February 11, 2013

Advocates testify to needs of public higher education

Source: NYSUT Legislation
Caption: L-R: PSC-CUNY's Steven London, NYSUT's Andy Pallotta and UUP's Eileen Landy testify in Albany Tuesday. Photo by El-Wise Noisette. MORE PHOTOS.

Consecutive years of flat funding are jeopardizing New York's state and city universities, while the state's failure to invest in its community colleges is forcing tuition increases that are pricing some students out of a higher education.

That is the kind of message often expected from unions like New York State United Teachers, United University Professions and the Professional Staff Congress. But today, State University Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and City University Chancellor Matthew Goldstein also pushed for more funding in testimony to the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees so that lawmakers received a solid message from both management and labor.

"Flat funding for public higher education is not a recipe for student success," NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta testified, noting that state support for SUNY, CUNY and community colleges has been slashed by $1.7 billion since 2008 alone, even as tuition charges to students and their families have increased.
 
"The revenue from tuition increases should be going to hire more full-time faculty and improve student academic programs and services," Pallotta said. "When students pay more, they should get more. Instead, we see tuition revenue making up for what the state should be investing in its SUNY and CUNY campuses."
 
UUP's Secretary Eileen Landy first thanked the lawmakers for restoring $88 million to SUNY's three teaching hospitals in both the 2011-12 and current 2012-13 budgets. She testified to the numerous problems that underfunding SUNY creates, such as forcing SUNY to move away from employment-related baccalaureate degree programs in favor of enhanced graduate programs at the University Centers. Which creates more negative impacts and she predicted that "what ultimately may occur is a situation where reduced state funding leads to diminished course offerings, lower enrollments and curtailed student access."
 
In her testimony, SUNY Chancellor Zimpher noted enrollment has grown 9.1 percent over the past five years but state funding has not kept up.
 
"During the same period, our state support has been reduced or kept level," Zimpher said. "This means that this growth has been funded only by tuition dollars, with no accompanying contribution from the state."
 
She also requested at least $99 million in additional funding to stabilize the floundering Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. She criticized the proposed budget that kept funding SUNY hospitals at the same level as his proposed budget last year, which does not include the $27.8 million and $2 million allocations that the Legislature added.
 
The City University also faces challenges that will tarnish the "higher education jewel of New York City," said Steven London, PSC first vice president. "The proposed budget does not make up for recent cuts and years of underfunding." He asked lawmakers, at the very least, to pass a budget "that funds an additional $35 million in unmet mandatory needs requested by CUNY." Those unmet needs include $9.6 million in energy costs, $3.7 million in rent and $21.7 million in collective bargaining and non-personnel costs.
 
The PSC joined City University Chancellor Matthew Goldstein's request for $26.5 million in state funding for new full-time faculty as well as $252 million for construction at the community colleges and $1.3 billion for construction at the senior colleges.
 
"Our facilities are truly the foundation of our academic work - not only as physical structures but as the facilitators of more robust classroom interactions, advanced research, increased student participation, and enhanced community partnerships," Goldstein testified.
 
London agreed. "Students learn more and faculty and staff are more productive when they have modern equipment, decent facilities and a safe, health learning and working environment," London said.
 
Health care and education were tied together in much of the testimony.
 
Pallotta also again pressed lawmakers to "do whatever is necessary" to ensure that SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn remains open as a full service state-operated public hospital, and to invest more in the SUNY hospitals in Syracuse and on Long Island.  SUNY hospitals have suffered a 50 percent cut in funding since 2008.
 
"The simple truth is that our SUNY hospitals cannot carry out their critical public health care and academic missions on this level of state funding," Pallotta said.
Landy noted how SUNY hospitals "provide unique life-saving services not typically provided in private hospitals. These include burn units, trauma care units and poison control. They also serve as a safety net for low-income communities, the uninsured and the underinsured. These patients rely on these hospitals for their health care."
 
Zimpher echoed those messages in her testimony.
 
"Our hospitals are an integral part of our educational mission," she said. "They are the classrooms in which our future doctors and nurses learn how to care for patients. We are best able to manage that educational process when we have our own hospitals. SUNY's medical students, nursing students, and other health professional students are from New York State, and will stay in New York State to practice. The inability of our hospitals to cover their State-related costs inhibits SUNY's ability to produce the next generation of health care providers for New York State.
 
NYSUT higher education activists will continue these messages when they lobby lawmakers March 12 in Albany.