Michael Suguitan/Sun Staff Photographer

Students protest fees outside of Day Hall on Friday Sep 17 2021.

September 21, 2021

‘Fees Must Fall,’ Student Protestors Call For Lower Costs, More Aid

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“No good school costs this much money,” students chanted in front of Day Hall on Friday afternoon, protesting for a more affordable education for all students.

After students, including Samuel Reveiz ‘24, Logan Morales ’22, Katrina Cassell ‘23 and Joseph Mullen ’24, spoke about challenges obtaining financial aid packages and difficult working conditions for student employees, organizers gave an open letter signed by over 80 students, faculty and staff to Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life. The letter called for a tuition freeze and the immediate release of all financial aid packages among other demands.

“I would just like Cornell to become more affordable for people,” Reveiz told The Sun. “I often feel, the way this university is set up, the cards are really stacked against lower income students.”

Both this year and last, many students have faced financial aid delays, even as tuition rises. This past year, the University increased tuition by 2.9 percent.

Jonathan Burdick, vice provost for enrollment, stated in a University press release that the University’s tuition increase this year is offset for most students by an increase in financial aid. However, attendees cited financial aid delays as one of their biggest concerns.

The Fees Down Cornell Movement has 14 demands, including a tuition freeze, organizing rights for all faculty, employees and student workers, a minimum wage of $15 for all student workers, and the end of the student contribution fee, student activity fee and in absentia fee. However, many organizers and participants agreed that their top priority was the immediate release of financial aid for all those still waiting.

“I think [the movement] was born mostly out of lasting frustration about the lack of financial aid being released on time, the conditions that student workers are being forced into in their workplaces, and their lack of good wages,” Mullen said in an interview with the Sun. “We want to make the protests explicitly about the economic conditions of students.”

While Mullen has received his financial aid, after some delays, student assembly representative Krinal Thakkar ’23 and people’s organizing collective member Annie Stetz ’23 still have not. 

“It’s just nerve racking,” Stetz said. “I would like to not be taking my classes and constantly thinking about financial aid.”

While Thakkar and Stetz are aware of the University’s promises that financial aid related delays in tuition would not affect enrollment, they wished that the bursar office and financial aid department would coordinate more closely so that such reassurances would not be necessary.

“Bursar holds resulting from financial aid delays will be cleared as file reviews are completed and any resulting late or finance charges will be waived,”  Kevin Jensen, executive director of financial aid and Michelle Benedict-Jones, associate vice president and university treasurer, wrote in an email to The Sun. 

The office of financial aid has committed to reform student services and communications over the next two years, according to a University statement. Jensen and Benedict-Jones recommend that students experiencing challenges meeting day to day expenses because of financial aid delays reach out to the financial aid office or their college student services office. In addition, Jensen and Benedict-Jones say that most students have received their financial aid and that remaining financial aid packages should be delivered in the next few weeks.

Many of the organizers think the administration should be responsible for finding ways of financing the Fees Down demands, while listening to student input — particularly when discussing student worker conditions.

Cassell thinks that while a union is a possibility, organizing student workers does not necessarily need to take the form of a formal union.

“There’s lots of examples of informal workers support, including just having some forums and listening to students and seeing what it is that they’re interested in and then working from there to pressure the University,” Cassell said. 

For Paul Havern ’23, a Fees Must Fall member, the experience of having his financial aid delayed until a few days before the bursar deadline and dealing with difficult working conditions as a student dining worker was enough to motivate him to participate in the Fees Must Fall protest.

“I had to jump through hoops just to get the correct aid package that no student should have to stress or worry about,”  Havern said. “I had to call them multiple times, I had to go and sit in person with them multiple times for meetings because I needed to make sure it would get done.”

The coalition is working with The People’s Organizing Collective, Cornell Students 4 Black Lives, the First Generation Student Union, the Cornell Abolitionist Revolutionary Society, Cornell Progressives, Black Students United, the Puerto Rican Student Association, Cornell Democrats and the Native American Indigenous Students at Cornell to circulate a student survey gauging interest in their demands.

While Mullen understands that the administration may be reluctant to meet some of the demands, he hopes some concessions will be made, and hopes that a Cornell education can at least be made more affordable for low income students.

“I think that the lower income students who are most affected by these fees are the group above all who need to be fighting for,” Mullen said. “Even if we can only get rid of them for lower income students, that would be a victory. Of course it wouldn’t be the total goal, but it would be a step in the right direction.”