ALBANY, N.Y., August. 12, 2008 — Higher education union leaders today ripped Gov. David Paterson’s proposed cuts to the CUNY and SUNY systems, calling them “inconceivable” and saying their devastating toll could limit the ability of many New Yorkers to attend college.
The governor wants $51 million cut from the City University of New York, as part of an overall $1 billion mid-year budget reduction he has proposed to deal with the state’s projected $6.4 billion deficit. Paterson also has proposed slashing millions in aid to SUNY and CUNY community colleges, and cutting the Tuition Assistance Program by roughly $30 million.
SUNY, which has already sustained a $52 million general-fund reduction this year, is expected to absorb another 7 percent cut, ranging between $95 million and $100 million.
Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress that represents 22,000 faculty and professional staff at CUNY, said the union is determined to roll back the governor’s proposed cuts.
“Slashing the CUNY budget is a terrible policy and absolutely the wrong way to address the budget shortfall,” Bowen said. “We call on Gov. Paterson to consider, instead, the only fair way to address this crisis: That is to increase revenue through a fair taxation structure, not to devastate a historic public university and cut off the chance of a college education for thousands of New Yorkers.”
Bowen said Paterson’s proposed cuts could mean fewer classes, fewer books in CUNY libraries, less student financial aid and “the doors closing to college for people who depend on CUNY for higher education.”
Phillip Smith — president of the United University Professions, which represents more than 34,000 academic and professional faculty at SUNY — said Paterson’s cuts will make it difficult for the system to fulfill its core mission of providing all New Yorkers with the broadest possible access to quality higher ed services.
“It is inconceivable that SUNY is being directed to absorb these cuts just weeks before classes are scheduled to resume,” he said. “This reduction in aid could result in tens of thousands of students being turned away or closed out of courses needed for graduation. Unless these cuts are restored, SUNY is going to be dismantled.”
Ellen Schuler Mauk of NYSUT’s Community College Council said Paterson’s proposed cuts will only worsen the state’s ailing economy.
“Community colleges are the economic engine for local economies,” said Mauk, who also serves as president of the Suffolk Community College Faculty Association. “They provide retraining for people who are out of work or need to upgrade their skills, and they are an affordable local option for people to gain access to higher education.”
NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi said during a time of economic downturn, the state should be enhancing — not reducing — its investment in its higher ed system.
“The administration should not decimate its public colleges and universities that are fundamental to keeping jobs and economic growth anchored in New York,” he said. “The cuts are unacceptable and NYSUT will be doing everything in its power to ensure these proposed cuts never happen.”
The governor has ordered the state Legislature back to Albany on Aug. 19 for what he is calling an “emergency” economic session, at which time he will ask lawmakers to consider his proposed cuts.
NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan B. Lubin noted that when Paterson appeared before the union at its convention in New York in April, he vowed to make higher education a priority.
“The governor still has time to withdraw these proposed cuts and if he doesn’t, the Legislature will have the opportunity on Aug. 19 to do what’s right,” Lubin said. “It’s bad policy and it’s one that neither New York nor its students deserve.”
NYSUT, the state’s largest union, represents some 600,000 classroom teachers and other school employees; faculty and other professionals at the state’s community colleges, State University of New York and City University of New York, and other education and health professionals. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and AFL-CIO.