March 2011
February 18, 2011

We must save public higher ed!

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: NYSUT's Andy Pallotta testifies to the impact of proposed higher ed budget cuts. Also testifying are PSC President Barbara Bowen and UUP President Phil Smith. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

As budget cuts to public higher education reach record levels, NYSUT members are delivering a loud, strong message to lawmakers: Save the state's public colleges and universities.

SUNY, CUNY and community colleges have collectively lost nearly $1 billion — yes, $1 BILLION — since 2008. It's no longer a matter of asking that funds be restored or that existing operating levels be maintained. Quite simply, public higher education in New York — the pathway out of poverty for thousands of residents and a source of economic stability for entire regions — is in jeopardy.

Now, more than ever, our higher ed colleagues need the help of every NYSUT member. Join the hundreds of members who are expected to turn out on March 8 for a day of advocacy and solidarity at the state Capitol in Albany.

"While we keep hearing that public higher education is an integral part of our state's economic success, we routinely and systematically cut these institutions off at the knees," NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta told lawmakers.

Since 2008, the State University of New York has lost $585 million — more than a third of its operating budget — with the Executive Budget calling for another $100 milion in cuts. The City University of New York faces a 10 percent cut of $83.2 million, and an additional cut of $11.9 million that carries over from the state's current-year deficit reduction, for a total state aid impact of $91.5 million. Community colleges could lose $62 million in funding. SUNY's hospitals, which educate medical students and residents and provide health care to some of New York's most vulnerable citizens, would lose their state subsidy altogether under the executive budget, a cut of $154 million.

Cuts are already making themselves felt in myriad ways:

  • More students find it takes longer to graduate because they cannot find openings in required courses. The SUNY system's summer semester is now as hectic as the fall semester, and students cannot be assured of getting the courses they need even then.
  • Support services for students are fading. SUNY's Educational Opportunity Program, which helps at-risk students get into college and stay there, has lost hundreds of seats. Counseling centers on campus are working through situations they've never encountered in such numbers, including student veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Many "quality of life" services on campuses throughout the state have been reduced, including the hours of student health services; trash pickups in classrooms and offices; building maintenance and the restocking of supplies; and upkeep of classroom equipment.

NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said members will not be deterred from their fight to ensure funding of our public colleges and universities.

"Our members are unified as never before in this effort," Neira said. "We have been joined by students, parents and those lawmakers who realize that you cannot turn a state economy around if you are also turning students away at the gates of public colleges and universities."

Community colleges

NYSUT local leaders are mobilizing members, who are urgently responding to the proposed budget cuts with increased anger and activism. "Our younger members are stepping up," said Andy Sako, president of the Faculty Federation of Erie Community College and a NYSUT Board member who speaks to community college issues.

NYSUT Executive Committee member Ellen Schuler Mauk, president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College and chair of the NYSUT Higher Education Council, said the Suffolk local is planning an all-encompassing advocacy effort by its members this year.

"This is not business as usual," Schuler Mauk said. "We need their stories; we need their faces. Legislators need to be surprised that the rank-and-file will be seen. The governor's cutbacks take us back almost to 1998 funding, but we're dealing with 2011 student enrollment and demand to fund student services as we never have before. What the governor has done is fund community colleges $9 per student more than the state did in 1998."

Enrollment at Suffolk has increased 13 percent in the last two years — and 33 percent in the last decade.

SUNY

Members of United University Professions joined forces with students and parents at a Capitol rally for the restoration of funds to SUNY that drew hundreds. NYSUT's higher education leaders delivered compelling testimony at a legislative hearing on the Executive Budget.

"It is unlikely that any other major university in this nation has lost such a high percentage of its operating resources, particularly in such a short period of time," UUP President Phil Smith testified. "If the governor's proposal is not rejected, SUNY's level of state support will be back to the level provided in the mid-1980s, despite the fact that enrollment has grown by more than 40,000 students."

UUP represents 35,000 academic and professional faculty at the state-operated SUNY campuses.

CUNY

At CUNY, "another round of cuts could lead to higher access barriers, even bigger classes and more delayed graduations," said Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen. "It's unrealistic and cruel to close a $10 billion budget gap with cuts alone."

The PSC represents more than 20,000 faculty and staff at the City University of New York. Since the start of the school year, PSC members have held numerous rallies on their campuses and at City Hall to protest budget cuts.

he PSC's "Committee of 500" — a group of rank-and-file members — has taken an active, systemwide role in educating members about upcoming contract negotiations and the implications of budget cuts.

PSC First Vice President Steve London and Bowen outlined for lawmakers the plight at the CUNY community colleges, where the typical student is a woman in her mid-20s with a family income of $30,000. In the last three years, the CUNY community colleges have lost funding that totals nearly $650 per student.

"We see every day how our community college students overcome great obstacles to achieve their goals for a degree, a good-paying job and better life for their families," London said. "In this economic moment, when students are turning to our community colleges in record numbers, it is simply wrong-headed to consider more base-aid cuts."