Milliken Believes Cuomo’s $500 M. Reduction Will Ultimately Be Budget Neutral
By Clifford Michel
CUNY Chancellor James Milliken refused to view Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to reduce state funding to CUNY by $485 million as a cut to the university system.
During a February 8 hearing held by the state Legislature’s Higher Education committees, several representatives characterized Cuomo’s proposal as “cuts.”
Milliken, seemingly ignoring the toxic atmosphere in Albany and the vitriol between Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, didn’t see it that way.
“[It’s] a shift in funding that is revenue neutral for CUNY,” the chancellor said. “Whether it comes from the state or the city — which both now contribute to the budget of CUNY.”
Lawmakers at the hearing criticized Milliken for declining to confront the issue.
“You did a dodge, beautifully,” state senator Kenneth LaValle, the Higher Education chairman for the state Legislature’s upper house.
“You can’t make things go away,” LaValle said. “This is a very, very serious problem. It’s a life-changer for your institution.
“…And it is your obligation, in some way, to protect your institution,” LaValle continued.
Despite Milliken’s optimism, de Blasio has not been supportive of Cuomo’s proposal, which suggest that the city cover the cuts made by the state.
Milliken, after being prompted by a state senator, presented a doomsday scenario about what could happen to CUNY if neither the city nor the state picks up the half billion dollar tab.
“Numerous colleges, depending on how you did this, would have to be closed,” said Milliken. “Or you’d take a 30-percent decrease across the entire system.”
Barbara Bowen, president of the Public Staff Congress, which represents CUNY professors, has criticized Milliken in the past for doing the bare minimum when it comes to advocating for CUNY budgets.
Bowen suggested that Milliken could do much more to push state Legislators even though he often calls the PSC’s contract the university’s “highest priority.”
“I think the chancellor has not been vocal enough. He has said it’s his priority and I don’t doubt that,” Bowen told The Banner in October. “But there’s a difference between doing that and waging a public campaign.”
Milliken is largely supportive of Cuomo’s proposal because the Governor has promised to give CUNYa one-time infusion of $240 million to help settle its contract negations with PSC-CUNY.
Matthew Sapienza, CUNY’s vice chancellor for finance, said during the hearing that it would cost more than $300 million to settle all of its labor contracts, which the University has been trying to settle for more than five years.
CUNY has asked the state to intervene and appoint a mediator in order to help negotiate a contract with PSC-CUNY.
CUNY’s General Counsel and Senior Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs, Frederick Schaffer, filed a 10-page petition with the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) citing that bargaining sessions were at an “impasse” and are currently “irresolvable.”
CUNY and PSC-CUNY have held 26 negotiation sessions and approximately 23 smaller committee meetings with little progression, according to the petition
CUNY announced that they filed the request with the PERB after a January 26 negotiation session.
Bowen fired back shortly after in a statement, noting that CUNY didn’t give the PSC notice that they would be filing a petition.
“If the CUNY administration had advocated more aggressively for public funding for CUNY rather than accommodating to scarcity, they would not be trying to create an impasse now,” Bowen said in a statement. “Instead, we waited five years for an economic offer. CUNY’s half-million students deserve a high-quality education.
“To ensure that,” Bowen’s statement continued. “The University must complete a collective bargaining agreement that pays faculty and staff fairly for the important work we do and that makes CUNY competitive for the faculty and staff that CUNY students deserve.”
CUNY said that they offered the union a 6% wage increase and “non-economic benefits.”
PSC-CUNY asked the University for a 14% raise as well as retroactive pay totaling in the hundreds of millions of dollars, CUNY said in a press release.
CUNY also criticized the PSC-CUNY for holding a strike authorization vote.
“The parties’ inability to agree to terms of a successor agreement after several years and many bargaining sessions and the PSC’s publicized campaign strategy to seek a strike authorization vote and a public commitment by its members that they will, in fact, strike, demonstrate that the parties have reached an impasse which they cannot resolve without the assistance of the Public Employment Relations Board,” the petition read.
A strike would violate New York’s Taylor Law, which prohibits public unions from striking and imposes a fine worth two days pay for every day a worker strikes as well as other legal penalties.
CSI President William J. Fritz released a statement in support of CUNY’s request for outside mediation.
“I wholly support CUNY’s ongoing effort to provide a quick and fair resolution to the Professional Staff Congress contract negotiations.
“We very much hope that this CUNY request for mediation will help yield an equitable contract for our highly valued and deserving faculty and staff,” Fritz wrote.