our students; we call upon all of the people of the City of New York to join with us on behalf of all of the children and all of the students of the City of New York, to resist this death.
We live here and here we must learn what we need to survive; we will not be moved.