Lawmakers must fulfill their responsibility to the people of New York state and treat the public higher education systems like the treasure they are.
That's the message behind a multi-media, long-term statewide campaign developed by NYSUT and its higher education affiliates, United University Professions, the Professional Staff Congress and community college locals, to trumpet the value of the state's public colleges and universities and spark significant state investment in them.
Watch for the "Keep New York a state of mind" message in print, digital and broadcast media, part of the campaign's initial phase. The campaign calls on the public and state officials to support the union's Public Higher Education Quality Initiative.
As lawmakers continue deliberations on the state budget, the initiative strongly urges them to start replenishing the nearly $2 billion that was cut from the city and state university systems and their community colleges during the Great Recession.
The "Keep New York a state of mind" campaign, NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi said, reminds the public and state policymakers of the critical contributions public higher education makes to keep the state prosperous and competitive.
"Our public colleges and universities are vital community assets, but they have been depleted of necessary state support to the point where students can't graduate on time because classes are crowded, course sections have been reduced and faculty have not been hired in numbers to keep up with the demand," Iannuzzi said.
The initiative was developed in concert with NYSUT's higher education affiliates, which represent faculty and professional staff at the State University of New York, the City University of New York and the community colleges. The problems facing New York's public colleges and universities took years to get this bad, but NYSUT believes that the solutions can and must start immediately. To ensure the state's response continues beyond this legislative session, NYSUT has positioned the initiative to be a long-range effort that will react to new challenges.
It calls for lawmakers to:
• create an endowment to restore and build CUNY/SUNY academic departments through the hiring of additional full-time faculty and professional staff;
• increase operating aid to SUNY and CUNY four-year colleges and universities, and raise community college base aid;
• invest in student financial aid and opportunity programs; and
• update and reform the state's Tuition Assistance Program to keep up with the realities of rising costs and the loss or reduction of personal income for many students' families.
"Our public colleges, universities and community colleges are under intense pressure to eliminate programs and courses," NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta said.
"Campuses are being pressed to accept lower quality as the norm, and label it as a more efficient approach to education. We don't think there's anything efficient about reducing programs and services for students in need, or asking faculty to do more with a lot less."
NYSUT's higher education leaders, who amplify their members' concerns about the effects of cutbacks and flat funding, say the initiative touches on three critical areas of need: faculty and staff, operating aid and support for students.
"It is time for our state leaders to do the right thing," said Fred Kowal, president of UUP, which represents 35,000 academic and professional faculty at the state-operated SUNY campuses. "Increasing funding and creating an endowment will help protect and enhance the quality of public education across the state."
Barbara Bowen, president of the PSC, which represents 25,000 faculty and staff at CUNY, noted that CUNY's funding from the state is now below 1990 levels, while tuition has risen 43 percent since 2008. That means students, not the state, are contributing to the operating funds of CUNY at levels never before seen, even though tuition dollars traditionally have been reserved for the enhancement of academic programs and services.
"If New York wants to remain the opportunity state, it must find a way to resolve this funding crisis," Bowen said. "We urge New York lawmakers to embrace this visionary proposal."
Ellen Schuler Mauk of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College, who represents community colleges on the NYSUT Board of Directors along with Andy Sako, president of the Faculty Federation of Erie Community College, said community colleges met an unprecedented demand during the recession and responded magnificently.
"College faculty and staff too often are overloaded by the constant need to do more with less," Schuler Mauk said. "New York state must ensure that our students have access to the quality support from faculty and staff they deserve."
Support NYSUT's Public Higher Education Quality Initiative:
• Like and share the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/qualityhighered.
• Become an e-activist at the Member Action center, mac.nysut.org and watch for an action letter.
• Learn more at NYSUT's website, www.nysut.org/qualityhighered.
• Tweet your support, #NYpublichighered.
• Support Higher Education Lobby Day on Feb. 26.