Higher ed system has ‘a lot to be proud of’

United University Professions member Bill Ashbaugh spent his first advocacy day in the Legislative Office Building mixing discussion of Japanese universities with opposition to the governor’s proposal for a Tier VI pension plan.

Ashbaugh, who chairs the history department at SUNY Oneonta, joined a group of UUP sisters and brothers – most of them experienced advocates for the union’s legislative agenda – for an end-of-session day of meetings with lawmakers Tuesday. UUP members took delight in the quiet atmosphere throughout the Legislative Office Building, and reveled in longer-than-usual blocks of time to explain UUP’s positions.

For a first-time advocate such as Ashbaugh, it was an encouraging introduction to advocacy – calm, focused and unrushed. He joined Oneonta Chapter President Bill Simons and retiree and longtime union activist Fred Miller.

Ashbaugh was a Fulbright Fellow to Japan last year, and referred to that experience as he explained to lawmakers that higher education in the United States is still a standard around the world, and they need to make sure it stays that way.

“It seemed to me that I had something to say that might be useful in a different way,” Ashbaugh said in between meetings when asked why he gave up a day to travel to Albany. “Our system is not as weak as we think it is. We actually have a lot to be proud of.”

But, as he also noted to lawmakers, Chinese universities are starting to outstrip the United States in their comparative spending on higher education – a trend that should be watched.

Dozens of UUP members who turned out for the advocacy day asked lawmakers to:

* enact legislation that would make SUNY research and campus foundation documents subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Law;

* support legislation that would protect state public employees’ civil rights; make unemployment insurance available to part-time employees; fully restore the $154 million cut to SUNY hospitals; and reject legislation that would authorize public/private partnerships, differential tuition, and the use of tuition revenue for capital construction projects.

* help restore the state’s economy by extending the so-called “millionaire’s tax” and to oppose a new retirement tier for future state employees that would, among other changes, raise the retirement age from 62 to 65.

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