Gotham Gazette

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CUNY's Insufficient Response to Military Veteran-Students

CUNY military veterans banner 2009

photo via CUNY

The December 8 response from CUNY’s Interim Vice Chancellor Christopher Rosa to Joe Bello's Gotham Gazette op-ed of the day prior surprised many student-veterans on CUNY campuses -- including the ten signatories of this letter.

To begin with, we were not aware that CUNY actually recruits veterans to its campuses, as IVC Rosa asserted. From our experience, military veterans usually attend a CUNY school based on a campus location or a school’s specialization - degree programs, specialty programs like Veterans Upward Bound - and, most importantly, word of mouth from other veterans. None of us have seen any recruitment directed at veterans, either through advertising or social media, at our prior military commands or when we came to New York City.

Also, while CUNY does waive our application fees, it is not clear to us who are the “deployed, dedicated admissions counselors” who supposedly smooth our way through admission. For many, admission into the CUNY system is a long and arduous process and at no time did we meet counselors “deployed” to help us. If anything, many of us were referred to CUNY’s admissions website for veterans.

With regard to IVC Rosa stating that CUNY works to "assure that New Yorkers eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill attend 100 percent cost-free," the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays our tuition to the campuses based on our length and type of military service. This means that not every student-veteran, or eligible dependent, utilizing tuition assistance from the Department of Veteran Affairs is attending without a financial burden.

Furthermore, we question IVC Rosa’s statement that the “veterans services coordinators are a one-stop resource to support veterans in their transition from military life to higher education.” As Mr. Bello stated in his op-ed, Baruch College does not have a coordinator and other CUNY campuses currently have issues of harassment, alienation, and unresolved complaints lodged with their respective coordinators. These issues, as well as others on CUNY campuses, have led many student-veterans to help themselves to find the resources to support them in their transition.

Lastly, on IVC Rosa’s statement that CUNY was the first university system in America to be named “military friendly” by Victory Media: as several people testified at the November 15 City Council hearing, any college can obtain this designation by filling out a form that Victory Media provides. Case in point, over three semesters LaGuardia Community College has been engaged in a dispute with its student-veterans regarding their current coordinator, yet the school still received the “veteran friendly” designation, and even as that college’s student-veteran enrollment numbers have decreased. There seems to be no real mechanism in place by either Victory Media or CUNY to really know which institutions deserve the designation and which don't.

IVC Rosa states that “external rankings validate the welcoming environment at CUNY colleges for those who have served their country.” However, as individuals who have served this country and are currently pursuing degrees within the CUNY system, we have to ask: When will the ongoing battles of CUNY’s student-veteran population begin to be addressed by the leadership at CUNY?

IVC Rosa's letter appeared to be nothing more than an attempt to put a stop to the discussions that are currently going on between CUNY and its student-veterans, and his letter does not address the issues raised by Mr. Bello in his op-ed.

We want IVC Rosa and CUNY leadership to understand that while they state that CUNY cares about its student-veterans, many campuses do not have the necessary resources to allow our successful transition from military to higher education. Therefore, we are demanding that the Board of Trustees and CUNY leadership take action to make CUNY live up to its “military friendly” designation. If not, then all that we -- as skilled, hard-working and experienced student-veterans -- bring to our CUNY campuses, including our federal dollars, can be taken elsewhere.

Trent Coyle
US Army, Baruch College

Sungin Hong
USMC, Baruch College

Melissa Siew
USMC, Baruch College

Christian Espada
US Army, Bronx Community College

Margie Guzman
US Army, Bronx Community College

Noah Almonor
US Army, City College

Ishmael Shalom
USMC, John Jay College

Bryan Williams
USCG, John Jay College

Kevin Chimilio
USMC, Lehman College

Ricky Malone
USCG, Queens College

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