The Professional Staff Congress, the largest union representing City University of New York staff, urged the CUNY Board of Trustees Oct. 16 to use their ties to Governor Cuomo to convince him to sign a bill aimed at fully funding the city and state university systems.

A coalition known as CUNY Rising Alliance, which consists of 33 organizations including the PSC, District Council 37 and the Alliance for Quality Education, testified before the Board of Trustees at Baruch College to urge the Governor to pass an enhanced version of the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) bill. The legislation protects the level of funding received from the previous year at both CUNY and the State University of New York.

Would Provide $200M

But the current law does not cover inflationary costs such as rent and electricity, salary increases, as well as the difference between the maximum Tuition Assistance Program grant amount and CUNY’s tuition (known as the “TAP gap”) that CUNY must absorb. The enhanced version of the bill would offer funding for these expenses, which add up to $200 million.

The coalition prodded the Trustees because 10 of the 17 were appointed by the Governor. The hearing was held a week before the board will vote on CUNY’s budget for 2018-2019, which includes a $200 tuition increase.

Barbara Bowen, president of the PSC, said that “it is unconscionable to ask students to pay more and faculty and staff to do more with less while not using your political capital to urge the Governor to sign the MOE bill.”

The coalition also argued that the MOE bill would reverse the state’s decreased funding in the public university system. When adjusted for inflation, state funding per student dropped 17 percent from 2008 to 2015.

Vetoed 2 Years Ago

Mr. Cuomo vetoed a similar bill in 2015. He said that its changes “should not be made outside of the context of broader discussions about higher education policy.”

In a phone interview, Ms. Bowen said that the proposed legislation would “lift the chances for a good life for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers” by allowing students’ money to go further. “This would be the right thing to do, especially at a time when the Governor has focused so much on higher education,” she said. One example is the Excelsior Scholarship, which Mr. Cuomo rolled out this fall, permitting free tuition to families earning less than $100,000 a year.

Chika Onyejiukwa, the only student member of CUNY’s Board, encouraged her fellow Trustees to push the Governor to support the legislation. “The City University of New York prides itself at being the greatest urban university in the world. In order to live up to this standard, we need to ensure CUNY has funding to cover basic needs,” she said.

Several professors testified about what it is like teaching in colleges that are, as Queens College Professor David Gerwin said, in a “constant state of fiscal crisis.”

Where Cuts Hurt

He highlighted several ways budget cuts have affected the college, including programs that have struggled and the printshop being unable to prepare syllabi and other classroom material in time for the fall semester’s start because of broken machines.

“The big picture is that, in the current climate of forced austerity, Queens College faculty and staff are losing our ability to carry out a dual mission of conducting research while also teaching the kind of classes that educate our students for active citizenship in a complex world,” the Social Studies Prof­essor said.

Both the Senate and the Assembly passed the legislation during the summer; the Governor has until the end of December to sign or veto the bill.


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