October 27, 2011

Unions: Teaching, learning should be No. 1 higher ed priority

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT Newswire

NYSUT's higher education leaders used a legislative hearing Wednesday as an opportunity to question an aggressive move by the state's public colleges and universities toward vaguely defined "economic development" - a move, NYSUT leaders said, which has come at the expense of the mission of public education.

"In higher education, the public discourse recently has focused on the role SUNY and CUNY can play in economic development through public/private partnerships, selling and leasing land, and other regulatory changes," NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta told members of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. "While NYSUT believes that our public higher education systems do have an important role to play in economic development, we believe that the primary mission of SUNY and CUNY is teaching and learning."

Committee Chair and Assembly member Deborah Glick called the hearing as a preliminary step toward budget hearings for the next fiscal year. NYSUT leaders spoke about the effects of the more than $1.7 billion in state funding cuts to SUNY, CUNY and the community colleges since 2008. Also testifying were Phil Smith, president of United University Professions, which represents 35,000 academic and professional faculty at SUNY, and Arthurine DeSola, secretary of the Professional Staff Congress, which represents more than 20,000 faculty and staff at CUNY. Both the UUP and PSC are NYSUT affiliates.

"The University heralds the formation of partnership with private sector companies," Smith told the committee. "We hear phrases such as 'joint ventures' and 'economic engines.' We hear very little about a reaffirmation of the University's original and, until lately, historical emphasis on teaching and learning."

DeSola affirmed NYSUT's longstanding opposition to last year's sunsetting of the so-called "Millionaire's Tax" on the state's richest residents, while basic yearly tuition at CUNY last year increased from $3,150 to $3,600. She decried what she called the state's practice of "turning low- and middle-income students into cash machines."

[Read full testimony: Testimony on Financing Public Higher Education]