By Peter Hogness, Clarion Editor
Faculty, staff and students from the City University of New York (CUNY) marched from City Hall to Borough of Manhattan Community College on May 5 to oppose cuts to CUNY’s budget and demand a union contract that allows university faculty and staff to do their best work for students. After a rally at City Hall, 700 people marched to BMCC, where the crowd grew to about a thousand.
“We’re rallying to puncture the myth of economic austerity, used by Albany and City Hall to justify massive budget cuts,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen as she addressed the protesters at City Hall. “If we let politicians continue to say ‘we’re broke’ with one side of their mouth while they promise tax breaks for the rich with the other, millions of ordinary New Yorkers will pay the price.”
This year alone, Albany has cut CUNY by $107 million and Mayor Bloomberg has proposed another $63 million in direct aid reductions and unfunded expense increases for community colleges. At the same time, the wealthy have received $5 billion in tax breaks. The recent cuts and years of underfunding have led to over-crowded classrooms, fewer full-time faculty lines, less time for student mentoring and guidance, abuse of hard-working but underpaid adjuncts, and reliance on tuition, instead of public investment.
Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the City Council Higher Education Committee spoke out against the Mayor’s cuts.
“As a result of the Mayor’s refusal to make affordable higher education a priority, students will be faced with larger class sizes and overextended faculty, making it even more difficult for them to achieve a timely graduation,” said Council Member Rodriguez. “We must come together in support of our young people at the City University and stand in opposition to these cuts.”
Faculty members said that budget cuts are undermining their students’ education. “At Queensborough [CC], the cap in my writing classes is 32 to 33 students – in a basic writing class!” said an adjunct who has taught in the CUNY system since 1983. With classes that large, she said, it’s a difficult struggle to give each student the attention he or she deserves.
“We worry about our students. They need our help, they don’t need cuts,” said Ximena Gallardo, an associate professor from LaGuardia Community College who came with about 20 colleagues from her department. “The ‘shadow workload,’ as we call it, is getting really tough,” Gallardo added. “There’s growing pressure to do more committee work, administrative work. That means that I constantly have to choose between my life & my students – so of course the rest of my life goes down the drain.”
“There has been a pervasive erosion of resources at CUNY,” said Margaret Tabb, chair of the English department at John Jay College. “Finances have plunged, for my department and the college, since I became chair. I feel strongly that the union is one of the few groups that is speaking up for us.”
Students also spoke out about their teachers’ working conditions. “Many of the best professors I have had were adjuncts, and it pains me to know that they don’t get the pay and respect they warrant,” said Hunter student Christina Chaise, who began her CUNY education at BMCC. “Because of the choices made by government and by the CUNY administration, faculty, staff and students get hurt. Faculty are underpaid and students [are] underestimated,” Chaise said. “In a country, and especially a city, that has so much wealth, this should not be the case….We need more public investment.”
After the demonstration on the steps of City Hall, the protesters marched to the 1,000-person rally at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) – physically linking their budget demands with their vision for a better university and a fair contract.
“I want my CUNY back, and that’s why I’m here right now, “ Brooklyn College Professor Scott Dexter told the crowd. “The PSC contract is the banner under which all of us who want CUNY restored can rally.”
PSC Vice President for Cross Campus Units Iris DeLutro spoke of how budget cuts affect both professional staff and students’ education. “I’m here because budget cuts and the choices that CUNY has made surrounding those cuts are having a serious impact on the students we serve through reductions in student support services and programs that offer gateways to a better future for all students,” DeLutro said. “Instead of eliminating programs and terminating employees, we should be investing in CUNY.”
“We are here today because we are determined – faculty, staff and students together – to resist the cheapening of a CUNY education,” concluded PSC President Bowen. “That cheapening happens every time funds are cut and we are forced to make due with fewer books in the libraries, older equipment in the labs, inadequate numbers of full-time faculty, scandalous conditions for part-time faculty, over-sized classes and spiraling tuition costs for students. We will not accept austerity for our students, for CUNY or for ourselves. Another university is possible, and we are prepared to fight for it.”
Related: A Huffington Post article (Educating for Democracy – CUNY Demonstration: When Is News Not News?) raises questions about why press coverage is so invisible around these budget issues.