NYSUT higher education members and leaders from across the state joined forces with student activists from New York's public colleges and universities Tuesday for a march, rally and demonstration of solidarity nearly 700 strong.
"I think it's a sign that everybody sees how bad the cuts are this year; the cuts that are proposed will harm everybody," said Bill Mahoney, a graduate student at the University at Albany and a staff member with the New York Public Interest Research Group. NYPIRG collaborated with NYSUT to organize the march and schedule advocacy meetings with lawmakers as they work on a budget to present to the governor.
Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, which represents 20,000 faculty and staff at the City University of New York, acknowledged the presence of hundreds of determined students as the marchers prepared to step onto State Street from the Westminster Presbyterian Church and head to the Legislative Office Building.
Some of the NYSUT members and students had departed before dawn to get to Albany. Most carried red-and-white signs calling for an end to budget cuts to higher education, and many marched with makeshift drums made from inverted, empty plastic water-cooler bottles suspended from neck straps.
"There are struggles all over the world right now, from Egypt to Wisconsin," Bowen told the students. "We are part of that. We are proud to be with you."
Phil Smith, president of United University Professions, which represents more than 35,000 academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York, said the day sent a stronger message to lawmakers because so many students joined with the unions.
"It just shows we're on their side; they're on our side, and we've formed a strong partnership here," Smith said.
The budget news continues to be devastating for the state's public colleges and universities. The Assembly and Senate budget proposals came out Monday, and neither proposed restoring the funding cuts recommended for the senior colleges at SUNY and CUNY in the executive budget. For SUNY, the executive budget would be cut $100 million; for CUNY, it would be $95 million.
The executive budget also recommends cutting the SUNY hospitals by $154 million. The Senate would restore $115 million of that; the Assembly, $64.3 million.
Both houses recommend restoring half of the executive budget's proposed cuts to community colleges. Those recommendations would put $16.6 million back into the SUNY community colleges, and $6.6 million into the CUNY community colleges.
"We have thousands of members and students prepared to keep up the pressure on lawmakers to do the right thing," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta at the day's end. "This is just the beginning. We will be tireless in our pursuit of a strong, adequately funded public higher education system; we are not going away; and we will be back to remind lawmakers that they would be wise to heed our call for action."