As Governor Andrew Cuomo put the finishing touches on his January 13 State of the State Address, community leaders from across the city delivered spirited remarks at a gathering on the sidewalk outside his Manhattan office on January 11 to demand that his proposed budget adequately fund CUNY. Participants tweeted: #CuomoFundCUNY. Lunch-hour crowds learned of the plight of CUNY’s students, who are facing a likely tuition increase, and its workers, who haven’t seen a raise in six years. (The PSC’s contract with CUNY expired in 2010 and, on January 26, CUNY management rejected the union’s counteroffer for a settlement of the salary issue by declaring talks at an impasse.)
“Thousands of students have signed our petition, calling for more state funding for CUNY so that tuition can freeze at its current rate and faculty and staff contracts can be resolved fairly,” said Chika Onyejiukwa, vice chair for legislative affairs, CUNY University Student Senate, at the sidewalk rally.
Arthur Cheliotes, president of Communication Workers of America Local 1180 and a graduate of Queens College, said his CUNY education – then tuition-free – “allowed me, the son of an undocumented alien and a refugee from the Nazis, to make a life in this city.”
Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director of the Alliance for Quality Education, has three children who currently attend CUNY colleges. Each year, she said, she sees the tuition go up, yet she does not see comparable investment in the university. The governor, she added in a written statement, “has consistently failed to keep his promises. He has only provided Pre-K for some, and is still not meeting his promise to fully fund the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. He has even reneged on his promise to increase state aid to CUNY and SUNY when tuition increased.”
She continued, “Poverty is soaring. Everyone agrees that education is the key to overcoming poverty.”
It is Cuomo’s responsibility, she said at the rally, to make sure “that we are truly investing in a system, from birth to college, that ensures that every child in New York State, every child, whether you’re an immigrant or not, whether you’re rich or poor, has the opportunity” for a quality education.
Jahmila Joseph, DC 37’s assistant associate director, addressed the governor directly, noting that the “vast majority” of her union’s 10,000 CUNY workers do not make $15 an hour, a rate that Cuomo has promised other state workers. “So we’re asking you kindly to put your money where your mouth is; support the students, support the people’s university and support the members who are behind me who work for the university,” she said.
Jonathan Westin, director of New York Communities for Change, closed out the rally, asserting that New York cannot be the “most progressive state in America” unless students, faculty and staff at public colleges are treated fairly. “We are here to send a message to the governor today to do what’s right, do what’s best for our students, do what’s best for our faculty and do what’s best for the staff at CUNY,” Westin said.
Other leaders who were unable to attend the rally penned statements of support, which appear below. Several did both, including Zakiyah Ansari, Bill Lipton, Karen Scharff, Jonathan Westin and Rabbi Michael Feinberg.
José Calderón, President, Hispanic Federation
CUNY is the best vehicle working families in our city have to achieve social mobility. It is an institution that is key to our work and the fulfillment of our mission of empowering Latino families and communities…. We call on Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature to ensure that CUNY has the funding it was promised and needs to carry out its essential role in our city.
Henry Garrido, Executive Director, District Council 37
The state budget is a statement of priorities and values. CUNY is a jewel that provides a path to upward mobility for thousands of New Yorkers. The governor’s leadership would ensure the resources CUNY desperately needs to maintain its high level of educational excellence. CUNY cannot continue to be a lifeline for working-class New Yorkers if it cannot invest in support for faculty and staff, including some 10,000 DC 37 members who make higher learning possible by providing students with a modern, world-class educational environment.
Karen Magee, President, New York State United Teachers
PSC’s fight is our fight. It’s a fight for fairness that resonates with every single NYSUT member who has gone even one day without a new contract or feels disrespected by an employer. NYSUT’s officers and every one of NYSUT’s more than 600,000 members stand in solidarity with the PSC in its fight to end six years of hardship with a contract that recognizes the exceptional work they do on behalf of CUNY students.
Vincent Alvarez, President, New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO
CUNY faculty and staff have worked five long years without a contract, and during that time, they have continued to provide exceptional service and instruction to students. CUNY schools are an integral part of the fabric of New York City and they have educated a number of our city’s best and brightest minds. The New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO stands with PSC-CUNY in calling on the state to make a real investment in CUNY’s future by working to reach a fair contract, and ensuring that CUNY has the funds needed to continue to attract and retain world-class instructors and staff.
