January 12, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – City University of New York [CUNY] boosters convinced that Governor Andrew Cuomo is shortchanging working families by not investing more in public higher education, are still holding out hope that the chief exec will change course ahead of tomorrow’s State of the State Address.
A vocal coalition of labor groups, student organizations, clergy and other activists demonstrated outside Cuomo’s 3rd Avenue offices on Monday, urging the governor to “put his money where his mouth is.”
“We are not in an austerity period and Governor Cuomo, under his leadership, has failed to allow CUNY to recover from the recession-level funding,” PSC-CUNY President Barbara Bowen said. “Many other institutions in this state have seen investment by Governor Cuomo to help development and resurgence — CUNY has not.”
The union representing CUNY faculty and staff argues that the state has cut funding by more than 14 percent since the Great Recession of 2008, while per-student funding, in particular, has not kept up with burgeoning enrollment.
“And when that happens, that means that courses are cut,” Bowen added. “We are seeing that this year. Adjuncts are losing their jobs, programs are being shut down — what is the justification for that in a period of economic resurgence? There is none."
CUNY faculty and staff have also been without a contract for over five years. They say it’s because the governor has refused to “put one penny into the state budget” to cover costs.
The Cuomo administration presents a far rosier picture of CUNY funding, but the union representing faculty and staff says that those figures are not adjusted for inflation, nor do they adjust for per-student funding in light of exploding enrollment over the last several years.
“Also look at where [Governor Cuomo] puts his base year,” Bowen said. “When he says there has been an 18-percent increase in funding, he leaves out 2011-2012 in which he made the biggest cuts. New York could be a progressive capital, but it cannot be until there is investment in CUNY.”
In addition to PSC members, the 10,000 CUNY workers who belong to DC37, have also spent the entire decade so far, without a contract.
“In six years, my rent has gone up, the cost of your MetroCard has gone up — and guess what? Tuition has gone up,” DC37 Assistant Associate Director Jahmila Joseph said. “So, we’re asking the governor to stand with us, to help us and support us, and support the students — the working class members of CUNY who, the vast majority of our members who don’t make $15 an hour — something we know you believe in. We’re asking you kindly to put your money where your mouth is — support the students, support the people’s university and support the members behind me who work for the university.”
SSEU 371 President — and CUNY grad — Anthony Wells, said that the governor “has to make this a priority as well as anything else in this city.”
CWA Local 1180 President Arthur Cheliotes, meanwhile, lamented that today’s generation is not being afforded the same opportunities that he enjoyed when unionism in the U.S. was a lot stronger.
“We had a society that understood that you needed to take from the people who had the benefits and make them pay their fair share,” the union leader said. “That ‘Communist’ Nelson Rockefeller had a top tax rate of 16-percent on millionaires. The federal government and that [other] ’Commie’ Dwight Eisenhower, had over a 90 percent tax on millionaires. That allowed us to fund a high quality, free public university. And allowed me, the son of an undocumented alien and a refugee from the Nazis, to make a life in this city and enable me to be president of a labor union I’m so proud of. Those opportunities were there for me, they should be there for every generation.”
CUNY students, themselves, are calling for both an immediate tuition freeze, as well as reforms to TAP — New York State Tuition Assistance Program.
“Governor Cuomo can put out as many sound bites as he wants about how important community and education and the working people and the poor people are; he can call it a ‘highway to hope’ all he wants — but if he’s not putting his money where his mouth is, then it’s all talk,” said Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director, Alliance for Quality Education.