Over 1,000 Columbia University students on tuition strike, demanding pandemic concessions

(NBC News) - More than 1,000 Columbia University students are withholding this semester's tuition as they demand that the Ivy League school in New York City lower its cost amid financial burdens and the move to online classes prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over 1,000 Columbia University students on tuition strike, demanding pandemic concessions

Students initiated the tuition strike last Friday, when payments for the semester were due. In a sweeping list of demands, students accused the school of demonstrating a "flagrant disregard for initiatives democratically supported within the community." The striking students are asking the school to lower tuition by at least 10 percent and to increase financial aid.

The letter also asks the school to end its expansion into and gentrification of West Harlem, defund its university police force and bargain in good faith with campus unions.

Columbia is making money as its endowment grows in the stock market, but it is providing little additional relief to students, the strikers claim. Columbia has an endowment of more than $11 billion, and it reported more than $300 million in gains during the pandemic.

Tuition for undergraduates is $58,920 for an academic year, and the total costs eclipse $80,000 when fees, room and board, books and travel are factored in, the university estimates. Both undergraduate and graduate students are participating in the strike.

"Online college has made me understand that Columbia does not care for its students," said Matthew Gamero, a sophomore studying political science and history, who withheld his tuition this month because, he said, he feels as though the school is using him to make a profit.

Gamero, 19, from Queens, New York, said he wants the school to be held accountable for its leaders' decisions, for students to have more of a voice in how it is run and for the community that surrounds the campus to benefit from the strike.

"This movement is just as much ours as it is theirs," he said.

The strike has been organized largely by the campus chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America, which has partnered with other student groups to support the action. Student organizers say they have already won concessions, including the university's agreement to divest from fossil fuels, a longtime demand.

Students at the University of Chicago staged a similar strike in the spring, when about 200 students withheld their tuition.