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James Davis: Oppose New Austerity Measures at CUNY, Fight for Investments

February 9, 2023

Dear PSC members,

CUNY college administrators ended last week with an email memo from Executive Vice Chancellor Hector Batista instructing them to prepare for a hiring freeze and additional “savings targets” beyond the current year, averaging 5-6% per campus for Fiscal Year 2024. 

As word of these austerity measures has spread through our membership, they have expressed anger and exasperation. They know that enrollment has not recovered from the pandemic declines, and that CUNY’s federal stimulus funding will end with Fiscal Year 2023. They understand that Mayor Adams has cut City funding for CUNY and proposed further cuts. But they also know that CUNY received $240 million in new operating  funds from Albany last year and nearly $1 billion in capital funding. While the Governor’s budget proposal for next year isn’t as ambitious as it should be, it is still a funding increase, not a cut. This budget cycle is just beginning, so cutting our college budgets preemptively sends the wrong message to Albany and City Hall and the wrong message to faculty, staff, and students. Many legislators stand with us as sponsors of the New Deal for CUNY and advocates in the budget negotiations. City Council leaders have named protecting CUNY funding as a top priority in their budget struggle with the Mayor. The state budget deadline is April 1. The City budget is finalized in June. But management is imposing  another round of destructive belt-tightening at CUNY by March 3. We feel strongly that this is the wrong decision.

Like enrollment at CUNY, ridership is down in the City’s transit system because of the pandemic. But the MTA and Governor Hochul agree that greater public support is needed to maintain quality and services. Why is CUNY signaling that we absorb possible budget shortfalls at the beginning of a budget cycle? CUNY produced an ambitious budget request for the state—how does embracing austerity at this moment support their vision for expanded funding? As one department chair told us, “There is no fat for us to cut – it’s now a question of the bone and muscle.” 

CUNY’s mid-year financial report acknowledges the loss of hundreds of full-time positions across faculty and staff. Offices across the university are severely understaffed, with CLTs and HEOs taking on the work of their departed colleagues. As recently as 2017, CUNY employed 7,546 full-time faculty, but by Fall 2021 that number declined to 6,745 and remains below 7,000 today. This is a year to fight for real gains and enlist the University community in that fight, but management seems to be throwing in the towel in advance. The memo’s directive, to review adjunct budgets and student collection rates, indicates the intention for savings to come from those who can least afford it—adjuncts and students—and through increased class sizes, which will accelerate the downward spiral that many campuses are already experiencing.

The PSC urges an alternative: instead of rolling out austerity plans, why doesn’t the CUNY administration publicize its budget request and the acute needs of the institution? Organize high profile events of CUNY supporters who will express the needs and tremendous potential of our students and our system?  Partner with other public institutions to educate New Yorkers about the value of our public sector and the necessary expansion of public goods? The operating funds that were used to add five-figure increases to senior administrator salaries and hire new vice chancellors are better spent directly supporting the needs of faculty, staff and students.

Our contract expires in less than 20 days, and we will be bargaining with CUNY in the coming months with a radically different vision of the future of our institution in mind. We will not thrive being cut to the bone. Our students will not return to colleges placed on life support. We need CUNY management to advocate openly and vigorously for fully funded public higher education, just as we in the union do, not to preemptively cut and invite further austerity. And we need PSC members and allies to unite behind A People’s CUNY, the vision towards which our bargaining demands are aimed.  

Add your name to the PSC’s petition demanding that CUNY management come to the bargaining table.

Stand with us as we rally outside CUNY Central the morning of Monday, February 27 for a Fair Contract for a People’s CUNY that supports better working, teaching and learning conditions,  and a a better life for PSC members, CUNY students and the communities that we serve,

James Davis, President

Published: February 9, 2023

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