MYTH & REALITY
New York’s myth about itself—repeated in this year’s Executive Budget—that the state demonstrates "national leadership in providing support for higher education" is simply not borne out by the facts, especially if we"re talking about public higher education. The truth is that public higher education in New York has suffered a disproportionate share of the cuts to agencies over the past fourteen years. Few other sectors have been so severely and repeatedly damaged as ours.
I was at Bronx Community College last Saturday morning for a meeting, and there I found professors teaching in their coats because one side of the building had no heat, and students in hats and gloves patiently working in the computer lab. The worst part about it was that no one was complaining. The resurgence of CUNY has not reached the Bronx, at least in this building. It’s time to stop accepting the unacceptable, and we’re asking you to seize this moment for a change.
Despite the new hiring, CUNY
still suffers from an acute staffing crisis. More than half of our courses
are taught by part-time faculty, whose working conditions do not allow
them to offer the kind of contact and support our students should enjoy.
Thousands of the 9,600 part-time faculty at CUNY do not even make a living
wage, and very few of them have health insurance provided by the
University or access to unemployment benefits if their work is
discontinued.... We have adjuncts at CUNY who have to teach until they
literally drop dead in the classroom because they have no post-retirement
WHERE LAB RATS
The Marshak Science Building [CCNY], where some of CUNY’s most prominent research scientists work, has foundations that are insecure, dangerous levels of fumes, and outside walls that are literally crumbling and have to be braced with steel. Faculty there report that students have had to be carried out on stretchers because of exposure to chemical fumes, and that the conditions they are required by federal law to maintain for lab rats are better than the conditions in spaces used by faculty, staff and students.
IMAGINE WHAT AN
We ask you to break with the pattern of stop-gap funding restorations and, just once, imagine what an urban public university could be. Fifty years from now, on the hundredth anniversary of Brown, educational opportunity in this country will be judged in part on the question of whether CUNY was fully funded.
TESTIMONY OF THE PROFESSIONAL
JOINT SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE AND
February 5, 2004
Delivered by Dr. Barbara Bowen, President
Good afternoon, Chairman Johnson and Chairman Farrell, members of the Committee, colleagues and students. I am Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY; I am delighted to be joined today by Dr. Steve London, the PSC’s First Vice President, and Dr. Cecelia McCall, the PSC’s Secretary. Thank you for your interest and support for our 20,000 members, and for giving me this opportunity to speak on their behalf.
I want to talk to you about an historic opportunity offered to the Legislature this year. For the first time in my tenure as PSC president, I do not come here facing the burden of massive cuts to CUNY proposed in the Executive Budget. CUNY certainly suffers cuts in the Executive Budget, and they must be restored, but this year’s budgetary landscape is different. CUNY is different, too. Although rumors of its death were greatly exaggerated (not to say politically manipulated), CUNY is clearly experiencing a rebirth. The PSC remains deeply concerned that CUNY’s resurgence not be premised on a "gentrification" of the student body, but we celebrate the University’s advances and the beginnings of a financial recovery.
The convergence of these two factors—a more stable Executive Budget and a renaissance at CUNY—offers the Legislature a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You have the chance to guarantee that the renewal at CUNY is deep and lasting. A dramatic investment in CUNY this year would be transformative. I’m asking you to go beyond business-as-usual, beyond patching the worst of the budget holes or inserting another finger in the dike. We recognize that even these measures in the past have required serious effort on your parts, and the PSC is grateful for that support. But this year presents New York with a chance to build a city university of which we can all be proud, a stand-out in the nation. For the first time in many years, that possibility is within our reach, institutionally and fiscally. I’m asking you to make it happen.
Before anyone objects that such an investment is utopian, recall the history of disinvestment from which CUNY has suffered. Since 1990, CUNY’s state appropriation has declined by $492 million in real dollars; that’s nearly half a billion dollars. Last year alone the state appropriation dropped by $100 million. During the same period, the City appropriation fell by $217 million, for a total decline in public funding of about 40% in just over a decade. In that same period, student tuition rose 107%. New York remains 47th out of the 50 states in the portion of every thousand dollars of state income devoted to public higher education. New York’s myth about itself—repeated in this year’s Executive Budget—that the state demonstrates "national leadership in providing support for higher education" is simply not borne out by the facts, especially if we"re talking about public higher education. The truth is that public higher education in New York has suffered a disproportionate share of the cuts to agencies over the past fourteen years. Few other sectors have been so severely and repeatedly damaged as ours.
