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The myth that raises cause tuition hikes

Students and PSC members marching together on September 28 outside LaGuardia Community College.
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If someone tells you there isn’t enough money in the city and state to fund raises for CUNY faculty and staff and keep tuition affordable, don’t believe them. That’s the message the union and students are sending.

There is a belief that any raise for PSC members must always be funded by tuition hikes. It is true that CUNY gets its funding from only a few sources. For example, last fall, as the PSC was struggling for a fair contract, Chancellor James B. Milliken told the CUNY Board of Trustees that funding for collective bargaining agreements comes from government appropriations, budget reallocations in the existing budget and tuition, and that no one can “dispute the possible sources and availability of funding.”

NO ZERO-SUM GAME

But the PSC and many students believe we can work for good salaries and affordable education at the same time.
That’s why with the contract ratified and ready to be implemented, the PSC began the semester reaching out to both members and students to make clear that the fight to keep CUNY affordable and to raise wages for CUNY workers is the same fight, and that there are other, fairer ways to fund public higher education in New York.

“We did get a raise and that’s great, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the students,” said Gerard Frohnhoefer, an adjunct lecturer in sociology, during a September 28 rally at LaGuardia Community College.

Chanting slogans like “free tuition at CUNY, pay the workers now” and “students, faculty, staff unite, same struggle, same fight,” dozens of PSC members and CUNY students rallied together outside the Long Island City campus to demand at the very least a tuition freeze and for the CUNY administration to stop the delay of raises and retroactive pay for faculty and staff.

Frohnhoefer suggested that it was wrong for anyone in the administration to insinuate that raises for faculty and staff should be funded by tuition increases. “I’m sure they’ve heard that,” he said of students, dismissing it as propaganda, and suggested that CUNY be funded with new taxes on the wealthiest. “We need to change the tax laws. The money is there.”

Youngmin Seo, also an adjunct lecturer in the social sciences department, said that it was important for PSC members to demonstrate forcefully for a tuition freeze because so many students supported the union’s struggle for a fair contract over the last year. “This time, we need to give them something back,” he said.

Librarian Francine Egger-Sider said that part of the reason she came out for the demonstration was to let “students remember that the moment we have an election in Albany there’s going to be a tuition hike,” so it was important for faculty and staff to “align ourselves in the struggle with students.”

MORE STATE INVESTMENT

The action came soon after news hit that while raises and retroactive pay in the PSC contract with CUNY were ratified in August, members would not actually see their increases until January. PSC members demanded action to speed up the process at a CUNY Board of Trustees hearing in September.

The union has also marched with students in the past demanding tuition freezes, noting that the University had a duty to remain affordable for working-class and low-income students. The PSC has held firm in its stance that tuition costs should not be affected by faculty and staff pay, and that the answer to addressing both student and worker needs is a net increase in funding from the state and city.

DELAY IN PAY

Members and students also used the demonstration to protest the upcoming code of expressive conduct that many in the CUNY community believe may infringe upon students’ and faculty’s freedom of speech on campus.

Miguelina Rodriguez, who was until recently an adjunct sociologist and has now come on full-time at LaGuardia, said she believed lowering or freezing tuition was important because “my students pay tuition out of pocket.”

PSC President Barbara Bowen told the crowd, “The message is clear. There is enough money in this very rich state to pay for our contract and serious investment in CUNY, and to have free tuition.”

She admonished the CUNY administration and Chancellor James B. Milliken for not doing enough to ensure that the raises and the retroactive pay in the contract that was ratified this summer would come before January.

“The delay shows disrespect for the faculty, disrespect for the staff and deep disrespect for the students. If CUNY management really cared about the students of CUNY they would make sure that the faculty and staff who have waited this long for a raise get their raise on time,” Bowen said.