VICTORY ON EMPOWERMENT ACT
LETTER FROM BARBARA BOWEN
Last night [Tuesday, 8/3/10] the New York State Legislature finally passed a budget—and it did not include the “Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act,” the plan to charge different tuition for different majors and to replace public funding for CUNY and SUNY with private tuition dollars.
The governor and certain legislators, often for narrow political reasons, were trying to force through a restructuring of CUNY and SUNY that would have affected the universities for a generation. Thanks to your opposition, and the support we received from NYSUT and other groups, we stopped them.
In the course of just a couple of weeks, the PSC generated 7,606 letters to legislators on the “Empowerment Act”—the highest number the union has ever sent. I saw a real change in the conversation in Albany as the force of our opposition was felt. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Higher Education Chair Deborah Glick became powerful opponents of the proposal, particularly of its effect on access to education; and the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus defined opposition to the proposal as a civil rights issue. They held firm, and the proposal’s supporters were not able to win passage.
Chancellor Goldstein continued, throughout the process, to be a supporter of the legislation, even though he has never held a public discussion of the issue with the University’s faculty, staff and students.
The impulse behind the “Empowerment Act” has not disappeared, however. The State Senate announced a “framework agreement” for tuition increases and private economic development at four SUNY campuses, but this agreement was not voted on by the legislature. The “Empowerment Act” did not pass, and that is a victory for everyone who believes in public support for public education and in the principle that higher education should help to dismantle—not intensify—existing inequities of race and class.
The State budget as a whole remains difficult for CUNY, with cuts in funding for both four-year and community colleges. Assuming these cuts remain, the PSC will do everything we can to protect the interests of our members and of CUNY students. We will update you as the impact of these reductions becomes clear.
Meanwhile, I want to thank you for your support, and send my thanks also to the union’s NYSUT representatives in Albany, who did a superb job representing our position.
Best wishes for the rest of the summer,