Andrew Cuomo (51864)
Credit: Pat Arnow

Earlier this week, officials from the City University of New York and District Council 37 asked Albany lawmakers to fully fund CUNY.

CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken testified at a joint hearing on the 2016-2017 State Executive Budget held by the State Assembly and Senate Higher Education Committees, the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. The chancellor said state support is critical and helping CUNY embark on its mission as “a gateway to progress and fulfillment for many New Yorkers.” Milliken also pointed out that a significant number of their students come from low-income families, immigrants and other underrepresented groups.

“The support the state provides to these talented young New Yorkers is at the heart of CUNY’s and, I believe, New York’s, success,” said Milliken. “We may give our students opportunities, but what they give to CUNY, our communities and our state is unparalleled drive, ambition, talent and creativity. Our graduates have been instrumental in making New York the cultural, financial and business capital of the world, and we are actively strengthening CUNY to ensure that the university and those graduates continue to play a leading role for the benefit of this state.”

Last month, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he intended to move $485 million in funding obligations from CUNY, which would leave City Hall taking on the university system’s debt service and operating costs. DC 37 officials said in a statement that New York State has normally been CUNY’s biggest funder, providing 46 percent of the system’s operating budget, mostly for the four-year colleges.

Milliken and company were also joined by members of DC 37/AFSCME, who made the trek up north to advocate for CUNY’s students and workers. DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said to lawmakers that funding CUNY is the best chance a lot of working class New York kids have to make something of themselves.

“For tens of thousands of New Yorkers, quality, affordable higher education offered by the City University of New York has, and continues to be, a path to upward mobility,” said Garrido. “That path is now being blocked by a proposed budget that would raise CUNY tuition by $300 a year, shift $485 million of the state’s share of CUNY funding to the city and exclude CUNY Maintenance of Effort dollars. This budget excludes CUNY employees from the $15 an hour minimum wage hike the governor has proposed for other public employees.

“These employees go to work every day to create a first-rate education environment and have been without a contract since 2010. As it currently stands, the proposed budget essentially starves CUNY.”

CUNY is fighting several battles, both with Cuomo and with the Professional Staff Congress (the union representing CUNY’s faculty and staff). PSC members have been working without a new contract since 2010 and recently declared an impasse. If that declaration is supported by the State Public Employment Relations Board, a mediator would be appointment to resolve the dispute.

But for one day, CUNY officials focused on the job Albany needed to do to help them educate the city’s young people.

“I would argue there is a need for greater overall investment in an institution that is responsible for 500,000 students every day,” Milliken said to lawmakers. “To serve them and the state well, it is essential that the investment in CUNY be stable, secure and adequate. That, in my mind, should be the discussion we have.”