Students protesting at CUNY (195725)
Credit: FILE

The City University of New York may have been “saved,” but school officials and faculty and staff aren’t letting New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo off the hook.

After threatening to cut $485 million in funding from CUNY in his 2016-17 New York State Executive Budget and pass on the costs to New York City’s government, Cuomo is backing off of the proposal in exchange for CUNY officials agreeing to review finances and find potential areas to cut costs, according to reports out of Albany.

But when speaking with CUNY officials, students and members of the Professional Staff Congress, the AmNews learned that people within the system believe more needs to be done.

“The 25,000 members of the PSC are proud to be part of a community of New Yorkers calling for increased funding for CUNY,” said PSC-CUNY President Barbara Bowen in a statement. “We are relieved that Governor Cuomo heard us and announced that there will be no reduction in state funds for CUNY, and encouraged to hear that there is discussion of replacing the money that would otherwise have been contributed through increasing students’ tuition, but now we need to make sure that the final budget includes funding to provide a raise for the CUNY faculty and staff, who have worked six years without one.”

CUNY’s faculty and staff have been working without a contract since 2009. PSC-CUNY has engaged in a sustained, organized effort to make Cuomo and the state legislature aware of what’s at stake.

Last week, 40 CUNY supporters were arrested during a “die-in” outside of the governor’s Midtown Manhattan office. New York City Council members Inez Barron and I. Daneek Miller were among those put in handcuffs. It wasn’t the first time CUNY supporters have been there. Earlier in March, the AmNews reported on a rally held outside of Cuomo’s office by PSC-CUNY, with students and other activists pushing for more funding for the system.

Another union that has stepped forward to push for more funding for CUNY and new contracts for its faculty and staff is District Council 37. In February, DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido told lawmakers in Albany that CUNY was the best chance a lot of working-class New York kids have to make something of themselves. Most recently, DC 37 leaders and activists delivered a petition to Cuomo’s Albany office (signed by 5,000 CUNY supporters), calling for lawmakers to fully fund the CUNY system.

But they’re not the only ones pushing for more funding.

“CUNY is seeking a stable, secure budget in support of quality higher education to meet the needs of its record student enrollments,” said Jay Hershenson, the senior vice chancellor for University Relations and secretary of the Board of Trustees.“Chancellor [James B.] Milliken’s top priority is funding for a labor contract settlement with our dedicated faculty and staff. He is grateful for the governor’s promise of no cuts in the university’s budget. CUNY is now working with all parties in Albany to advocate for the investment required to assure that all students receive the programs and services vital to their educational success.”

The students of CUNY schools have had just as much to say about CUNY funding as faculty, staff and other officials. Student activists have discussed the costs of attending a CUNY school right along with the lack of contract for faculty and staff and the perceived lack of overall funding. In an open letter to Cuomo and the state legislature, a group of CUNY student government presidents wanted to remind everyone just how important these schools are to low-income, non-white New Yorkers.

“CUNY was established to provide free, quality higher education to all New Yorkers, regardless of ethnic, racial and socioeconomic background,” stated the letter. “Though CUNY is no longer free, it remains a quality and accessible option for students who would otherwise be without the opportunity to attend college. We fear that additional tuition increases will price out low-income New Yorkers, especially those from minority groups. If this occurs, CUNY is at risk of departing from its unique mission and leaving behind those who are most in need.Both the Senate and Assembly unanimously passed the Maintenance of Effort bill, which was then vetoed by Governor Cuomo in December, 2015 with the promise it would be included in talks this budget cycle. We have not forgotten this promise.”

CUNY officials know that they have a tough road ahead of them to fix the system’s issues. CUNY’s faculty and staff want a new contract to feel secure and work for their students. Students want lower (or free) tuition and for their teachers to be the best that the university can afford. CUNY’s spokesperson told the AmNews that the chancellor is happy to see many groups coming together to help CUNY. “We must remember that CUNY is the principal ladder of opportunity for more working and low-income New Yorkers than any other institution of higher education in our city, and that its graduates repay the investment made in their education many times over through taxes on their higher earnings,” said the spokesperson. “We are especially grateful to the many legislators, including CUNY college alumni, who are standing tall in support of a healthy, properly funded ‎public university for the people of New York.”

The state legislature has to pass the Fiscal Year 2017 budget by April 1. CUNY’s supporters hope that Cuomo not only solves a manufactured crisis but also solves the real crisis.

Attempts to contact the governor and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio were unsuccessful.