February 25, 2016

Students, faculty, activists storm the Capitol on behalf of higher education

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT Communications
higher ed rally
Caption: Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Hundreds of students, faculty and staff rallied today at the Capitol to call for a greater investment in the state's public higher education institutions and enactment of true Maintenance of Effort legislation.

"We look forward to partnering with legislative leaders on a final state budget that assures the quality, accessible and affordable public colleges our students deserve," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee.

"With a multi-billion-dollar budget surplus, the state must seize this opportunity to invest significantly more in SUNY, CUNY and our community college systems," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta.

Pointing out NYSUT's "Invest in Futures — Save Higher Education" banner that highlights the union's new initiative and media campaign, Pallotta called for enactment of Maintenance of Effort legislation that includes mandatory costs, such as energy and other basic operations; rejection of cost shifts; and an increase to base aid to community colleges of $250 per full-time student equivalent.

Deborah Glick, the Manhattan Democrat who chairs the Assembly Higher Education Committee — and a graduate of CUNY's Queens College — laid it on the line.

"We understand that the city university and the state university and the community colleges are the foundation for New York State's economy," she said. "Period. End of discussion."

Glick called again for the Maintenance of Effort bill she co-sponsored last year with Senate Higher Ed Committee Chair Kenneth LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, which passed with overwhelming support, only to be vetoed by the governor. But, she said, "we will need the broadest and widest coalition" of faculty, staff, students, parents and all their relatives.

"Public higher education is the future of the state," Glick said, "and we need to invest in our future." The crowd rose to its feet.

As of now, however, much work needs to be done; the Executive Budget proposal would not provide enough resources. "One-house" budget bills are expected from the Senate and Assembly in the second week of March. The three fiscal plans must be combined and adopted somehow by April 1, so the timing is crucial.

"New York's network of community colleges is currently receiving less state funding than in 2008-09," said Suffolk Community College Faculty Association President Kevin Peterman. "It is essential that state support continue — and increase substantially — in a year in which New York's budget surplus is expected to top $5 billion."

"We're united in this fight," said Fred Kowal, president of United University Professions, representing academic and professional faculty on SUNY campuses. Noting the hundreds of students and others who made the trip to Albany for the day, he said: "The dream that brought you here … that dream is vital to who we are as a state! YOU are the university!"

"This is really about a political decision to invest in the future of the people we teach," said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, representing faculty and staff at CUNY, "OR, to ensure the people we teach do not have a good life!"

Students and faculty members went off to meetings with lawmakers to tell their stories.

"Speak from the heart," Bowen urged. "You have the power."

NYSUT is also calling on lawmakers to reject pay-for-performance programs; create an endowment to hire much-needed full-time faculty and staff; fully fund SUNY's teaching and research hospitals; and make other budgetary changes to support teaching and learning.

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