Restorations to Cuts Proposed in the Operating Budget for CUNY
So the time is right for a visionary investment. Now that state revenues have begun to rebound, the PSC seeks restoration of the $100 million that was cut from CUNY’s budget last year. We understand that the University was authorized to maintain a flat budget by imposing a 25% increase in tuition, but the fact remains that in terms of state investment, CUNY begins this year $100 million behind. How shocking it sounds to New York ears to hear in the Times yesterday: "In Europe . . . higher education is seen as a public good," or to find a British student commenting that higher education is one of "the things basic for life [that] should be provided by the state." We have traveled very far from that concept when student tuition at CUNY approaches 50% of the entire budget, up from 20% in 1990.
The Executive Budget for CUNY bears close examination. Naturally, we are pleased not to see the kind of cuts we have seen in previous years, and not to see a call for a tuition increase. But there are serious cuts here, and the announced increase of 3.1% is misleading. Almost all of that amount is in necessary increases to fringe benefits. Although we are pleased that fringe benefits increase, if you factor this increase out of the Executive proposal, CUNY’s budget would actually decrease, by 0.6%. The only significant increase to the operating budget is to the budget for Central Administration, money that we feel could be better spent on the classroom. Despite the claim that this year’s CUNY budget has gone up, then, the truth is that there is almost no increase—and several decreases.
If enacted, the Executive Budget will deliver cuts to the operating budgets of all the four-year colleges, with the exception of John Jay and York. There is also a cut to the Graduate Center. These schools are the primary responsibility of the state; the Legislature cannot assent to a budget that cuts them after years of decreases in the past. I don’t know how I can make the need vivid to you. Perhaps if I tell you about the first day back to class for one of my colleagues at a four-year college. On top of his own classes for the day, he had volunteered to teach a three-hour night class in film for a young colleague who had just given birth. Trying to arrange for the film projector with the college’s audio-visual department, he was told that they have been forced to lay off so many people that now their staff consists almost entirely of work-study students—and films will be available only when students are free from class. This is not workable for a serious university. Every single day, every single interaction reminds us of the poverty conditions in which we teach. As professors, every day we get the message, "You have to make do with substandard conditions." Why? The unavoidable answer is that our students are considered substandard students. To celebrate CUNY’s resurgence, as the Executive Budget does, and then propose cuts to the operating budgets of the senior colleges is a cruel joke.
The Executive Budget also proposes a 5% cut in the base aid for community colleges. This cut must not only be restored; base aid must be increased. Mere restoration of the $115 proposed cut per FTE would force local communities to increase their contributions and could lead to tuition hikes for some of New York’s poorest students. It is a priority for the PSC, as for NYSUT as a whole, to reverse this cut and increase community college base aid; we are seeking an increase of $225 per full-time equivalent student. I was at Bronx Community College last Saturday morning for a meeting, and there I found professors teaching in their coats because one side of the building had no heat, and students in hats and gloves patiently working in the computer lab. The worst part about it was that no one was complaining. The resurgence of CUNY has not reached the Bronx, at least in this building. It’s time to stop accepting the unacceptable, and we’re asking you to seize this moment for a change.
CUNY’s neediest students would also suffer disproportionately under several of the other proposals. I’d like to single out SEEK and the Educational Opportunity Centers. SEEK is one of the biggest success stories of CUNY, and I know it is a program to which members of this Committee have a special commitment. Especially in these economic times, it makes no sense to withdraw funds from an already strapped program that regularly moves students from a marginalized position to high levels of academic and career attainment. As I say this, I think of my student Ferentz Lafargue, who started in SEEK at Queens and is now finishing his Ph.D. at Yale. Without SEEK, he wouldn’t have attempted college, and certainly wouldn’t have stayed. On every senior college campus, there are students like him. What message is the state sending to students like Ferentz and their communities when it tells them their academic lifeline will be cut?
