January 27, 2011

Higher Ed members called to action

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT Communications

NYSUT's higher education leaders are encouraging members to go local this state legislative session, with a special emphasis on visits to their lawmakers in their district offices.

A concerted statewide event is planned for Feb. 3-4 when union members will visit their lawmakers in their district offices and tell them that education and health care cannot withstand more cuts.

That plan was outlined recently by the NYSUT Higher Education Council, which is chaired by Ellen Schuler Mauk, president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College and one of two NYSUT board members - along with Andy Sako of Erie Community College - who speaks to community college issues on the board.

"This is going to take an incredible mobilization of all of our members - not just the leaders, not just the people who usually participate in the Committee of 100 - because this will affect every member," Schuler Mauk told the council at a recent meeting.

New York's public four-year colleges, universities and community colleges have grappled with nearly $1 billion in cuts in their total operating budgets since 2008, and there is little prospect that any of those funds will be restored.

NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta and Vice President Maria Neira stressed to the council the importance of local outreach to lawmakers, even as NYSUT works to build coalitions on the state and national level.

This "go local" campaign is to make the community aware that we are part of the community, Pallotta told council members.

 "We will make it known that we have and will continue to share in the sacrifice, but it has to be for everyone," he said. "We have a great union. We have resilience and we have a way of finding solutions when times are tough. And the Capitol? We're going to be all over that place."

Neira said this is "definitely a year in which we will carry our message to the local level, as well as in Albany.

"The role that NYSUT is playing is that of building a national coalition," she added. "So we're going to be taking a lead in a national conversation about how we face what is really a national effort to tear apart education unions."

Several members of the council spoke up in support of NYSUT's goals.

"I think some of the challenges we face are really golden opportunities to show the public the value of our services," said Phil Smith, president of United University Professions, which represents 35,000 academic and professional faculty at SUNY. "Let's get our members out there in the community so that people know who we are and what we do."

Steve London, first vice president of the Professional Staff Congress, said he thought NYSUT was acting wisely in building a broad base of support among like-minded organizations.

"We've done a tremendous amount of work, we've done a lot to prepare for this, but I think we should be prepared to say that may not be enough," London said.

"We need to ... think very seriously about how we're going to meet the challenge, and who our friends are. If we don't have the feet in the streets, we're going to be outmaneuvered."

PSC represents more than 22,000 faculty and staff at the City University of New York.

Michael Fabricant, the PSC treasurer and also a member of the Higher Education Council, agreed.

"We're facing enormous odds," he told fellow council members. "It's going to take the kind of risk-taking that educators are not used to, but which the union could lead us to - to build the kind of architecture for the next three, four, five years, because this challenge isn't going away."