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Downtown Community College Students Walk Out of Class to Protest Budget Cuts

By Julie Shapiro | March 31, 2011 3:42pm

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

LOWER MANHATTAN — Students at the Borough of Manhattan Community College walked out of class Thursday to protest state and city budget cuts.

Although the new state budget restores half of the funding Gov. Andrew Cuomo originally planned to slash from community colleges, the city still plans to cut $52 million from the two-year colleges to balance its budget, Upper Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said.

With Rodriguez, who chairs the city's Higher Education Committee, at their helm, several dozen students marched through the corridors of BMCC shouting, "No budget cuts! Stop tuition hikes!"

"This is unfair, and it is unacceptable," Rodriguez told the students once they made it outside onto the school's Chambers Street plaza.

Russell Hill, 19, a liberal arts student from Harlem, said he joined the protest because he is afraid future tuition increases will prevent community college students from getting an education.

"BMCC is a place where everyone can learn no matter what," Hill said. "But if the prices are too high, we can't, because we can't afford it."

Sophia Telemaque, 22, a liberal arts major who wants to work in fashion, helped organize the walkout after hearing about the budget cuts. She said students who receive financial aid still struggle to make ends meet, especially because many have children they are supporting, so the state and city should be increasing funding, not cutting it.

Telemaque led her fellow students in camping out in BMCC's cafeteria starting at 10 a.m. on Thursday. They chanted — "Students, united, will never be defeated!" — and grew in number as the morning went on. They planned to stay in the cafeteria until 10 p.m., so evening students could participate.

The students said they expected professors would excuse their absence from class, but a BMCC spokesman said that while the cause was "admirable" the decision was up to each professor.

Rodriguez praised the students for standing up for their school.

"This is not the way to send a clear message to youngsters that education is important," Rodriguez said.

A city spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rodriguez plans to hold a hearing on the community college cuts April 14 at 10 a.m. at 250 Broadway, 16th floor.