Pressure on Governor Cuomo
Faculty, staff and students packed a meeting room at Baruch College on October 16, telling CUNY’s Board of Trustees that it was imperative for Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign the higher education Maintenance of Effort bill.
The bill, passed by both legislative houses, would help CUNY and SUNY’s financial health by ensuring that the actual, inflation-adjusted cost of operating the four-year colleges in each system is met each year. Specifically, the bill would fund collective bargaining increases. It would also provide funds to close the gap between the highest TAP award and the actual cost of CUNY tuition, saving CUNY millions of dollars per year. CUNY has relied on tuition increases to fund these day-to-day costs; the bill, if enacted, would help to eliminate the need for tuition increases to cover such expenses in the future.
In short, it would give CUNY colleges some needed relief after decades of state underfunding. At a time when the governor wants to increase enrollment through the Excelsior Program, the need to fund CUNY has increased.
The governor has until December to sign or veto the bill. He vetoed a similar bill in 2015. At the hearing, members told trustees of their experiences working under austerity conditions for year after year at CUNY, and how the MOE bill is necessary for the future of CUNY, to retain high-quality instructors and provide students with a well-rounded education.
Members’ testimony (see below) to the CUNY trustees was clear: trustees have a duty to use their political capital and influence to urge the governor to do the right thing and sign the MOE.
A vet’s view
When I was a young man fighting in Vietnam, we used an expression to explain why we’d done really stupid or misguided things: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” The Excelsior Program certainly sounds like a good idea, and we all hope that it turns out to be one, but without action to support it, it’s going to prove painful for many of our students.
Unless the trustees take effective action in Albany, this program is going to exacerbate longstanding problems here at Baruch. Several of our business programs are so overtaxed that they are unable to serve all the students who want to enroll in them, or even those who are enrolled. We cannot provide enough sections of key courses to accommodate all the students who need them. And we impose artificial barriers like forced grading curves to limit the numbers of students able to enroll. As a result, many students are unable to complete their four-year degrees in four years. Some have to wait far too long to take required courses; others find that they have to change their majors in order to graduate.
You will recall that Excelsior requires students to graduate in four years and to take 30 credits a year. Given that Baruch students already find this to be an impossibility under current conditions, this new program will mount new obstructions; it will not simply increase enrollments, but will increase the number of students unable to complete their studies in four years. And this means, of course, that they’re going to face significant financial penalties. None of us wants to see this.
Flat equals cut
An essentially flat CUNY budget isn’t flat. It’s cut. As the PSC leadership has pointed out, CUNY’s operating funds from New York State have fallen 17 percent since 2008, when adjusted for inflation and enrollment increases.
How has this affected our majority low-income students of color? Beyond the “58 percent increase in tuition costs over the same period,” the university has balanced its budget on the backs of students in other ways. Student fees have been raised and those fees are being dipped into to cover costs they shouldn’t. For example, at Lehman and many other CUNY colleges, the student technology fee, which was raised in 2013, is being used to cover fixed, recurring costs such as library database subscriptions. By cutting budgets and shifting mandatory library costs to the technology fee, the colleges have deprived students of improved smart classrooms, hardware and other technologies for which the fee was designed.
On the academic side, the real decline in the college budgets has led the college to not replace faculty lines when people leave, retire or die. For example, in Lehman’s anthropology department, four lines became vacant over several years. Only two of those lines have been replaced (and those only recently), while the department’s course offerings have grown exponentially.
PSC Chapter Chair
Effect on diversity
Over the past two years, the Media Studies department at Queens College lost two women of color. The first went to UCLA, with an offer that included a position for her husband. Queens made a counteroffer, but she chose to accept the UCLA offer. The second colleague left for Loyola Marymount, a private school in Los Angeles. Queens also made a counteroffer, but she also accepted the other offer. While all cases are different, with their own mix of factors, the college has not offered lines to replace the lines of those women. The college has announced that there will be up to four possible hires this year, but many departments compete for those lines, and presumably they come from a separate budget carved out by CUNY for those purposes. That is, without the adequate funding just to maintain staffing needs of the department, the department will be forced to hire more part-time teachers and in our case sacrifice diversity.
Professor, Media Studies
Stay or go?
I felt upon arrival to this great institution a deep and chilling, utterly noticeable curtailing of my scholarly and administrative ability because of the gutting of support for what I understand to be the baseline undergirding of my profession: the funding of research, travel, departmental and interdepartmental interaction, scholarly and institutional innovation, and day-to-day teaching.
When I think about my year at Brooklyn College, I am moved to the point of tears about how much is done for what would be a pittance in my previous places of employment. How my staff and fellow faculty members and students keep the amazing work of this institution alive with ever less because we all know how important CUNY is. But if you asked me now will I stay? Honestly, I’m on the fence. At the top of my game, entirely committed to working with our students and faculty and in this great city and state, why would I do my work in an environment where so much of my effort is spent not on teaching or research, professional interactions or institutional innovation but instead on maintenance, morale and working against the problems born of disinvestment?
Signing the MOE and other legislation that would begin to reverse the state’s disinvestment is one small step in retaining me, and the many others like me who continue against all odds to make CUNY great. Without such signs of support, CUNY is bound to disintegrate not just in what we already feel daily in its operational infrastructure but perhaps in its greatest strength: the committed labor, intelligence, teaching, and scholarly productivity of its faculty and hence the students and community we seek to serve.
Department Chair, Film
Today I wish to address two specific areas that need increased funding. The first deals with the faculty underclass known as adjuncts. I have testified before this board twice before regarding my struggle to pay bills and student loans on the absurdly inadequate salary I am paid – a salary that dishonors my hard work, my dedication to my students and my advanced degrees. While it is true that many adjuncts live in poverty, which shames the university, I have come to the realization that this is not the point. The point is that increasing adjuncts’ salaries is a matter of doing what is right. It doesn’t matter if individual adjuncts struggle financially or not – what matters is the basic democratic principle of equal pay for equal work, which is simple justice. The enormous disparity in pay among those who teach the same courses in higher education is inexcusable; providing funds to pay adjuncts $7,000 per course per semester is the right thing to do for all concerned.
My second issue is the need for counselors. Too many students take more courses than they can handle, leading to failures and delayed progress toward graduation. This is true in the regular semester and in the summer and winter sessions. Many students are taking too many courses in addition to working full time and/or dealing with young children, etc. Too many fail because no one was there to tell them basic truths about rational scheduling before they committed to an overloaded schedule.
Many class sections are increasing in size, which does great pedagogical harm to our students. Enrollment in seminars developed and designed for open dialogue and critical thinking has increased so much that instruction must be done in a lecture format. Science courses have lost their laboratory component, creating an inferior learning experience. Much larger class sizes put a special burden on adjuncts who are not being compensated for the tremendous increase in their time and academic responsibilities.
Departments at CCNY are now pushed to organize class scheduling so that many courses will not be available each semester, or even each year. This puts an immense burden on chairs in making schedules, and especially on our students who have the pressure of commuting, working and taking care of families and relatives. Lack of needed courses will delay graduation and in many cases delay licensing and jobs for many for our professional students.