If I may stray from strictly CUNY issues for one moment, I’d like to address the proposal of no increase to the Educational Opportunity Centers. As you know, these Centers are funded through SUNY, but the four Centers in the City come under the CUNY contract and are staffed by our members. The EOCs have had ten years of flat budgets. Ten years of no increase is in effect a decrease, and the strain is showing. Faculty at the EOCs work with people who are trying to turn their lives around—ex-offenders, unskilled immigrants, mothers seeking to enter the workforce for the first time. Because of the budget shortfall, the faculty workload was increased last year, and management is seeking another increase this year. For a relatively modest investment, many of these problems could be alleviated. I’d like to ask you to give some attention to the EOCs this year and seek solutions for their chronic underfunding.
The PSC’s Legislative Priorities
So far I’ve spoken mostly about restoration of cuts, not about new spending in our areas of need. The PSC’s legislative priorities are described in detail in the brochure we’ve provided, so I’ll just touch on them here. Together with the operating budget increases outlined in the University’s proposal, they suggest how the Legislature could begin to make a transformative investment. A primary area is new full-time faculty and professional staff positions at the senior colleges and the funding to make salaries in these and other positions competitive. I want to say a word about salaries: they are traditionally the province of a paybill, offered after collective bargaining. But we would like the Legislature to consider something such as a one-time cost-of-living adjustment in CUNY salaries, which have lost ground since the 1970s relative to inflation and failed to keep pace with salaries at other colleges and even at suburban high schools. You heard Chancellor Goldstein say this morning that he was seeking funding to "offer all our faculty competitive salaries"; both labor and management look to you for a creative solution to the salary lag that could unravel all the good work of rebuilding the University. Investment in CUNY means investment in competitive salaries to attract and retain the best people.
With the funds generated by the increase in tuition at the community colleges, CUNY has experienced an unprecedented surge in faculty hiring at the two-year schools. Twenty-five years of full-time faculty decreases—and a cut in our numbers from 11,000 to 5,000—will not be undone even by this extraordinary effort, but the need in the senior colleges is now more critical than ever. The PSC asks you for an additional 22 million dollars to support new hiring of full-time faculty and staff at the senior colleges. Included in this figure is an allocation for support to make these positions competitive. Faculty at the senior colleges are being recruited away by institutions that offer higher salaries and lower courseloads. It’s meaningless to hire great new people if we cannot keep them. CUNY’s resurgence is threatened if the new hiring doesn’t reach all parts of the University, and if it comes without funding for lasting support.
Our legislative priorities are linked by a desire to gain a level of support at CUNY that elsewhere considered routine, but that would set CUNY on a new course. We are seeking funding for research and academic travel; faculty have to scrape money together to buy their own lab equipment or forgo opportunities to present research at prestigious conference because of a lack of support. If New York is serious about supporting CUNY as a viable university, not a trade school with a few elite programs, then it has to provide research support. Research is ultimately about the quality of education we offer to our students; our contention is that CUNY students, just like students at Michigan or Wisconsin, deserve to have professors who bring them the authority and insight that comes from being an active researcher in one’s field. We also seek funding to support diversity in hiring, as we recognize that the University will need to add extra support to attract faculty from underrepresented groups.
You will also read about our proposals for creating equity in TAP funding—so that money goes to the students who need it most—and about our continuing press for equity in pensions and funding for graduate tuition remission. Before turning to the capital budget, however, I’d like to highlight an issue of economic justice. Despite the new hiring, CUNY still suffers from an acute staffing crisis. More than half of our courses are taught by part-time faculty, whose working conditions do not allow them to offer the kind of contact and support our students should enjoy. Thousands of the 9,600 part-time faculty at CUNY do not even make a living wage, and very few of them have health insurance provided by the University or access to unemployment benefits if their work is discontinued. It is a scandal that public employees—and those who still do the majority of the teaching at CUNY—are among the growing ranks of America’s uninsured. We have adjuncts at CUNY who have to teach until they literally drop dead in the classroom because they have no post-retirement health insurance. Surely that is not the image New York has of itself as an employer. The PSC urgently asks the Legislature to include these valuable employees in the New York State Employees’ Health Insurance Plan.
