In the PSC’s largest protest of the year, faculty, staff and students marched from City Hall to Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) on May 5 to oppose cuts to CUNY’s budget and demand a union contract that allows university faculty and staff to do their best work for students. After a rally at City Hall, 700 people marched to BMCC, where the crowd grew to about a thousand.
“We’re rallying to puncture the myth of economic austerity used by Albany and City Hall to justify massive budget cuts,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen as she addressed the protesters at City Hall. “If we let politicians continue to say ‘We’re broke,’ with one side of their mouths while they promise tax breaks for the rich with the other, millions of ordinary New Yorkers will pay the price.”
Albany has cut CUNY by $107 million and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed another $52.6 million in direct aid reductions and unfunded expense increases for community colleges. At the same time, New York’s wealthy are scheduled to receive $5 billion in tax breaks.
Union members at the rally said that recent cuts and years of underfunding have led to overcrowded classrooms, fewer full-time faculty lines, less time for student mentoring and guidance, abuse of hardworking but underpaid adjuncts, and reliance on tuition instead of public investment. Improvements on the job, they said, are needed to improve education at CUNY.
“We worry about our students. They need our help, they don’t need cuts,” said Ximena Gallardo, an associate professor from LaGuardia Community College who came with about 20 colleagues from her department. “The ‘shadow workload,’ as we call it, is getting really tough,” Gallardo added. “There’s growing pressure to do more committee work, administrative work. That means that I constantly have to choose between my life and my students – so of course the rest of my life goes down the drain.”
“At Queensborough, the cap in my writing classes is 32 to 33 students – in a basic writing class!” said an adjunct who has taught in the CUNY system for more than 25 years. With classes that large, she said, it’s a difficult struggle to give each student the attention he or she deserves.
“There has been a pervasive erosion of resources at CUNY,” said Margaret Tabb, chair of the English department at John Jay College. “Finances have plunged, for my department and the college since I became chair. I feel strongly that the union is one of the few groups that is speaking up for us.”
“We need a good contract,” agreed Ken Levinson, a professor of developmental skills who has worked at BMCC for more than 20 years. “We are tired of attacks on educators. Give us the support we need to do our jobs.” The idea that cuts are required to make up a budget shortfall is a fiction, Levinson told Clarion: “There’s a lot of money around, and it should be going to public higher education.”
Imtiaz Shafique, a business administration student at BMCC, said the rally was the first protest he had ever attended. “I’m really worried that the tuition is going up,” he told Clarion. Originally from Bangladesh, Shafique said a tuition hike would be a roadblock for New York City’s new arrivals. “So many immigrants, when they come new to this city, they go to CUNY. If the CUNY budget is raised, then I’ll know I can finish my studies and do something for American society.”
Students also spoke out about their teachers’ working conditions. “Many of the best professors I have had were adjuncts, and it pains me to know that they don’t get the pay and respect they warrant,” said Hunter student Christina Chaise, who spoke to the rally at City Hall (see page 9). “We need more public investment.”
“We are here today because we are determined – faculty, staff and students together – to resist the cheapening of a CUNY education,” concluded PSC President Bowen. “That cheapening happens every time funds are cut and we are forced to make due with fewer books in the libraries, older equipment in the labs, inadequate numbers of full-time faculty, scandalous conditions for part-time faculty, over-sized classes, and spiraling tuition costs for students. We will not accept austerity for our students, for CUNY or for ourselves. Another university is possible, and we are prepared to fight for it.”