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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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A Low Turnout for the Death of Public Education

After the funeral, students carried the casket to the Administration building and laid it in front the the Presidents office. (Kenneth Ho / The Statesman)

Students held a funeral at Stony Brook University’s West Campus on Wednesday, But the black coffin was not meant for a person.

With more than five eulogies, the sound of bagpipes blasting through an amplifier and the words “public erducation” pasted onto the black plastic cover of the hand-made coffin, the grassroots group of students tried and tried to rouse their fellow students in front of the Staller Center for the Arts during campus lifetime.

But when the call came, only a handful of the students crowding the Staller steps joined the funeral procession. The event, “The Death of Public Education” which was organized on Facebook, protested tuition hikes that could arise from the the proposed Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, or PHEEIA.

Since New York State Gov. David A. Paterson, put forward PHEEIA legislation for  the SUNY system in January, President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. and students have been at odds over tuition hikes as an answer to the university’s budget woes. If PHEEIA is passed, the SUNY Board of Trustees would set tuition costs instead of the New York State legislature. The possible power shift raised the question of whether or not Stony Brook University’s higher education will still be considered public.

“Education makes society more equitable,” said Timothy Paules, 22, a psychology major and one of the organizers for the event. It was his answer to why he thought education was a civil right. “If the SUNY Board of Trustees started setting tuition, only people who can afford it will get to come here.”

Under PHEEIA, students protested that SUNY could hike tuition anywhere from 6  to 10 percent every year. Last Wednesday, Stony Brook students predicted tuition could be doubled within 10 years.

If New York State will be footing less than 17 percent of Stony Brook University’s two billion dollar operating budget next year, more costly student tuition may help close a budget gap. With less taxpayer money going to Stony Brook University, students that have relied on it lowering tuition costs protested what endangered their future enrollment.

“Honestly, I won’t be able to come here anymore. I can’t afford it,” said Usama Khalid, an economics major, at the funeral. “When they‘ll put the prices up, let‘s face it, only the richer kids will be able come here.”

Three students hoisted the more than five-foot-tall coffin onto their shoulders and carried it around the Frank Melville Jr. Library, through the Academic Mall, and up to the President’s Office inside the Administration Building. Next to the doorway of the President’s Office, the students leaned the coffin against the wall. About 40 students waited in the hallway for their turn to touch the flower bouquet tacked to the base of the coffin.

President Stanley could not be reached for comment.

University spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow, responded in an email that there is nothing in PHEEIA that “implies or points to the privatization of the university.” Sheprow did not respond to requests for a telephone interview.

Tuition for four-year public colleges in America rose 6.5 percent in 2009, according College Board’s Trends in College Pricing.

“I’m a freshman so I’m worried about the future cost of my tuition,” said freshman Brittany Barnett, 19, after the funeral. “We all have a right to pursue happiness,.I need to afford college so I can get a good job.”

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