July/August 2013
June 21, 2013

One Voice United: Keep higher ed accessible

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
rally higher ed
Caption: SUNY Downstate supporters carry their message at the "One Voice United" rally. Photo by Steve Jacobs.

NYSUT members continue to take on many challenges and threats to the state's public colleges, universities and hospitals.

"We believe affordable, accessible public education should be a civil right and a human right," said United University Professions President Fred Kowal to the more than 15,000 people at the "One Voice United" rally. UUP represents more than 35,000 academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York.

"We are going to take on those who would take our public colleges and universities and public hospitals and make them places of profit, instead of places that teach and heal." Kowal was referring to the call for increased funding to the three SUNY teaching hospitals — Stony Brook Health Science Center on Long Island, Upstate Medical University in Syracuse and, especially, Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.

UUP members at Downstate are in a dogfight to keep the hospital open, viable and public in the face of a long history of crippling budget cuts and privatization threats. The state hospitals only received $87.8 million from the state this year.

Part of the union's goal this summer and beyond will be to send the message that "we are all consumers of public health care. If Downstate is privatized, it will soon happen to teaching hospitals in Stony Brook and Syracuse. We cannot let this happen," said Rowena Blackman- Stroud, UUP Downstate chapter president.

Members say they will also be working hard for passage of a New York state DREAM act, which would make undocumented college students who were brought to the United States as minors by their parents eligible for financial aid. Higher education members will also be pressing for more full-time faculty and for funding of public colleges and universities by the state instead of through tuition increases. "With public education underfunded at every level, a show of force from educators and parents is sorely needed," PSC President Barbara Bowen said. "PSC members will demand a full investment in higher education going forward, and an end to corporate control of public education."

The issue of more faculty lines will be especially important for NYSUT's community college members in the coming year. Community colleges received an increase of $150 per fulltime student in the new budget, one of the highest per-student funding increases ever, but many community colleges still rely heavily on adjunct faculty.

"The future of public education is in all our interests; this is about the future we want for our children and our students and ourselves," said Ellen Schuler Mauk, chair of the NYSUT Higher Education Council and immediate past president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College. Along with Andy Sako, president of the Faculty Federation of Erie Community College, she speaks to community college issues on the NYSUT Board.

Schuler Mauk and Sako were among the many community college members who attended the June 8 rally. Sako said excessive testing of K-12 students detracts from the kind of creative and critical thinking they will need when they get to college. "Every student has differences in the way they learn, as well as individual strengths, and we as teachers can build on these strengths and differences," Sako said. "We must demonstrate our strength to the policy makers for change to occur."