Freshman City Council Member Eric Dinowitz of the Bronx is replacing former City Council Member Inez Barron as the new chair of the Committee on Higher Education. He plans to use his background as a high school special education teacher and United Federation of Teachers (UFT) chapter leader to bring more resources to CUNY.
Council Member Eric Dinowitz (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Eric Dinowitz)
Dinowitz, who received his master’s degree in special education from Hunter College, told Clarion that he views K–12 education in New York City and public higher education at CUNY as part of the same project. They are different parts of what should be considered a whole system of public education, from early childhood to adulthood.
“So many of my [high school] students went on to CUNY,” Dinowitz said.
“Often when we talk about policy, we put them in silos,” he said of CUNY, its colleges and the K–12 public school system. “The reality is that four-year colleges are not separate from the community colleges, and they’re not separate from our high schools and our middle schools, our elementary schools and early intervention. It’s a continuum of support and services.” Dinowitz added, “We can’t address these issues in isolation anymore.”
Dinowitz said that CUNY campuses have many of the same issues that he dealt with when he was a UFT chapter leader, advocating for teachers. He fought to lower class sizes, not just because it lightened the workload for his fellow members, but because overcrowding is bad for student learning. He noted that “there’s a strong relationship between the needs of staff and the needs of students.”
As a UFT activist, he often had to fight for the basic maintenance of schools, including making sure bathrooms had soap. These issues, large and small, are not unlike the PSC’s ongoing demands for adequate maintenance on CUNY campuses.
Dinowitz also expressed hope that there will be an opportunity for the New York City Council and the Mayor’s Office to come to a consensus on adequate city funding for CUNY, noting that Mayor Eric Adams attended both the New York City public education system and CUNY’s City Tech and John Jay colleges.
While CUNY’s senior colleges are funded by the state, community colleges are primarily funded by the city. The PSC is pushing city council members to address the historic underfunding of CUNY in the next round of budget negotiations this summer. Dinowitz’s district is in the Northwest Bronx and includes Lehman College.
“I think funding is a huge component of what we need to look at in the City Council,” he said. “I’m working with advocates, professors, adjuncts and students to crystallize an agenda for the next two years.”
Among the issues at the top of his agenda are increased pay for full-time and part-time faculty. The collective bargaining agreement between CUNY and the PSC expires in the Spring of 2023. Dinowitz said the pay issue was critical to ensuring that CUNY is “really attracting and retaining high quality educators for our system.”
In addition to securing fair funding for CUNY, Dinowitz said he wants to strive toward “making sure it’s affordable and free.”