Throughout the state Monday, members of United University Professions - NYSUT's largest higher education affiliate, representing 35,000 academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York - stood shoulder to shoulder with other educators and activists from community organizations to call on state lawmakers to reclaim the promise of public education for all students.
Nearly $1 billion in cuts to state funding for New York's public colleges and universities since 2008 has strained the ability of the public higher education system to meet the needs of all students.
Fifteen years ago, the state funded 75 percent of SUNY's operating costs, said UUP President Fred Kowal, during an interview Monday on Susan Arbetter's Capitol Pressroom show, which aired on radio stations across the state. He was joined in the interview by NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira.
"Our colleagues in K-12 are working extremely hard to get our students ready for higher education, but when they get to higher ed, they have trouble completing a degree in four years because funding cuts have made classes so crowded and course sections more limited," Kowal said.
Jamie Dangler, the statewide vice president for academics, spoke at the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Binghamton, along with NYSUT member Dona Murray. Tom Tucker, the UUP chapter president at the University of Buffalo, was in the West Seneca school district with NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler and Angelica Rivera, a parent activist with the Alliance for Quality Education. And Mike Lyon, the UUP chapter president at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, spoke in that city about the need to keep the SUNY hospitals properly funded, accessible and public. UUP has been fighting for three years to keep the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn open and all three of the SUNY teaching hospitals have seen their state funding slashed in the last five years.
UUP is working collaboratively with NYSUT's K-12 locals on issues, such as the new state-mandated curriculum in higher education for future teachers. And New York's public colleges and universities have a vested interest in the implementation of the Common Core curriculum, because many of students learning under the Common Core now will progress to a public college and then to a career.
That strong collaboration among educators cannot be negated by a lack of funding for public schools, a lack of resources and supports for the Common Core and inadequate course offerings — all necessities in ensuring a smooth transition into college and graduation in four years, not five or six.
"We're really asking for our state lawmakers and Regents to listen to the voices of parents and teachers and students in our community,"
Neira told Arbetter. "We want a successful system for all students and parents."
Kowal and Neira also appeared at a news conference in the Legislative Office Building, where UUP members will soon be meeting with lawmakers to advocate for adequate funding for public higher education in the next budget, and restoration funds for full-time faculty positions that have been cut since 2008.
"In the last decade, state funding for the 29 state-operated SUNY campuses has fallen by nearly $700 million, while enrollment has risen by almost 33,000 students," Kowal said during the news conference. "That imbalance must be righted. Throughout our history, social and economic promise has occurred as a direct result of a public commitment to the education of its people. We must reclaim the promise of an affordable, accessible and high-quality education for all who wish to attend the State University of New York."