February 04, 2011

Activists rally against cuts to SUNY

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT Communications
Caption: NYSUT members and SUNY supporters take to the Capitol. Photo be El-Wise Noisette. [more photos]
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UUP President Phil Smith

Hundreds of NYSUT members and supporters rallied at the Capitol to protest a proposed $100 million budget cut to the State University of New York that would end the state's public higher education system as New Yorkers have known it for 60 years.

A steady stream of faculty, staff, students, NYSUT members, including participants in the union's Leadership Institute, and even a few parents poured into the plaza at the Capitol, chanting and waving signs. Most wore red, identifying themselves as members or supporters of United University Professions, which represents 35,000 academic and professional faculty at SUNY.

"In three years, we have had $585 million cut from SUNY," UUP President Phil Smith told the crowd. "The governor proposes an additional $100 million cut. That's a full third of our operating budget - the equivalent of closing 13 of the state-operated four-year campuses or two of the four university centers."

The Feb. 4 rally capped a week in which NYSUT members throughout the state met with lawmakers in district offices to urge the restoration of operating funds to SUNY. NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta and Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler - both alumni of public colleges in New York - touched on that statewide strength as they urged the crowd at the rally to stay strong.

"Don't give up; don't give back," Pallotta said.

Cutler described the cuts to SUNY as "an attack on the middle class," warning the crowd, "We are up for a very difficult fight."

The cuts have been felt in many ways throughout SUNY, and have affected lives on and off campus.

  • Hundreds of adjunct instructors have lost their jobs.
  • Retiring full-time faculty have not been replaced, so students have found it more difficult to register for classes they need in order to graduate.
  • Custodial and maintenance services at some campuses have been cut back.
  • Health centers and other student services have reduced their hours at various campuses.

A coalition of students from the University at Albany joined the rally Friday. Among them was Matthew Annis, who addressed the rally, and Ana D'Urso, who said that it is frustrating to realize that annual budget cuts have become the norm.

"I think everyone who's involved in these decisions is not getting the message," she said. "They need to know they work for us. I'm here because I'm angry."

Elizabeth Granto, a special education teacher for high school students at Orleans-Niagara BOCES, was attending the nearby NYSUT Leadership Institute and joined the rally.

"Many of the students we serve are low income," Granto said. "If it were not for SUNY and CUNY, they could not afford to go to college."

Now it is up to the Legislature to respond to the governor's budget, said Assemblyman Bob Reilly, D-Colonie, who addressed the rally and pledged that the Assembly will preserve the Tuition Assistance Program and the Educational Opportunity Program at SUNY.

Everyone in New York has to make sacrifices right now, Reilly said, "but we must make sure that education is available to all students."