NYSUT leaders to Assembly: Restore higher ed funding

smith, pallotta, bowen, allinger

Left to right: UUP President Phil Smith, NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, PSC-CUNY President Barbara Bowen, and NYSUT Director of Legislation Steve Allinger. Photo by Don Feldstein.

NYSUT’s higher education leaders Tuesday cast the plight of New York’s public colleges and universities in terms usually reserved for natural disasters as they described the effects of years of systematic budget cuts on SUNY, CUNY and the community colleges.

NYSUT leaders appeared before Assembly Member Deborah Glick, chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, in a hearing required by state law to help lawmakers gauge areas of greatest need as they prepare the budget process. Glick asked the public higher education leaders to specifically address ways to improve graduation and retention rates for college students.

One after another, NYSUT leaders told Glick that there is only one way to improve graduation and retention rates: Stop cutting the public education budget, and restore some of the nearly $1 billion that has been cut from the three systems in the last two years.

“The deep budget cuts sustained over the last couple of years have taken their toll on access, quality and graduation rates,” NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta testified.

Phil Smith, president of United University Professions – which represents more than 34,000 academic and professional faculty at the StateUniversity – told Glick, “New York has come very close to negating 60 years of operational growth in the State University.”

Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen – whose union represents more than 20,000 faculty and staff at the CityUniversity – appeared with PSC First Vice President Steve London. Bowen told Glick that the budget cuts have targeted students of color and low-income students with particular cruelty. The typical CUNY student, Bowen said, is a young woman of color with a family income of $30,000.

Bowen offered comparative figures for how much New Jersey spends per student at its major public university, Rutgers University, versus how much New York spends per student at Queens College – which Bowen selected as an example in part because Glick is an alumna of Queens College. At Rutgers, the per-student expenditure is $13,000; at QueensCollege, it’s $6,000.

“I think that tells the whole story – it’s about money,” Bowen said.

NYSUT leaders are expected to testify again in favor of restoring operating funds to public higher education during the budget process in early 2011. NYSUT members are also expected to turn out in force during the budget process to speak up in favor of adequate funding for SUNY, CUNY and the community colleges.

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