“No Cuts to CUNY”: Rallying in Defense of CSI 

Students and professors gathered on campus on May 9 to protest CUNY budget cuts and advocate for the New Deal for CUNY.

By Yasmine Abdeldayem, Petra Gregory and Arnold Lopez

Photo Credit: Arnold Lopez

From 1P to Victory Boulevard, supporters marched with signs that highlighted the PSC-CUNY and CUNY Rising Alliance’s New Deal 4 CUNY.

“Higher education is a right,” the people chanted throughout campus this afternoon. “That’s why we have to fight, fight, fight!” 

On May 9, students, faculty and staff joined forces at the fountain in front of CSI’s Building 1P to begin their march. Their cause is clear in the force of their unifying chants: a demand for a fully funded CUNY. 

In the April 2023 NYC executive budget proposal, which is not yet final, CUNY’s bottom line faces a reduction of $41.3 million each year from fiscal years 2024 to 2026. According to New York City comptroller, Brad Lander, “reductions in staff positions and fringe benefits account for $35 million of these $41.3 million in cuts.” 

In addition to grappling with a decrease in faculty and staff, CUNYs will also be expected to direct greater attention to tuition and fees in order to develop a savings plan. This will largely impact low-income students and, as a result of fewer course offerings, those who work to finance their college careers.

“What do we want? The New Deal for CUNY!” came the rallying cry, as the community made their way down the CSI walkways with their signs in hand. “When do we want it? Now!”

Photo Credit: Arnold Lopez

“What we have right here is the kind of solidarity that we are gonna need if we are gonna win City Hall,” said Penny Lewis, PSC secretary and Associate Professor of Labor Studies at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies.

The New Deal for CUNY, a piece of legislation that was initially unveiled in February 2021, intends to replace tuition income with state funds across all CUNYs, while increasing the ratio of full-time faculty to students. It would also address the pay disparity between full-time faculty and adjunct instructors. 

This five-year plan, developed by the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) and a coalition of CUNY advocates and state legislators, aims to fix CUNY’s infrastructure and ultimately ensure that all students can receive a quality education without insurmountable financial or institutional barriers. 

In total, the plan would cost approximately $1.7 billion—”just three-quarters of 1% of the state’s annual budget,” according to the New York Daily News.

Signs at the May 9 rally called for the unification of students, faculty and staff, for a future that substantially invests in CUNY and sees the New Deal passed.

Before the march began, Jonathan Cope, Reference/Instruction Librarian at CSI, posed a few crucial questions to the crowd: how many people who work in CUNY in any capacity have something damaged in their office? How many people teach in classrooms that have structural damage? How many students have had a class cut due to an inadequate budget?

“I see some hands,” said Cope, before delivering his final question. “How many of you are afraid of what would happen if tuition actually was increased?”

Nearly every hand in the crowd went up. With determination in his voice, Cope assured them that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Photo Credit: Arnold Lopez

“We pay taxes, why don’t they?” chanted the rally’s supporters. “Billionaires should have to pay!”

Ethan Milich, coordinator of the CUNY Rising Alliance, updated the assembly on the ongoing goals and previous accomplishments of the organization. In a statement that was met with loud cheers, Milich reiterated that the movement has so far eliminated the tuition hike proposal and restore over $100 million of investment—no small feat, but still a drop in the bucket of CUNY’s overall financial needs.

As the cheers subside, Milich urgently reminds the community that there is more work to be done to ensure that the movement’s strength increases exponentially for the next budget cycle.

This afternoon’s rally at CSI was just the start. Milich calls for more rallies, more outreach to students, faculty and staff, and for supporters to keep up the pressure on elected officials that can make the New Deal for CUNY bill move.

As for what individuals can do, Milich encourages people to contact their elected representatives, join organizations, such as PSC-CUNY and YDSA, and keep showing up for events whenever possible.

“This is a great turnout of faculty, staff and students coming together in support of investing in CUNY and in CSI,” said Professor Alyson Bardsley, one of the rally’s many supporters. “This is where we work, and we also cherish it and want it to thrive.” 

Daniel Bayer, a CSI student who has been working with NYPIRG, gave a moving speech at the rally regarding out-of-touch political officials and inadequate resources, particularly mental health resources, for the CUNY community.

“I know friends of mine who are severely struggling with their mental health, meanwhile mental health resources are getting cut more and more in the CUNY system,” said Bayer. “This is simply going in the wrong direction.”

The New Deal for CUNY promises a 1 to 1000 ratio of mental health professionals to students. The current rate is 1 to 2700.

Photo Credit: Arnold Lopez

“Call your legislator, call your assembly person,” said Felicia Wharton, PSC Treasurer and doctoral lecturer at the Brooklyn Educational Opportunity Center, in a closing speech before the march began. “I put you in office and you need to fight for my students, you need to fight for my colleagues, you need to fight for my contract, and you need to fight for my community.”

Another “No Cuts to CUNY” rally will be held on Thursday, May 11, 12:30 PM at City Hall to continue the fight for the New Deal for CUNY. RSVP here.

“It was the efforts of groups like the Black and Puerto Rican alliance that brought us one of the most racially diverse university systems in the world and who this disinvestment in CUNY is meant to punish,” said Petra Gregory, a Banner representative and student at CSI who attended today’s rally. “If we are to see CUNY receive the investment it needs, we need more actions like this, with more students and faculty coming together and taking direct action to achieve our goals. I hope this march can show us what real organizing at CSI can look like.”

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