CUNY, SUNY Unions: State Shortchanges Us


Though there were some wins for the city and state university systems in the budget agreement reached last week, unions representing higher-education staff believed it reflected a lack of commitment to public higher education.

State legislators agreed to provide an additional $208 million to the City University of New York and the State University of New York, bringing their combined state funding to $7.7 billion. But the bump was far below what the Professional Staff Congress believed was needed to maintain the public colleges’ deteriorating campuses and double pay for adjuncts.

Helps 2-Year Colleges

Funding for public universities has increased 28 percent since 2012, state officials noted. PSC President Barbara Bowen said that the added money will particularly help CUNY’s community colleges, contributing to about $100 in additional funding per full-time student.

The budget also will add $2.5 million to CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Program, which helps low-income students attain Associate’s degrees. Another addition was $27 million to fund the DREAM Act, which allows undocumented children to receive state aid for college and was enacted earlier this year.

But PSC has long argued that funding per student has decreased when inflation is factored in. Both unions believed the budget doesn’t do enough to address the TAP Gap--the difference between the maximum Tuition Assistance Program grant amount and tuition--which is currently $74 million and will grow to $86 million at CUNY colleges next year.

A bill that would bridge the TAP Gap, as well as inflationary costs such as rent, has been vetoed by Governor Cuomo three times.

‘Hollowing-Out CUNY’

“While the budget agreement…includes some important advances, especially on community college base aid, it makes little progress on addressing the fundamental problem of diminishing public funds for CUNY,” Ms. Bowen said. “As a result, the hollowing-out of CUNY will continue and the opportunity for college completion for CUNY students will be at risk.”

United University Professions President Fred E. Kowal argued that the gap would “only continue to grow and make it harder for campuses to provide a quality education for students.”

Though cuts to SUNY’s opportunity programs that were proposed in the executive budget were eliminated, the union leader added that the financial plan reflected a “lack of commitment to public higher education.”

“It is troubling that this is an essentially flat budget for SUNY at a time when cash-strapped campuses are hurting,” he said. Mr. Kowal was particularly disappointed that SUNY’s three public teaching hospitals in Brooklyn, Stony Brook and Syracuse were excluded from state funding.

Pushing for Adjunct Jump

For the PSC, its main fight has been to double the rate of adjunct pay to $7,000 per course. The union has held several rallies and demonstrations to urge State Legislators to increase funding so that adjuncts can receive a fair wage, including one outside the investment-banking offices of William C. Thompson Jr., Chairperson of CUNY’s Board of Trustees. (Governor Cuomo appointed 10 of the 17 board members.)

In December, union members blockaded the entrance to Baruch College, resulting in the arrest of 17 members, including Ms. Bowen.

The budget offers nowhere near the amount needed to double the “near-poverty pay” of CUNY’s 12,000 adjuncts. “With no progress made on closing the gap, CUNY students will face deepening shortages of courses, resources, and time with faculty,” Ms. Bowen said.