As state lawmakers hashed out details of the state budget, an advertising campaign by United University Professions made sure they knew what was at stake.
The campaign highlighted the desperate plight of the state's public higher education system and the future of public health care in one of Brooklyn's most impoverished areas. The ad called for the creation of a higher education endowment and for the funding needed to keep SUNY Downstate Medical Center open and accessible.
UUP, which represents 35,000 academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York, launched the campaign in response to the loss of nearly $2 billion in state funding to SUNY and the City University of New York the last five years.
The push for the public endowment was highlighted in a 30-second television ad that aired in and around Albany during prime budget negotiations in March.
The television ad was paired with a half-page print ad that ran in more than 150 weekly newspapers and several daily newspapers near SUNY campuses around the state.
The ads asked viewers and readers to call a toll-free number — 1-888-866-2561 —- and urge lawmakers to create the endowment and to increase state funding for SUNY.
"It's time to lift the burden of funding public higher education off the backs of students and their families and shift it back to the state, where it rightfully belongs," said UUP President Fred Kowal.
The state continues to unload its fiscal responsibilities onto SUNY students and their families, who are now paying a whopping 65 percent of SUNY's operating costs. The situation was quite the opposite 20 years ago, when the state paid 65 percent of SUNY's operating costs.
The call for a publicly funded endowment and increased state funding are key components of NYSUT's Public Higher Education Quality Initiative, which also calls for greater state support for public financial aid and academic opportunity programs.
An endowment, Kowal said, "would be used to hire more full-time faculty and professional staff to safeguard the quality of public higher education."
SUNY has lost several thousand full-time faculty members in the last 10 years to retirements and attrition, and new faculty have not been hired at anywhere near the rate of the losses. In the meantime, class sizes have increased and more courses are taught by part-time faculty.
A separate ad supporting SUNY Downstate Medical Center ran in New York City newspapers. The ad called for lawmakers to protect the medical center in Brooklyn, which has lost hundreds of employees to layoffs — many of them UUP members — in the last two years.
Readers were asked to call a different toll-free number — 1-888-789-9085 — to urge lawmakers to increase state aid to the hospital.
SUNY Downstate is, as the ad says, a "beacon of hope" to Brooklyn residents and a vital teaching hospital for future doctors and medical professionals. In fact, one of every three Brooklyn doctors is a Downstate graduate.
Dozens of faith-based supporters of the hospital and Brooklyn residents and union and community leaders in March held a 48-hour fast in front of the hospital to call attention to its plight. The fast was just one in a series of events that call attention to the high standing the medical center holds in the community.