CUNY staff members and students rallying (193642)
Credit: Contributed

Last week, almost two dozen organizations (from unions to activists to advocates) gathered outside of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s midtown office to call for more public investment in the City University of New York.

The group, referring to themselves collectively as the CUNY Rising Alliance, mentioned how Cuomo’s proposal for a $485 million cut to CUNY in his executive budget would crush the institution and increase tuition by 50 percent (according to CUNY officials). CUNY professors haven’t had a raise in six years, and according to New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, told Albany legislators that if funding had grown at the same rate as the overall state budget, CUNY would have $637 million more in funding.

“The 27,000 members of the PSC, the union of faculty and academic staff at CUNY, are proud to join students and community advocates in the CUNY Rising Alliance,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, in a statement. “In a cruelly unequal economy and a society still shaped by structural racism, CUNY offers the one shot at a stable life, a good life, for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. We call on Albany not to take that opportunity away. The PSC’s five-year fight for a contract is part of the fight for investment in CUNY. Failing to invest in our contract is failing to invest in CUNY students. There is no educational justice in New York, no racial justice and no economic justice without a strong City University.”

“Investment in CUNY is crucial to create a path to the middle class for working families across this city,” added New York Communities for Change Executive Director Jonathan Westin. “The fiscal crisis is hitting working class and communities of color the hardest, families that are already struggling to meet rising tuition costs. We should not play politics with the future of families and invest in CUNY.”

PSC’s higher ups point out that almost a half million New Yorker depend on CUNY for an opportunity to achieve higher education that would possibly be out of reach. Many of those New Yorkers are low-income people of color. With Cuomo’s cuts, advocates say it becomes harder for good teachers to stay in the CUNY system because of low salaries and increased tuition pushing students out.

“Three of my daughters currently attend CUNY, so I understand first-hand the financial burden caused by continuous tuition hikes and cuts,” stated Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director for the Alliance for Quality Education. “This is an economic and racial justice issue. Instead of proposing cuts, Governor Cuomo should be investing in CUNY for the long-term. That’s why we’re standing with the #CUNYRising Alliance, to protect and ensure an affordable, high-quality college education that includes resolving CUNY professors’ contract so that CUNY can retain and attract the excellent professors its students need.”

Joseph Awadjie, chairperson of CUNY’s University Student Senate and the student representative on the CUNY Board of Trustees, stated that the rally and march outside of Cuomo’s midtown office shows that they’ve had enough.

“CUNY students are rising to fight for a tuition freeze, increased public state funding, a genuine maintenance of effort and a fair contract for our faculty and staff,” said Awadjie. “Our voice is loud, clear and unified: We will not let Governor Cuomo overlook us and our university. We will continue to fight back to defend our university from draconian budget cuts. But the governor still has time to do the right thing by passing a budget that prioritize CUNY and preserves a quality and affordable higher education.”