BUFFALO, N.Y. – In protest of Gov. George Pataki’s proposed increase in tuition to the State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) systems, students held candlelight vigils on campuses throughout the state.

The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), a statewide student organization with chapters on over 20 campuses, in conjunction with other campus organizations, organized the Jan. 30 vigils. A statewide coalition of over 500 student and community organizations has been organized to fight the proposed increase.

At Buffalo State College over 100 students turned out in the frigid cold to let the governor, the SUNY Board of Trustees and state legislators know that students already pay too much in tuition. The governor’s proposed increase of $1,200 per year, in connection with proposed cuts to the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and other opportunity programs would constitute the largest increase in tuition ever for the public university system.

According to a report issued by NYPIRG and the Student Assembly last fall, the last time tuition was increased, the SUNY system experienced a drop in enrollment of over 29,000 students. This proposed increase, more than double the previous, is likely to produce worse results.

During the candlelight vigil students took turns on the microphone letting the governor know the effects the increase will have on them. Many students stated they would be forced to take out more loans, while others stated they would be left with no choice but to withdraw from school.

Todd Espinosa, a Buffalo State College Junior, told the crowd, “We’re being held hostage for the fiscal crisis caused by the governor.”

The coalition of student groups is planning a “No Tuition Hike” Feb. 25. Students will march from Buffalo, at the western end of the state, and Long Island, at the South Eastern end of the state, to convene in Albany for a mass rally on the state capitol March 11. Students will also organize lobby visits with their representatives to demand that they oppose any increase in tuition or any cuts to financial aid.

Chris Hryvniak, vice president of Buffalo State Students For Peace, asked why “we are getting ready to spend billions of dollars on a war, but are facing more cuts to education?”

At campuses around the country, students are organizing for a “Books not Bomb” student strike, set for March 5. The demands of the strike, called by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, include an end to the drive for military action against Iraq and a reallocation of funds to domestic needs like education and health care. Students will be calling on their campus administrations to oppose the war drive, disclose military research contracts, reduce or freeze tuition and fees, and put JROTC and ROTC money toward college preparation and financial aid.

The author can be reached at smitgl40@mail.buffalostate.edu