Funding for the Capital Budget
The PSC’s final area for action is the capital budget. While we are pleased to see that the Executive Budget proposes a beginning for a five-year plan of capital funding, we are alarmed that the proposed funding falls far short of CUNY’s request. The University’s request for capital funding is not trivial. Buildings at CUNY have reached a crisis point, as you’ll see in these photos of the Marshak Science Building at City College and the photos of other CUNY buildings around the room. Yes, there are some fine new buildings at CUNY, but there are also scores of buildings in which mold blooms on the walls, rain drips from the ceiling, air vents no longer function, laboratories are not ventilated and disabled students have to be carried up flights of stairs because elevators are non-existent or non-functioning. The Marshak Science Building, where some of CUNY’s most prominent research scientists work, has foundations that are insecure, dangerous levels of fumes, and outside walls that are literally crumbling and have to be braced with steel. Faculty there report that students have had to be carried out on stretchers because of exposure to chemical fumes, and that the conditions they are required by federal law to maintain for lab rats are better than the conditions in spaces used by faculty, staff and students. Marshak is a disaster waiting to happen, and it’s only one case in point. The CUNY renaissance is clearly not complete, and it hasn’t reached Harlem’s City College. The members of the PSC urgently ask you to provide full capital funding.
Once you’ve seen these photographs and read the testimony of the professors who work in Marshak, I’m sure you will share our sense of the inappropriateness of the Governor’s proposal to force the public institutions to compete with the private institutions for capital funding. Such a scenario is an aberration in public policy and a dangerous precedent for the state. When I spoke about this proposal at Assemblymember Canestrari’s hearing on the capital budget, I was joined in testimony by Randi Weingarten, president of the UFT, who added her union’s opposition to ours. There are wonderful private colleges and universities in New York, and our members are proud to work with their faculty as colleagues. But private colleges have other sources of capital funding, they have endowments; their capital needs are not the responsibility of the public tax dollar. If the state assumes this responsibility, what other funding will be demanded? New York already provides an unusually high level of support to its private colleges and universities, with $42 million annually in Bundy Aid, and a disproportionate share of TAP going to the private sector.
The Executive Budget veers way off course in proposing this dubious matching-funds program for capital funding. If there is $350 million in additional capital funding available, how can New York justify not applying it to Marshak Science Building and comparable SUNY buildings, which may be literally on the verge of collapse? The PSC calls on you to repudiate this initiative as wrong in principle and in practice, and to press instead for fulfillment of CUNY’s capital needs.
A New Challenge for the Fiftieth Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education
Fifty years ago a courageous group of plaintiffs led by Oliver Brown won a verdict that said in part: "the opportunity of an education . . . is a right, which must be made available to all on equal terms." We are aware that New York is still struggling to make good on the right articulated in Brown v. Board of Education and that the Legislature faces a special challenge this year in providing funds for CFE mandate. But I would propose that we not stop there. The twenty-first century frontier for equal education is college. Fifty years ago a high school education was adequate for many entry-level positions and for the chance of a good life. That is no longer true. Increasingly, a college degree is the minimum credential, the only realistic chance, in this country without a social welfare system, for a life with the basic requirements of healthcare, housing and food. And of course a college education is much more than that; it’s an induction into a world where easy answers are not enough, where critical thinking is nurtured, where a complex world of history and beauty and discovery is put within reach.
CUNY is the ideal institution for a rededication to the goals of Brown. As the oldest, largest and most diverse public urban university in the country and an institution with a unique history of democratic access, CUNY occupies a special place in the history of educational opportunity. The PSC asks that you make this Year of Brown also the Year of CUNY. We ask you to break with the pattern of stop-gap funding restorations and, just once, imagine what an urban public university could be. Fifty years from now, on the hundredth anniversary of Brown, educational opportunity in this country will be judged in part on the question of whether CUNY was fully funded. There is no equal opportunity for education in this state if the faculty at the public universities work without research support, if thousands of our students’ professors have no health insurance, if the buildings have to be braced with steel lest they collapse on us, and if the poorest college students in the country continue to pay almost half the cost of their public education. Separate is not equal. We ask you to begin a new era of racial justice and educational opportunity. Invest what it will take to provide real equality in higher education for people who are the future of New York, people whose only wealth is their life.