Urging Albany to take action
Governor Kathy Hochul and lawmakers, hear the call.
Nearly 1,000 PSC members, CUNY students, allies and elected officials were joined by musicians and artists in a December 11 march from LaGuardia Community College to the CUNY School of Law that ended at Court Square. They had clear demands for the governor and the state legislature: pass the New Deal for CUNY and fully fund the university in the next state budget.
The boisterous and joyful Long Island City demonstration brought to a close a busy Fall semester of PSC organizing to improve state and city funding and support the New Deal for CUNY, which aims to make CUNY tuition-free and increase the number of full-time faculty and staff, especially advisors and mental health counselors. It also marked the beginning of the union’s push for increased public investment in CUNY during the coming budget process, which is expected to conclude by April 1 for the state and late June for the city.
The rally, organized in partnership with CUNY Rising Alliance, included the New Deal for CUNY’s lead sponsors, Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Karines Reyes. Also marching and speaking in support were state Attorney General Letitia James, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Senate Higher Education Committee Chair Toby Stavisky, NYC Comptroller-elect Brad Lander, Senator John Liu, Senator Jabari Brisport, Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas and many others. The march included performances from members of the Rude Mechanical Orchestra and several other performance artists.
Three vibrantly painted panels depicting the New Deal for CUNY were also on display. The panels were the work of a small group of artists and over a dozen PSC members who collectively wrote a script and created an art concept to tell the story of CUNY’s fiscal drought and the revitalizing “waters” that are the promise of a New Deal for CUNY. The final performance, which included PSC members, their families and students, will also be presented again on the road in the coming months.
Lawmakers vowed to rally their colleagues to pass the New Deal for CUNY.
“This is the year we win [the] New Deal for CUNY,” Gounardes told the crowd. “This turnout is amazing.”
“In 2022, we are making CUNY free again,” said Brisport over applause from the crowd, “and so much more.”
Youngmin Seo, the PSC’s part-time liaison at LaGuardia Community College, said after the march, “The rally was beyond my imagination: 1,000 strong in the middle of a pandemic. Students, staff and faculty were all gathered together to fight for the future of our students and their children.”
“Because I know how exhausted everyone is, exhausted from almost two years of pushing on during a pandemic, I was a little amazed,” said Lara Beaty, the LaGuardia PSC chapter chair. “People’s exhaustion with more than 20 years of austerity budgets is clearly greater.”
“The rally was very successful with massive support from all spaces,” said Remysell Salas, an adjunct lecturer in ethnic and race studies at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and campaign director of the CUNY Rising Alliance.
“This demonstrates the strength of our people and our union and how many New Yorkers support this legislation. I live for moments like this.” PSC First Vice President Andrea Vásquez said, “In this glorious display of students, community organizations, unions and alumni – sprinkled with music and visually astounding street theater – we saw clearly that all of NYC and so many key state legislators agree that this must be the year to adequately fund CUNY.”
The march added to the momentum the PSC has been steadily building for years. The union seeks to use that energy in the weeks ahead to push for a New Deal for CUNY and for fair funding. In an op-ed in the Albany Times-Union, PSC President James Davis and United University Professions President Fred Kowal (who represents faculty and staff at SUNY) noted, “With increased investment from the state, we envision a future where every student can engage with full-time, job-secure faculty who have the capacity to connect and mentor.
Students would have access to mental health clinics, academic advising centers without long waitlists and modernized campuses that provide state-of-the-art tools and facilities.” They challenged Governor Hochul to “invest in a better life for people in every region of our state by fully funding SUNY and CUNY” in her first executive budget.
This Fall, the CUNY Board of Trustees approved an ambitious CUNY budget request that freezes tuition and calls for a 16% increase in state funding. The PSC’s position in the upcoming budget struggle is bolstered by the university’s own recognition that it needs more in order to serve the city’s students.
There is another point of leverage for the PSC in 2022. This is an election year and progressive lawmakers will want to be able to say they passed a budget that invests in needed services and education as the campaign season shifts into high gear. At the top of this list is Governor Hochul, who stepped into the governor’s seat last year following Andrew Cuomo’s resignation and is now looking to retain her position in the next election. A Buffalo native, Hochul faces a well-known challenger from New York City, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
In order to succeed, she will need to win Downstate voters and prove her progressive bona fides in order to distance herself from her predecessor and sway voters who lean toward Williams.
“Kathy Hochul has a unique opportunity during budget season to demonstrate her vision for New York in the post-Cuomo era,” said Susan Kang, a PSC Executive Council member and an associate professor of political science at John Jay College. “Fully funding CUNY, to ensure student support and success, will be an important part of our state’s recovery.”
Luke Elliott-Negri, the union’s legislative representative, said, “In 2022, there is a political opening for CUNY funding that has not existed in decades. We have strong Democratic majorities in both chambers, and the lines will be redrawn by the majority party. We finally have an executive who is not hostile to CUNY.”
State lawmakers are redoubling their commitment to CUNY and the PSC by pushing the PSC’s hallmark legislation, the New Deal for CUNY, and calling for more state investment in next year’s budget agreement.
Reyes, Assembly sponsor of the New Deal for CUNY, noted in a Daily News op-ed that New York’s public colleges with high percentages of minority students tend to have fewer full-time faculty than SUNY, citing a CUNY University Faculty Senate study. This difference, she said, was a wake-up call for more state investment to close this racial equity gap.
“To start, Governor Hochul should fully fund both university systems’ budget requests for more professors in her first executive budget. The governor and the legislature should ensure that the budget prioritizes equal access to full-time faculty for all students – across SUNY and CUNY, and across senior colleges and community colleges.”
Reyes added, “We should also pass the New Deal for CUNY, which would in its first year mandate a ratio of 45 full-time faculty for every 1,000 full-time equivalent students. CUNY has requested funding to hire 1,075 new full-time faculty, which would make substantial headway on this vital priority.”
Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, who led a delegation of supporters from her Brooklyn district at the December 11 protest, said that the New Deal for CUNY “will lift thousands of adjuncts out of poverty, hire more unionized faculty and invest in the safety, efficiency and maintenance of CUNY buildings.” She added that it is “exactly the kind of transformative legislation we desperately need in this moment of halting recovery and I will fight with everything I’ve got for its passage this coming year.”
Liu, the chair of the State Senate Committee on New York City Education, also noted that the board’s approval of the latest CUNY budget request is a sign that the state has a chance to move in the right direction in terms of fully funding CUNY.
He said in an article in the Gotham Gazette, “The board’s request for $313 million more from Albany in the upcoming budget represents a 16% increase over the current state budget. The request for an increase of $103 million from New York City amounts to a 20% bump.”
What comes next? The next few months will include alumni and student engagment, lobbying, further PSC member mobilizations and meetings with lawmakers to ensure that public higher education is a priority in the 2022 budget process in Albany and City Hall.