Albany: Hundreds of students, faculty and staff from CUNY and SUNY gathered Wednesday, March 14 to urge the Legislature to make major investments in full-time faculty, financial aid and university infrastructure.
300+ students, faculty and staff marched through Albany to demand funding for higher education. Here PSC President Barbara Bowen leads chants at the front of the line.
The Student/Faculty/Staff Higher Education Action Day began with a march down State Street and through concourse below the Empire State Plaza. Participants also joined a coalition of groups including Alliance for Quality Education and Citizen Action for a massive news conference/ speak out on the Capitol Building’s Million Dollar Staircase. (Click here for photo gallery of the day’s events.)
Throughout the day, state legislators met with constituents from public colleges across the state, including NYPIRG chairperson and Brooklyn College student Kathleen Jordan.
“The students, faculty and staff at SUNY and CUNY have had to share an inordinate amount of pain as a result of an economic crisis that we had no hand in creating,” said Kathleen Jordan. “Partnering with USS, PSC, NYSUT and UUP today, we are telling our representatives that it’s time to champion investment in our future.”
Budget resolutions passed by the Assembly and the Senate earlier in the week proposed partial restorations to community college funding, which has been cut by one-third in the last three years. Students and faculty support the proposed investments, but much more is needed, they say, to reverse the decline caused by three years of budget cuts totaling $1.7 billion.
Classrooms are overcrowded at many campuses, students are struggling to get the courses they need to graduate, and facilities are falling into disrepair. That’s why CUNY USS cosponsored the Higher Education Action Day.
“Education should always be a priority on educators’ agenda. Higher education should be considered an investment since educated people always contribute to a better society,” said Kafui Koffi Kouakou, chairperson of the University Student Senate and CUNY student trustee. “Restoring CUNY’s funding would ease the burden on many CUNY students.”
CUNY and SUNY are in desperate need of state funds for more full-time faculty, to improve student services and end exploitation of hard-working, underpaid contingent faculty. Hiring freezes, department cuts and other staffing reductions caused by a lack of public funding, combined with rising enrollments, have left faculty and staff struggling to give students the attention they deserve.
“CUNY and SUNY students deserve better than the austerity conditions that have been forced upon them. There is no justification for chronic underfunding of CUNY when the richest New Yorkers still don’t pay their fair share,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY. “For generations of New Yorkers, CUNY has represented the chance at a better life. Why shouldn’t this generation have that chance?”
A greater investment in SUNY and CUNY would foster the rebuilding of academic departments and student support services throughout the public university systems and improve faculty to student ratios. Those changes in turn would promote student opportunity and success, according to United University Professions President Phillip H. Smith.
“Faculty and staff stand united today in support of public higher education,” said Smith. “The students with us today represent New York’s future. But without adequate state support for public higher education, thousands of New Yorkers will likely be unable to attend college and enjoy the benefits of a college degree,” he said. “UUP is committed to our students and we urge our state lawmakers to affirm their commitment to our students’ future by investing more in SUNY and CUNY,” Smith concluded.
Financial aid is also failing to protect access to too many students, according to the coalition. Together, the groups put forward a list of Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) reforms that included, among other things, increasing the maximum TAP award, improving awards for part-time and adult students without dependents, and giving undocumented students access to TAP through the NYS Dream Act.
“We’re here in solidarity to demonstrate our commitment to an accessible and affordable higher education for all of the people of New Yorker. Passing the DREAM Act will allow undocumented students access to TAP, and also give them the opportunities they deserve as long-time members of our communities,” said NYPIRG’s Kathleen Jordan.
Students, faculty and staff agree that a renewed commitment to public higher education is crucial not only for students and their families, but for the whole of New York as well.
“For too long, New York has been abandoning its commitment to invest properly in its State University, City University systems and network of community colleges. Instead, the state has shifted the burden onto the backs of middle class New Yorkers through higher tuition and fees, while forcing program cuts that hurt quality,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta. “This is the year to reverse the cuts, and to again invest in public higher education. That’s the best way to ensure that students have the services they need, and New York remains competitive with other states.”