Last June, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) announced funding for a community building effort for union locals with members in K–12 schools and higher education. The PSC received one of the Powerful Partnerships Institute grants that allowed the union to expand its outreach efforts with students, parents and community groups through the CUNY Rising Alliance (CRA) Liaison Program.
Twenty-six other AFT locals from across the country – with nearly half a dozen coming from higher education – are also embarking on efforts to strengthen ties between union members, students, unions and community groups. The unions meet monthly to report on local progress and share strategies and skills for building power through their coalition work.
The CRA project aims to create a sustainable program and structure to educate and activate PSC members and CUNY students that would expand the reach and influence of the CUNY Rising Alliance. It will also broaden work around the New Deal for CUNY and help win a strong budget for FY 2024.
“It is important that we find and inspire new CUNY organizers, and give them the tools and resources they need to raise awareness about the New Deal for CUNY (ND4C),” said Ethan Milich, CRA coordinator. “This program will help us ensure that advocacy efforts continue and expand from year to year.”
The liaison program is coordinated by Geoffrey Kurtz and Susan Kang, faculty members from Borough of Manhattan Community College and John Jay, respectively, along with Milich. The PSC’s CRA Liaison Project is creating teams composed of one PSC member and one student at every CUNY college. Each liaison team will engage in regular campus tabling, town halls, social events, meetings with lawmakers and other CRA actions tailored to their college. These teams, along with student governments and the PSC college chapters, will promote and build joint events this year organized by both the PSC and CRA.
“The reason why I joined the CUNY Rising Alliance Liaison Program is because of the many struggles I went through trying to pay tuition. I don’t get financial aid due to my parents ‘making too much money,’ so I pay out of pocket and have to take out loans,” said Kayla Dudley, a junior at John Jay College. “It’s not easy, and I want to make it easy for the many students that come after me. Everyone deserves a chance at higher education and money shouldn’t be that barrier that stunts anyone.”
In last year’s budget cycle, CRA mobilized significant numbers of students at PSC rallies in Queens and Brooklyn and brought crucial individual and organizational voices to the fore. CRA coalition partners, including New York Public Interest Research Group and Young Democratic Socialists of America have branches at some CUNY campuses but not the majority. The Liaison Project aims to increase CRA’s presence and enable the union to build relationships with scores of students and community groups.
The CRA teams began their efforts by focusing on places where a strong student activist presence still needed to be created. Initially, the goal was to have six to eight teams identified by the beginning of the Spring 2023 semester, but the results have been even more impressive.
“It’s been a pleasure helping to recruit and develop campus liaisons that will work to build support among students, faculty and staff and community partners for the New Deal for CUNY,” Kang said. “Now more than ever, we need to mobilize the diverse and broad coalition of partners who support full funding of CUNY.”
With full or partial teams already at 15 campuses, liaisons have planned events such as tabling at John Jay and Queensborough Community colleges, and funding ND4C rallies at Hunter and Brooklyn colleges.
This year’s budget campaigns are proving to be even more challenging than anticipated, so CRA will need to be visible across the city and in Albany if it is to continue to make gains in the state and city budgets. Governor Kathy Hochul’s current budget was weaker than last year’s, while the needs at CUNY have only increased.
CUNY students deserve no less than upstate or private college students, and the time to end the racialized disinvestment in CUNY is now. With only several weeks remaining until the end of the state budget cycle in April and with the city budget being finalized by the end of June, CRA liaisons will build support for CUNY and the funding it needs on campuses all semester. Be sure to stop by and meet some of the new committed activists and show your support. With this initiative, there is real potential to create the kind of student and community engagement that can make a difference this year and beyond.
Published: March 9, 2023