PSC March to #FreeTheFunds

Updated: May 7, 2021
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Union Demands CUNY Use Federal Stimulus Funds to Help CUNY Recover, Reverse Cuts and Layoffs, Protect Health and Safety

New York—More than 200 faculty, staff and students marched through midtown Wednesday, April 28 with the Professional Staff Congress demanding that CUNY “Free The Funds!” and use the stimulus money Congress allocated to CUNY for pandemic relief.

CUNY colleges have been allocated more than $891 million in federal stimulus funds that can be used for institutional purposes related to the pandemic (see college-by-college allocations). The colleges received additional funds for direct aid to students, a provision the union vigorously supports.

The union members want CUNY to commit to spending the institutional money to reverse the austerity measures CUNY rushed to impose last year. They demanded that CUNY rehire the 2,000 adjuncts laid off last June, restore class-size limits and course offerings to pre-pandemic levels, unfreeze job searches, resume reclassifications of professional staff who are assigned new responsibilities, and invest in the changes needed to protect health and safety as the pandemic continues.

“Congress allocated $891 million in institutional aid to the colleges—not to CUNY central. The CUNY administration must release plans for the colleges to put that money to work to protect the quality of a CUNY education, the health and safety of the CUNY community and the livelihood of CUNY workers during the pandemic. CUNY must reverse the cuts and layoffs of the last year,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress. “With the federal funds addressing emergency needs, the City and State must urgently invest in baseline funding for CUNY. Whether New York generates an inclusive economic recovery depends in large part on whether it invests in CUNY.”

The institutional funds are part of an overall allocation of $1.5 billion in stimulus for CUNY colleges provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (March 2020), the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (December 2020) and the American Rescue Plan (March 2021). A total of $634 million has also been allocated for direct aid to CUNY students. Yet while CUNY has distributed $118 million student aid, the three quarterly reports on the CUNY Budget and Finance website disclose a total of only $51 million in stimulus funds spent so far on institutional expenses.

"We fought hard in the American Relief Plan to deliver billions of dollars in critical support for higher education in New York, including to CUNY, an institution I love, because it is a direct investment in a better future for millions of students -- and for America. It is vital that those funds are used to keep education affordable for students and to preserve the quality of education offered, including maintaining and restoring a full amount of the professors and instructors needed to deliver that education. When we were in the depths of the covid crisis, all entities had to tighten their belts, but now that we have delivered this much-deserved and generous aid package we should make every effort to restore operations to optimal levels," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The institutional funds can be used to defray pandemic-related expenses, including lost revenue, technology costs associated with a transition to distance education, faculty and staff trainings, payroll, student support activities, and additional financial aid grants to students.

The march started at the CUNY Graduate Center on 5th Avenue and ended at the CUNY central administration building on East 42nd Street. Marchers stopped to protest in front of the Governor’s office and in front of the office of the Third Avenue Management affiliate of AMG, the multi-billion-dollar asset management company where the CUNY Chancellor sits on the Board.

When Governor Cuomo “withheld” 20% of CUNY funding due to the COVID recession, CUNY colleges stopped reappointments of 2,000 adjunct faculty and staff, cut course offerings and increased the size of many online courses. When pressed about the stimulus funds earlier in the year, CUNY administrators, led by Chancellor Matos Rodríguez, blamed their inaction on uncertainty about the budget. Now weeks after the State budget was passed with full restorations and tens of millions in new funds for CUNY, they are still failing to reveal their plans for the one-time pandemic relief funds.

While CUNY remains silent about its plans for the stimulus some 2,000 laid-off adjuncts are without CUNY employment, and CUNY management is refusing to bargain with the union about adjuncts’ rights to resuming benefits like health insurance if they are rehired. Searches to fill empty faculty and staff positions are still on hold, and CUNY students, most of whom come from the NYC communities hit hardest by COVID, are still in need of increased course offerings, mental health counseling and advisement.