New York, NY – At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, legislators granted Governor Andrew Cuomo emergency powers to control New York’s budget. Consequently, the Empire State faces approximately $10 billion in rolling cuts. But PSC-CUNY, the union representing CUNY staff, is urging citizens to support lawmakers who are willing to pushback against the draconian austerity measures.
More than half-a-dozen elected officials, three PSC-CUNY representatives and a professor held a virtual press conference that was streamed by approximately 600 people on Friday, to discuss what needs to be done to prevent cuts to CUNY institutions and its thousands of adjunct and part-time faculty and staff.
PSC CUNY and CUNY were able to work out a deal to extend contracts for adjunct/part-time faculty and staff from May to June to help them keep their benefits, including their health insurance during the pandemic, but if nothing is done to prevent the cuts, layoffs are expected for June 30, according to PSC-CUNY President Barbara Bowen.
“New York needs CUNY now more than ever,” said Bowen. “Things have changed between now and May. The world is on fire and rightly so. The fire of the protests against systemic racism that affects every institution – criminal justice, policing and the entire economic framework of this country and beyond. In this moment, investment in CUNY is even more urgent than it was in May.”
CUNY is the nation’s largest public university and one of its most diverse. It consists of 18 colleges and schools and enrolls some 274,000 students, nearly 80-percent of them minorities. More than half of those minority students are women.
Assemblyman Harvey Epstein (D-Manhattan), a CUNY Law School graduate and second-generation alum of the school system, suggested that instead of disinvesting in CUNY, Cuomo should invest more because many of the two million unemployed New Yorkers may seek to go back to school during a period where there is a lack of work. Others who intended to go to a more expensive university or out-of-state may choose CUNY as an alternative, which could lead to a significant uptick in attendance.
“The idea of doing cuts is outrageous,” Epstein said. “Federal dollars may or may not come, but the state has to step up no matter what comes, and the city has to do the same. We need to ensure that high-income earners pay more so that our CUNY system can function.”
Epstein believes it’s time that multi-millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share in taxes, and he supports the Shared Help Assessment to Rebuild Education Act (SHARE Act), which was introduced in May, and would temporarily levy more taxes on those earning $5 million or more.
As Medgar Evers, the civil rights activist, trended on Twitter for the 57th anniversary of his assassination, Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley (D-Brooklyn) – an alumnus of Medgar Evers CUNY College – asked all that were watching the stream to be activists for the adjunct professors who have spent years being underpaid and working at a reduced salary to help CUNY stay afloat and stay viable as a high-quality and affordable institution.
“In anticipation for what we know is to come – that is probably a deep recession – in lieu of everything that we have already experienced the past several months, CUNY could step into that gap,” said Mosley. “So, now is not the time to cut or disinvest. Now is a time, more than ever, to double down and provide all the resources and provisions that are necessary for CUNY in anticipation of the onslaught of the students that are going to be looking to go to college at a cost that is sustainable to their futures.”
Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou (D-Manhattan) credited CUNY with giving her a fellowship that allowed her to come to New York and pursue her master’s degree at Baruch College.
“When we cut deeply into our schools, it means layoffs to our teachers and educational professionals and the kids are the ones that would need them more than ever,” said Niou. “The systemic racism that has long existed in our society has been coming to light in a very meaningful way after the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others. These are important conversations that we have separately, but also every single one of them relates to each other.”
Improper funding of CUNY is part of systemic racism that we see all over our society and throughout our many systems, according to Niou.
Other CUNY alums, professors and those who were both that were on the meeting included Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (John Jay College), city Comptroller Scott Stringer (John Jay College), Higher Education Chair and Brooklyn Councilwoman Inez Barron (Hunter College), Queens State Sen. John Liu (professor at Queens & Baruch College) and Brooklyn State Sen. Andrew Gounardes (Hunter College alum and adjunct professor).
“With the lens of what we have seen over the last two weeks, knowing this is an economic engine of opportunity for so many of our students of color in our city, this is not even the time to be contemplating cuts to CUNY, said Gounardes. “I stand proud here as a CUNY graduate, as an adjunct professor and I wouldn’t be here if my parents hadn’t met at Brooklyn College. We will do everything in our power to invest in this world-class gem of an institution that we have.”
Another way to invest in CUNY is to defund police, according to Bowen.
“Last night at the PSC Executive Council, we passed a resolution calling for the redirection of a portion of the funding and we called for $1 billion of the $6 billion that goes to NYPD to be redirected to resources that serve communities of color, that shows that Black Lives Matter and that invests in the futures of the people that we are privileged to serve at CUNY.”