PSC calls for use of federal funds to protect classes and students

Updated: January 26, 2021
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Faculty, Staff Union Calls on CUNY Chancellor to Use New Federal Stimulus Funds to Keep Classes Open

Demands Moratorium on Bursar’s Holds for Student Debt

New York—The union representing 30,000 faculty and professional staff at the City University of New York today demanded that the CUNY Administration use the $455 million in new federal relief funds allocated to CUNY colleges to keep class sections open and allow students to enroll. CUNY colleges will receive more than $455 million under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) passed on December 21, up to $337 million of which can be spent on institutional needs arising from the pandemic. These funds are on top of the $251 million CUNY received from the CARES Act earlier in 2020.

The PSC is demanding that the University provide complete transparency about its spending of federal funds; that it use federal funds to maintain classes for students; that it temporarily relax course enrollment minimums, and that it immediately institute a moratorium on Bursar’s holds, temporary holds on re-enrollment caused by debt of as little as $100.

Only a week after the new federal stimulus funds were awarded, CUNY college administrations are responding to enrollment pressures by rushing to cancel classes, disrupt students’ education and threaten faculty jobs. At York College department chairs are being asked to identify courses under-enrolled by 20% for possible cancellation, even while more than 1000 students are barred from enrollment because they owe small amounts of money to the college. Kingsborough Community College administrators have identified up to 30 percent of spring courses for possible cancellation and also point to Bursar’s holds as a cause. Brooklyn College’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences has been pushed to raise course enrollment minimums by 33 percent, a change that will lead to severe reductions in courses.

PSC President Barbara Bowen said: “CUNY colleges have received more than $700 million in federal funds targeted at needs created by the pandemic. More than half of these funds are available for institutional use, with the remainder specified for direct aid to students. CUNY already refused to use the institutional CARES Act funds to avoid mass layoffs of adjuncts in the spring; now the administration is failing to prevent mass cancellation of courses.

“Of course enrollment is down in colleges where the students’ communities have been devastated by COVID and unemployment! We are still in the midst of a pandemic that has exacted an enormous financial, physical and psychological toll on the Black and brown communities where many CUNY students live.

“If the federal government can maintain a moratorium on federal student loan payments, why can’t the CUNY administration temporarily lift the financial holds that are preventing many students from re-enrolling for the spring semester? It is cruel and self-sabotaging to tell students who have suffered through the pandemic and find themselves a few hundred dollars in debt on tuition that they cannot re-enroll for the spring.

“The CUNY chancellor should use the federal funds to enable students to re-enroll and to maintain course offerings, even if that means temporarily relaxing course enrollment minimums. If some classes are smaller than in a normal year, remember that this is not a normal year. Smaller classes are precisely what CUNY students need in this period of distance education; all the research shows that online classes need to be small to foster student success. CUNY students have been targeted by poverty and racist austerity, traumatized by COVID, and stressed by the transition to all-remote classes. They shouldn’t be kept out of college because of a few hundred dollars.

“And the solution to enrollment declines must not be to demand that CUNY’s professional staff are required to take on double jobs and make up for management’s failures. The solution is to recognize the crisis CUNY is in right now and use every dollar New York’s Congressional leaders fought for so that classes are not canceled and faculty and staff jobs are not imperiled.

“The PSC calls on the CUNY administration: Lift the holds, keep the classes running, and let our students and the communities that depend on them have a chance to rebuild their lives through access to college education.”

The union notes that the CUNY Administration has not even spent the full funding of the first allocation of Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds from the CARES Act. In June, CUNY colleges laid off nearly 2,900 CUNY adjuncts, and some 1,900 of these CUNY adjuncts remain without CUNY employment. The adjuncts were laid off despite the CARES Act funding and the law’s explicit intention to keep employees on payroll. CUNY continues to withhold a portion of the CARES Act funding.

As with the CARES Act, CRRSAA includes a minimum allocation for CUNY of $118 million that must be used for direct student aid. The remaining $337 million can be used to cover “lost revenue, reimbursement for expenses already incurred, technology costs associated with a transition to distance education, faculty and staff trainings, and payroll.”