Mario Cilento, President, New York State AFL-CIO
Young men and women need access to quality education and many of them rely on the City University of New York as an affordable option... The best way to continue providing quality education is by giving the dedicated faculty and staff at CUNY the fair contract they deserve.
Bill Lipton, State Director, New York Working Families Party
For New York’s working families, access to an affordable, quality higher education at CUNY has long held the promise of a better and brighter future and opportunity for future generations. That promise is in danger of being abandoned for CUNY’s student population of a half-million, which is majority low-income and students of color. If we are going to build a city and state that works for all of us, full restoration of funding for CUNY is an absolute must. We call on Governor Cuomo to keep his promise to make New York the progressive capital of the nation by restoring full funding to CUNY in the Executive Budget this year and providing a fair contract for all CUNY employees.
Justin Rosado, Make the Road New York, Borough of Manhattan Community College student
CUNY is home to so many low- income youth of color pursuing their education and their dreams. Investing in CUNY is investing in the future of New York City. It’s the right thing to do.
Brigid Flaherty, Organizing Director, ALIGN: The Alliance for a Greater New York
ALIGN urges Governor Cuomo to increase funding for CUNY, a critical institution that plays a pivotal role in educating and providing opportunities for New Yorkers, especially immigrants and people of color. With income and racial inequality on the rise, New York should be investing in CUNY and in the CUNY faculty and staff, who have never wavered on their commitment to providing quality public higher education. Investment in CUNY is an investment in New York State.
Karen Scharff, Executive Director, Citizen Action of New York
Citizen Action of New York joins the PSC in calling on Governor Cuomo to fully fund CUNY so that every student in NYC has access to a quality college education. Funding for CUNY is a critical step toward reducing inequality, especially for students of color.
Rabbi Michael Feinberg, Executive Director, Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition
Every faith tradition calls for the instruction of youth, the education of the coming generation – this is held as a basic religious responsibility, a sacred trust. To make this possible, institutions of higher learning – with CUNY being a prime example – need adequate support and resourcing from the state government. Leaders from the faith community call for a restoration of full funding for CUNY, for tuition support and for fair salaries for the educators.
Kenny Jawnson, The Urban Youth Collaborative
As a high school student in New York City, I believe it is important that CUNY provides us all with an affordable and high quality education because so many of us don’t have any other options for pursuing higher education.
David Dyssegaard Kallick, Senior Fellow, Fiscal Policy Institute
New York State has been gradually starving CUNY for far too long. This year, we should finally turn that around and make sure the state budget includes adequate funding to ensure an affordable, quality education for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who rely on CUNY. Those students work hard and aim high; the governor and state legislature should do no less.
Charles Khan, Organizing Director, Strong Economy for All Coalition
To be a progressive leader, you’ve got to fight inequality with fair-share taxes and strong investments in higher education – and when it comes to CUNY, it’s time for Governor Cuomo to lead. We can fight poverty, build economic prosperity and invest in our future by closing loopholes that let hedge funds and billionaires pay lower taxes than teachers and truck drivers, and investing new resources in CUNY professors, staff and students.
Alex Bornemisza, Chairperson, NY Public Interest Research Group
We’ve heard from students from across the state and the message is clear: Freeze tuition and invest in higher education. Tuition hikes were supposed to go to improve our education, but many costs were not covered and stagnant state support did not keep up with inflation. Students are here today to urge the governor to turn the state’s rhetoric into reality by really maintaining support for higher education.
Chika Onyejiukwa, Vice Chair for Legislative Affairs, CUNY University Student Senate, President, Undergraduate Student Government, Hunter College
CUNY’s student leaders will be closely watching the governor’s State of the State and Executive Budget Address. We have paid our share over the past five years through tuition increases and now we are asking for investment that we have rightly earned…. We will make sure students’ voices are heard loud and clear in Albany this year.
Kevin Stump, Northeast Regional Director, Young Invincibles
City-wide, only 22 percent of African-American and 16 percent of Hispanic adults have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 57 percent of their white counterparts. Additionally, post-secondary outcomes for low-income youth lag way behind their upper-income peers. If the governor is serious about upward economic mobility for low-income students of color, then he should expand and modernize the Tuition Assistance Program as well as invest in CUNY by restoring per-student funding to pre-recession levels to lower tuition and fund contracts that pay CUNY’s faculty and staff salaries.