CUNY Faculty & Students Call on Chancellor to Use New Federal Stimulus Funds to Keep Classes Open

Updated: February 11, 2021
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Demands Moratorium on Bursar’s Holds for Student Debt

New York—Faculty, students and union leaders were joined today by NYC Council Higher Education Chair Inez Barron at a press conference to demand that CUNY use the $455 million in new federal relief funds allocated to CUNY colleges to keep class sections open and allow students to enroll. CUNY colleges will receive more than $455 million under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA), up to $337 million of which can be spent on institutional needs arising from the pandemic. These funds are on top of the $251 million CUNY received from the CARES Act earlier in 2020.

“CUNY colleges have received more than $700 million in federal funds targeted at needs created by the pandemic. More than half of these funds are available for institutional use, with the remainder specified for direct aid to students. CUNY must use every dollar New York’s Congressional leaders fought to ensure that classes are not canceled, students can continue their progress to graduation, and faculty and staff jobs are protected,” said Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen.
Speakers at the press conference demanded that the University be transparent about its spending of federal funds; that it use those funds to maintain classes for students; that it temporarily relax course enrollment minimums; and that it immediately institute a moratorium on Bursar’s holds, which can block re-enrollment by students who owe as little as $100 from last semester.

Enrollment is down at many CUNY colleges due to the pandemic. But a portion of the decline has been caused by bursar’s holds. Some CUNY colleges have allowed students who owe less than a certain amount to register for classes, but the practice varies by campus, and the union has received reports that thousands of students have been blocked from continuing their education.

CUNY college administrations on several campuses are responding to enrollment pressures by rushing to cancel classes, disrupt students’ education and threaten adjunct faculty jobs. Kingsborough Community College administrators have identified up to 30 percent of spring courses for possible cancellation and point to Bursar’s holds as a cause. Brooklyn College’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences has been pushed to raise course enrollment minimums by 33 percent, a change that will lead to severe reductions in courses. At York College more than 1000 students are barred from enrollment because they owe small amounts of money to the college.

President Bowen commented: “Of course enrollment is down in colleges where the students’ communities have been devastated by COVID and unemployment! We are still in the midst of a pandemic that has exacted an enormous financial, physical and psychological toll on the Black and brown communities where many CUNY students live.
“Declaring a moratorium on bursar’s holds would boost enrollment and help to keep students on track to graduate. Temporarily relaxing course enrollment minimums would be the humane and academically sound thing to do. Research shows that online classes need to be small to foster student success. Smaller classes are precisely what CUNY students need in this period of distance education.

“This is absolutely the wrong moment to enlarge classes and risk causing another round of mass layoffs of adjuncts at CUNY. The University should be using the federal relief funds to restore adjunct staff and faculty positions, not to throw more New Yorkers into unemployment.

“The PSC calls on the CUNY administration: Lift the holds, keep the classes running, and let our students and the communities that depend on them have a chance to rebuild their lives through access to college education,” said President Bowen.

The Professional Staff Congress (NYSUT|AFT #2334) is the union that represents 30,000 faculty and staff, both full-time and adjuncts, at the City University of New York and the CUNY Research Foundation. Learn more at psc-cuny.org.

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