Union, students discuss plan
Early in 2021, legislators in Albany will introduce breakthrough legislation, A New Deal for CUNY, that would restore free tuition, add full-time positions, lift adjunct pay and invest in the physical plant. Advocates say that the moment is right for a visionary approach. At a CUNY Rising Alliance virtual town hall in December, advocates talked about how to move this legislation forward, why it’s needed and how to educate others about the situation.
“We have a chance to turn this crisis into a real, deep opportunity for the working class, for people of color in this state,” said Luke Elliott-Negri, the PSC legislative representative. “That involves taxing the rich, and that involves taking a heap of money and applying it to CUNY and a whole bunch of other public services.”
TIME IS NOW
The conditions are right for ambitious aims. Democrats have a super-majority in both state legislative chambers, Elliott-Negri said, meaning lawmakers could override the governor’s veto power. With shifting revenue and increasing taxes on the rich, the multibillion-dollar investment needed to reimagine CUNY is there. It is up to PSC members, CUNY students and their allies to create the political will.
“We believe that public higher education is an institution that must be defended. We must fight for it,” said Lucas Sanchez, deputy director of New York Communities for Change. “We need to nourish it. We need to nurture it. And we need to make it grow, and have it be the beacon for the city.”
Sanchez cohosted the December 2 town hall, which was attended by more than 800 people, including CUNY faculty, staff, students, alumni, coalition allies and city and state lawmakers.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Juvanie Piquant, the University Student Senate (USS) chair and the student member of the CUNY Board of Trustees, told politicians at the event, “Your job does not stop at coming to this town hall. Your job is just beginning to continue to fight for us on the floor when the governor is proposing cuts, and it is your job to stand up and fight back. We will be holding you accountable because we cannot be using CUNY as a slogan.”
In addition to the USS and PSC, the CUNY Rising Alliance includes the Hispanic Federation, Brooklyn Black Lives Matter and Young Invincibles.
The draft legislation that would be phased in over five years would make CUNY tuition-free for in-state undergraduates, hire more mental health counselors and academic advisors, increase the ratio of full-time faculty to students, professionalize adjunct compensation and create more opportunities for long-serving adjuncts to become full-time faculty, and invest in critical infrastructure needs.
For Amber Rivero, the John Jay student government president, the legislation will give students the support they need to graduate on time.
“The many advisors who are there trying to help the entire student body of 15,000 at John Jay are overworked, spread thin and trying their very best,” Rivero said. “It’s so important for us to increase academic advisement to support our students’ success.”
Khalia Kweli, a program coordinator with the political action and legislation department at DC 37, talked about how the New Deal for CUNY will invest in CUNY’s aging infrastructure, where the average CUNY building is 50 years old, with problems including power outages because of outdated electrical systems, debris falling from ceilings and outdated HVAC systems. (Clarion has covered issues of burst pipes, mold and lack of proper temperature control at numerous campuses over the years.)
“There are certain things that are just basic, like the right to learn and to work in an environment that is clean and safe,” said Kweli. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case for many students and workers within the CUNY community.”
The main goal of this event, PSC Vice President Andrea Vásquez told Clarion, was to build a broad campaign for a New Deal for CUNY and to “expand our power and capacity to influence elected officials who can pass this legislation. Win more for CUNY now, but also in the next five years.”
To find out more about the New Deal for CUNY, go to cunyrisingalliance.org/nd4csummary.