March 2016 Issue
March 04, 2016

Unions press for equity in higher education

Author: By Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT United
NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallota, left, and UUP Vice President for Academics Jamie Dangler testify before a legislative hearing on higher education.
Caption: NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallota, left, and UUP Vice President for Academics Jamie Dangler testify before a legislative hearing on higher education. Photo by El Wise Noisette.

Last year, both houses of the Legislature passed a bill that would have delivered real "maintenance of effort" funding for SUNY and CUNY. It would have boosted state aid levels to cover mandatory costs — collective bargaining obligations, energy and other inflationary items — so campuses would not have to rely on tuition increases to keep the lights on.

Unfortunately, the governor vetoed the bill, saying the need to bolster state aid should be part of a larger higher education conversation during budget negotiations this year.

In February, NYSUT and its higher education union leaders emphatically delivered detailed proposals at the joint legislative budget hearing on higher education. The unions want to see the provisions of last year's MOE bill — sponsored by higher education chairs Sen. Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, D-Manhattan — incorporated in the final state budget bill, due April 1.

"Although the governor didn't approve it ... passage of the MOE legislation last year gives hope that a fairer level of predictable state support can be negotiated, a door left open in the governor's veto message," said President Fred Kowal of United University Professions, NYSUT's affiliate that represents academic and professional faculty on SUNY campuses.

"Enrollment is rising. Class offerings are decreasing. Class sizes are ballooning. And full-time faculty members are increasingly scarce," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta. "We must keep the promise made to our students that yearly tuition increases will go to enhance the quality of their education."

NYSUT's multi-pronged initiative, "Invest in Futures — Save Higher Education," calls on lawmakers to ensure quality, opportunity and access. In addition to calling for the MOE provisions to be included in the budget, the union asks for an increase in community college aid of $250 per full-time equivalent student. The initiative also urges lawmakers to reject the governor's "performance-based funding" that would pit campuses against one another in competition for funding. The campaign advocates reallocating the money to enhance academic programs and services to students. For more on the campaign, visit www.nysut.org or www.facebook.com/qualityhighered.

NYSUT activists have strong allies in this fight, including Sen. LaValle and Assemblywoman Glick, who joined public education advocates to urge the governor and Legislature to include an MOE provision in the 2016–17 budget.

An effective MOE must modify the current law to specifically include numerous inflationary costs — such as rent, utilities, contracts — as well as support for SUNY hospitals and costs tied to enrollment growth, union leaders said. The current law only requires the state to match the funding from the previous fiscal year.

The annual tuition increases that were authorized in 2011 with the long-term plan known as NYSUNY 2020 were supposed to be invested in student academic programs, services and faculty, but this promise to students has been broken.

NYSUNY 2020 expires this year, offering the state an opportunity to come up with a new long-term plan that ensures adequate state resources without burdening students, said Jamie Dangler, UUP's vice president for academics. "It is our responsibility to do so," she said.

Since the 2008–09 recession, per-student state funding at CUNY has dropped 17 percent while tuition has increased steadily, said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress that represents faculty and staff at CUNY.

Bowen said CUNY presents a way out of poverty for many New York City students, noting that 75 percent of CUNY's population are students of color and half of them have family incomes below $30,000. But with inadequate state aid, she testified, tuition is becoming unaffordable.

"Just what kind of university do you really want?" she asked lawmakers rhetorically.

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