Emphasis on Bill Passed in State Legislature
By Clifford Michel
CUNY and SUNY faculty unions called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign a “Maintenance of Effort” piece of legislation on July 22 at Baruch College that would require the state to cover all mandatory costs to New York’s public universities.
The bill, S.281a/A.5370a, would require the state to fund New York’s two public university systems by paying for annual cost increases for utilities, rent, supplies and equipment, collective bargaining, and other expenses.
The state Assembly hasn’t sent the bill to Cuomo, but he can request it.
State lawmakers and faculty union leaders said that tuition increase should go towards funding smaller classes, hiring additional faculty, and creating more supportive services.
“This is a real chance for our governor to…make New York not just sufficient or just barely holding on in public higher education but a leader,” said Barbara Bowen, president of CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress, a union representing 27,000 faculty and staffers at the university.
Cuts in state funding to CUNY and SUNY campuses have forced campuses to cover costs through tuition hikes. The two public university systems have suffered a total of $1.5 billion in cuts since 2008.
Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick, the Assembly sponsor of the bill, said that supporters of the bill have sent a letter to Cuomo asking him to sign the bill but have yet to hear a response.
“We’ve written a letter explaining we know the governor is committed to education…and we haven’t heard back,” said Glick. “The only thing we want to hear back is that the bill was signed. And I’d be happy to be with him at a bill signing.”
Tuition has been steadily rising at CUNY and SUNY over the past four years due to the NYSUNY2020 law, which requires a $300 increase in tuition every year to improve education at the universities. Instead, advocates argue, the rise in tuition went towards maintenance costs at public campuses.
“By the time the NYSUNY2020 law expires next year, tuition will have gone up 58 percent at CUNY and 42 percent at SUNY. The State promised not to use those big tuition hikes to plug budget shortfalls, but that promise was not kept,” said Sherrod Staton, a Borough of Manhattan Community College student who sits on NYPIRG’s Board of Directors. “Many costs were not covered and stagnant State support did not keep up with cost inflation. We are here today to urge the governor to turn the State’s rhetoric into reality by really maintaining support for higher education.”
Students at the College of Staten Island already faced higher tuition rates because of the college’s large campus. While many students aren’t focused on the politics in Albany, several said they supported any measure that puts their tuition dollars towards student services.
“It’s really not fair and really annoying. You pay your tuition and realize it’s going to all these random mundane projects,” said Tijani Beck, a sophomore history major at CSI. “Anything that goes towards us, the students, I’m for that.”
The effort to pass the piece of legislation also marks the latest chapter in CUNY-PSC’s efforts to force city, state, and CUNY officials to sign a new collective bargaining contract for professors at the university. CUNY-PSC has been without a contract since 2010.
Representatives from the New York Public Interest Research Group, CUNY’s University Student Senate, and various labor organizations, such as the AFL-CIO, were also in attendance.