BACK TO THE BARRICADES?: Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen, pictured here being arrested during a past union protest of under-funding at the City University of New York, faulted some college presidents for proposing budget cuts that could cost some adjunct instructors their jobs. 'The  solution to this crisis is not to take people off the payroll,' she said. 

The Professional Staff Congress is fighting against proposals to cut course offerings at the City University of New York in anticipation of a budget shortfall.

Although the state kept funding for CUNY largely flat, with a projected $13.3 billion deficit in the state budget due to the impact of COVID-19, aid for localities—including public transit systems, health care and higher education—could be slashed by $8.2 billion.

'Steep Cuts' for Nearly All

“In the absence of Federal aid, nearly every activity funded by state government in the aid to localities budget...will face steep cuts,” State Budget Director Robert Mujica said.

Some private colleges, including the College of Saint Rose and Union College, have furloughed staff and cut salaries in order to address expected budget shortfalls.

And some CUNY schools have proposed slashing course offerings, notably Brooklyn College, where department chairs were instructed to cut 25 percent of classes for the fall semester, according to PSC President Barbara Bowen.

“We know that there will be cuts to CUNY’s budget. But allowing college presidents to call for cuts now, before the university’s budget situation is even clear…sends the message that cuts to CUNY are inevitable and acceptable,” Ms. Bowen said.

Cutting courses would increase class sizes, which combined with a $200 proposed tuition increase, would hurt students already struggling through job losses and food insecurity because of the pandemic, the union leader argued.

 "The City has already notified CUNY of significant cuts in the current fiscal year and is looking at a $31.6-million reduction target for the University in the next fiscal year," CUNY spokesman Frank Sobrino said. "CUNY joins in calling on the Federal Government to take prompt action to support New York and stave off potentially deep cuts to our academic programs, campuses and our students." 

Adjunct Jobs Threatened

Adjuncts, who make up about 60 percent of CUNY’s instructional staff and were considered part-time, would be most at-risk to lose their jobs if the cuts aren't rescinded, Ms. Bowen believed.

“The solution to this crisis is not to take people off the payroll,” she said.

The union leader also called for a millionaire’s tax to increase revenue rather than starving local budgets.

She pointed out that it was unclear how much the most-recent Federal stimulus—which includes $235 million in funding for CUNY, half of which must go to students—would affect its budget.

Mr. Sobrino said that the Federal funding provided through the CARES Act would "provide emergency assistance to students in need." The public-university system has not received the funding yet.

Ms. Bowen added that the colleges also haven’t reported enrollment projections that would justify trimming courses. “It’s been shown that during periods of economic downturn, college enrollment goes up,” she said.

'Need New Investments'

What the coronavirus pandemic has shown is the importance of public-sector services, which for years have been underfunded, Ms. Bowen contended. “What has to happen in the economic recovery is new investments in the public systems,” she said.

She added that the students CUNY serves were bearing the brunt of the coronavirus crisis.

Almost a quarter of CUNY students are black and 30 percent are Hispanic—and about half come from low-income families. Black and Latino people have disproportionately contracted coronavirus.

“Our students are the essential workers—they are providing delivery services, they are grocery-store workers. They’re losing parents and other loved ones, they’re losing jobs,” Ms. Bowen said. “That’s the group that’s going to need to have access to public college. So to cut CUNY at this point is to cut off a lifeline.

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