New York, NY – Now that they’ve been bailed out, the corporate class is wasting no time trying to shove austerity measures down the throats of our “frontline heroes” and “essential workers” studying at the City University of New York [CUNY].  

A PSC-CUNY member prepares to join this week’s caravan challenging austerity measures in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, May 18, CUNY students and faculty fighting back against efforts to terminate thousands of adjunct professors and contingent employees in the middle of the COVID-19 global pandemic — hit the streets of Manhattan in a rolling caravan targeting the institute of higher learning’s Board of Trustees, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Empire State’s entire billionaire class. 

Instead of axing as much as 40 percent of the teaching force, CUNY students — many of whom are working their way through school during the pandemic as indispensable grocery store clerks, package handlers and the like — are demanding budgetary gaps be filled with taxes on the filthy rich.

Draconian cuts to higher education are “the wrong way to go at anytime — but especially during a pandemic,” Professional Staff Congress [PSC-CUNY] President Barbara Bowen told reporters during a teleconference held ahead of the caravan on Friday. 

Indeed, CUNY reacted far differently to the Great Depression of the 1930s— actually debuting three new colleges in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

By failing to levy new taxes on the super rich now, Bowen said New York leaders are making a conscience choice to “protect the already wealthy.”

“The rich got rich through the labor of working people,” Bowen said. “It’s time they pay their fair share.”

There is nothing supplemental or supportive about the adjunct professors teaching at CUNY’s 25 separate campuses — adjuncts actually comprise 56-percent of the institution’s teaching force. 

Part of the institution’s mission states that the “City University is of vital importance as a vehicle for the upward mobility of the disadvantaged in the City of New York.”

“We’re talking about peoples lives here,” Bowen said.  “[CUNY adjuncts] signed on to teach the city’s poor and working class and people of color.”

Both Assembly Member Harvey Epstein [D-74th Distric] and his dad are Brooklyn College alums. According to the Manhattan rep, CUNY is a “system that’s crumbling as we speak” and it can’t be saved without dedicated funding streams.

“If we cared about higher education we would not be in this situation,” Epstein said on Friday. “We need to tax millionaires and billionaires. The state has to step up and step in.”

CUNY students are also calling for an immediate freeze on tuition and fees, which the institution intends to hike next year, at a cost of about $320 per student. 

More than 40-percent of CUNY students live in households earning less than $20,000 annually, while nearly 15-percent experienced some form of homelessness in a given year, and half reported trouble getting enough to eat. More than a third said mental health issues hindered their studies.

Governor Cuomo expects more funding to come from the federal level. 

But Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris says CUNY has been starved for years.

“This system needed more money long before the current crisis,” he said on Friday. “[And] cuts are going to make things worse.”

The governor’s office is blaming lost revenues and higher costs associated with the ongoing coronavirus crisis for a projected $15 billion budgetary shortfall.

Last month, Assembly Member Aravella Simotas [D-36th District] voted against New York’s 2020-2021 budget, calling its revenue provisions “irresponsible” and some of its policy proposals “reprehensible.”

Better options, she and many other CUNY supporters insist, include slapping higher income taxes on the fabulously wealthy, implementing a tax on stock buybacks and increasing levies on ridiculously luxury homes.

SHARE — the New York State Senate’s Shared Help Assessment to Rebuild Education Act — proposes a “modest, temporary income tax increase” on those earning more than $5 million a year. 

Last week, CUNY central started ordering campuses to help prepare lists of adjuncts to be laid off, but educators balked, delaying the process. 

“It’s a horrible situation, College of Staten Island adjunct Micheal Pairis said on Friday. “I’m drained. It’s been a very difficult week.”

CUNY students may be “beleaguered and battered” — but Pairis said they refuse to be victims. 

“They believe they are the actors and composers of their own lives,” he said. “You can stand up and resist this. We are better than this; we have to model democracy.” 

Additionally, PSC-CUNY insists that all adjuncts are entitled to three-year appointments and is pushing for their vital healthcare coverage to continue uninterrupted.  

Last year, the union voted overwhelming to strike for vital workplace protections. Bowen predicted there will be “many more fights to come” and that PSC-CUNY will consider “every form of action.”


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