Faith Leaders, Students, Faculty-Staff Unions Call for Over $1B In Increased Funding for CUNY and SUNY
Albany, NY–More than 130 faith leaders from across New York state have signed a letter calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Legislature to “reverse decades of harmful disinvestment in our public higher education system by fully funding CUNY and SUNY in the state budget.”
Faith leaders of several different religious traditions gathered in Albany today for a press conference to release the letter and urge state lawmakers to pass a final budget with more than $1 billion in increased funding for SUNY and CUNY. They were joined by Assembly members Karines Reyes and Jonathan Rivera. Student leaders and union officers of the Professional Staff Congress and United University Professions were there as well.
“Over 130 religious and faith leaders across our state have joined the call to fully fund SUNY and CUNY because we know that the health of our institutions of public higher education is critical to the health of our communities. We are asking Gov. Hochul, Speaker Heastie and Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins to reject the austerity of years past and fund the thriving, accessible SUNY and CUNY that New Yorkers deserve,” said Rev. E. West McNeill, executive director of Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State.
“Public education is one of the most important investments we can make in building a more just and equitable society. But years of disinvestment has made higher education in our state more expensive and harder to access for poor and low-income families and has stressed the public colleges and universities that our communities depend on. We must change course and fully fund SUNY and CUNY this year,” said Rev. Dr. Roxanne Jones Booth, co-pastor of Riverview Missionary Baptist Church in Coeymans.
“We must make higher education accessible to all in this state, and that means ensuring our SUNY and CUNY institutions have enough faculty, enough support staff, and can again be tuition free, so that students do not have to weigh getting a degree against taking on years or decades of debt,” said Imam Shahid Farooqi, president of the Islamic Circle of North America Council for Social Justice in Nassau County.
“We are pleased that the Assembly and the Senate included over $1 billion funding in their one house budgets for CUNY and SUNY. Making sure that higher education is more accessible, affordable, and of higher quality for New Yorkers is one of the best investments we can make to address inequality and strengthen our economy. A robust investment in higher education yields far better returns than spending state dollars on tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations. It’s a smart investment!” said Rev. Peter Cook, Executive Director, New York State Council of Churches.
Gov. Hochul has proposed SUNY and CUNY increases for next year, part of a five-year $1.5 billion program of reinvestment for the university systems. But after more than a decade of public higher education austerity, CUNY and SUNY need more funding immediately. Yesterday, the state Senate and Assembly passed one-house budget plans that would accelerate the governor’s plan for public higher education and make many of the investments called for in the letter.
The proposed increases by the Senate and Assembly over the governor’s budget equal the immediate, necessary investment of over $1 billion. Those funds are needed to hire more full-time faculty, advisors and mental health counselors, rebuild academic departments and student services, stabilize community college budgets and restore critical mission funding for the SUNY teaching hospitals.
Despite their crucial role in the state’s response to COVID-19 and educating the next generation of doctors and health care professionals, the proposed Executive Budget allocated zero funding to the SUNY hospitals. The coalition is seeking more than $200 million to cover capital debt service and provide for critical mission funding for the public teaching hospitals in Brooklyn, Stony Brook and Syracuse.
Union leaders and elected officials urged the governor and Senate and Assembly leadership to make sure the funding is in the final state budget.
Assemblymember Jonathan D. Rivera said, “Gov. Hochul has proven that she is committed to necessary increases in SUNY and CUNY funding through the next five years, but our state education institutions need funding support now if we’re to meet the standard of instructional excellence that New York has consistently set for itself. Following a decade of cuts and educational funding frugality, now is the time to ensure that abundant funding is used by SUNY and CUNY institutions to improve students’ educational experiences that include hiring professors, advisors and mental health counselors.”
“We stand in solidarity with our faith leaders, who understand the need for an accessible, affordable SUNY for all. A properly funded SUNY is a vibrant, powerful economic engine for our communities and for our state. A strong SUNY system opens a pathway to success for our graduates, many of whom live and work in New York. SUNY’s campuses are located in some of the poorest areas of the state and have an immense positive impact on the local economies,” said Frederick E. Kowal, Ph.D., President of United University Professions. “SUNY’s public teaching hospitals, which treat more than 1.3 million patients each year, serve as a pipeline of doctors and medical professionals to New York City and municipalities large and small, while also caring for historically underserved and underrepresented communities. After decades of cuts and underfunding, it’s time for the state to make a strong, lasting investment in SUNY. It’s about social and economic justice.”
“This year, our Governor and Legislature have recognized the need to make increased investments in CUNY and SUNY. Our elected officials now have the opportunity to undo decades of harmful cuts and austerity budgets and reestablish New York’s public universities as national leaders in educational quality and access, said PSC-CUNY President PhD. James Davis. “PSC, UUP, the Labor Religion Coalition of NY State and partners urge our elected leaders to provide the increased funding that will meet the real and dire needs at CUNY and SUNY for more full-time faculty, advisors, and mental health counselors, and an investment to improve crumbling facilities. A full economic recovery for all New Yorkers will only come through a renewed commitment to fully funding public higher education.”