City University of New York (CUNY) students, faculty and staff have clamored for an increase in their budget. Last weekend, they took their grievances to the streets.

Both groups, along with elected officials, marched in Queens calling on the New York State government to fully fund their budget request and embrace CUNY’s “New Deal.”

Nearly 1,000 CUNY students, faculty and staff and elected officials marched from LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City to the CUNY School of Law and ending at Court Square Park. Marchers wore masks that read “#APeoplesCUNY” and red shirts stating, “Everybody Love Somebody at CUNY.”

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams joined the protesters in Queens and said that the well-being of the students is CUNY’s key to success. Faculty and staff are the door. The university is ignoring it at their peril.

“I’m a proud CUNY alumni twice over, and as CUNY continues to be the path to higher education for so many, especially immigrant, low-income, Black and Brown New Yorkers, it is completely unacceptable that its per-student budget has plummeted in the last 15 years,” stated Williams. “The current tuition hikes, lack of sufficient mental health counselors, and deteriorating infrastructure show a failure to prioritize affordable public education, or support students and staff alike. Albany must fully fund CUNY with a new deal that prioritizes equity, so that the opportunity that I and so many others had for a high quality CUNY education is accessible to all New Yorkers.”

CUNY’s New Deal requests an increase in funding which, according to the Professional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY), has fallen at CUNY senior colleges by 38% since 1990 and 18% since 2008. With the addition of “inflation, leading to tuition hikes, reduced services, over reliance on underpaid adjuncts and shortages of full-time faculty and staff.” 

According to the PSC-CUNY, the university is asking for an operating budget increase of $313 million to hire more than 1,000 full-time faculty in addition to new mental health counselors and advisors and a tuition freeze. Champions of the bill want a $5.8 billion increase in capital reserved for CUNY for the next five years. 

CUNY officials declined AmNews’ request for comment. 

Senator Andrew Gounardes, the main sponsor of the New Deal for CUNY legislation (New York Senate Bill S4461)—which is co-sponsored by fellow state senators Alessandra Biaggi, Brian Benjamin, Jamaal Bailey and Jabari Brisport—stated that any budget would need to show love to CUNY because it’s an important part of the road to upward mobility for disadvantaged New Yorkers.

“CUNY is the pride of NYC. Most CUNY students stay here after graduating and contribute billions of dollars to our economy,” said Gounardes. “As we look for ways to recover from the COVID-19 economic crisis, what better way than to invest in a sure thing: our amazing public universities. Our students deserve full time teachers, mental health support, academic advisors and buildings that aren’t falling apart. The New Deal for CUNY is common sense smart fiscal policy and I’m ready to fight for it in 2022.”   

Earlier this spring, PSC-CUNY helped launch campaign ads that ran on New York, Long Island, Albany and Westchester broadcast and digital media, calling for an end to tax breaks for the rich (money that could be used to increase CUNY’s budget) and to embrace the new deal.

One CUNY alum whose name has been one of the topics of political conversation, spoke and reminded the state that supporting CUNY is supporting the people.

“As a proud CUNY graduate, I know firsthand the power of a CUNY education and the opportunity it provides to so many New Yorkers who might otherwise not have access to higher education,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “But there would be no CUNY without the dedicated professors and faculty and staff behind it, and we must give them and our students the support they need to keep this system running. That means ensuring fair staffing ratios, providing adequate mental health support, and keeping tuition low so that all our students can have access to the quality education they deserve. 

“These investments into CUNY are key to the continued success of New York City and the entire state,” James said.

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