December 2, 2015
By Steven Wishnia
A bill that would require the state government to give the city and state university systems enough aid to cover increases in operating costs is now on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk—and the union representing City University of New York faculty is worried he might veto it.
“We are concerned about whether the governor will sign,” says Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress. “We hope he’ll do the right thing.”
Cuomo has until Dec. 10 to sign or veto the “maintenance of effort” measure, which was passed almost unanimously by the legislature in June. It would mandate that state aid to CUNY and the State University of New York pay for increases in “mandatory costs” such as salaries, rent, heat, and electricity. In the 2015-16 academic year, state aid to CUNY fell $51 million short of those increases, so the gap had to be filled with money from students’ tuition, according to the PSC.
Tuition at both SUNY and CUNY has increased more than fivefold over the last 25 years, and now accounts for a much bigger share of the systems’ budgets. In 1990-91, when tuition at CUNY’s senior colleges was $1,250 a year, it covered about 21% of the system’s operating costs, while state aid covered 74%. In 2014-15, when tuition rose to $6,030, it provided 46% of CUNY’s $23 billion in revenues, with state aid down to 53%.
This year, tuition went up to $6,330, the fifth year in a row it was increased under the “SUNY 2020” plan enacted in 2011. That plan scheduled annual $300 hikes, with the idea that the additional revenue would be used to pay for improving education, for adding courses, hiring more faculty—or hiring full-time professors and relying less on part-time, temporary adjunct professors—and reducing class size.
“It was described by the governor himself as a way to enhance and go beyond what already exists,” says Bowen.
Instead, the money from the increases has gone largely to operating expenses. State aid per full-time-equivalent student at CUNY has remained more or less flat. Adjusted for inflation, it’s about 14% less than it was in 2007-08, before the recession. And the more than 25,000 faculty and professional staff represented by the PSC haven’t had a contract in five years or a raise in six years.
“The real issue here is whether the governor is going to take this opportunity to show that it’s important to invest in the future of working New Yorkers,” says Bowen. Working-class, poor, and immigrant New Yorkers, many of them people of color, are the communities that “rely on CUNY,” she adds, and signing the bill would make giving them a top-quality education a priority for the state.